Bensen Days & Sun N’ Fun 2018

It has been a couple of weeks to decompress and time to write the blog!  Laundry has been finished, bags are unpacked, and most time consuming, work has been caught up.  A LOT happened during my 2 weeks in Florida, so be prepared for this to be longer than usual.

As told in previous posts, I have been assisting Anthony Croenlein of SkyBlazer Aviation in his quest to import BrakoGyros from Italy.  He assembled 3 of these gyroplanes and wanted to take 2 (a single-place Sprint and a 2-place GT) of them to Bensen Days and Sun N’ Fun in Florida to show.  Only 1 of the gyros would fit in his trailer, so I volunteered to fly the other down for the 2 weeks of shows.

It was decided that I would fly the single-place Sprint down and the 2-place GT back.  So, early on the morning of April 2, I departed KLHZ in the orange Sprint.

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A storm front was scheduled to pass through the following day, so I knew that the winds were forecast to be strong, but I did not foresee a 45mph headwind!  It took me 7 hours to get to Brunswick, Georgia.  The crosswinds were so strong in Brunswick that I couldn’t keep the gyroplane straight on the runway during my take-off roll!  I was standing in the terminal thinking about my options (including taking-off from a taxiway) when Anthony called to let me know that he was stuck in traffic on I-95 (a wreck stopped the freeway; he moved 4 miles in 3 hours!) and that he would not make it to Florida until the next day.  That sealed the decision to spend the night in Brunswick and finish the flight on Tuesday.

The next morning, the fog didn’t roll in (thank goodness) and I was able to depart about 8AM to finish the flight to Wachula, Florida.  After another 4 hours of flying, I finally arrived at Bensen Days in Wachula early afternoon.  There I met up with Chris Lord and family and other gyroplane friends to set-up for the week.

My stops on the way down were Lumberton, NC, Walterboro, SC, Brunswick, GA, Palatka, FL, Winter Haven, FL, final destination; Wachula, FL.

Bensen Days is an annual event hosted by the SunState Rotor Club.  It is a celebration of all things gyroplane.  Several hundred participants and spectators descend and camp-out in this sleepy little town of Wachula for a week of gyro-flying.  SkyBlazer went to introduce the American market to the BrakoGyro.  I was able to assist the vendors and SkyBlazer by helping set-up, fly demonstrations, talk about flying and flying gyroplanes and generally assist around the event.  One of the biggest highlights was meeting the personnel at Harvest Aviation (www.harvestaviation.org).  This organization is headquartered in Wachula and flies mission supplies internationally and trains mission pilots.  I spoke at length about the use of micro-aviation in the mission field and their chief pilot, Chuck, is coming to North Carolina in May to train with me in gyroplanes!

Bensen Days continued through Saturday and we were beginning to grow tired but knew that we still had a full week of Sun N’ Fun to go.  On early Sunday morning, Chris Lord, Bob Snyder of Autogyro, John Brewer and Tim Verroi (Tango Victor) flew the orange Brako, an Autogyro MTO, an Autogyro Cavalon, ELA Eclipse-10 and a Butterfly gyroplane as a group up to Lakeland from Wachula.  This flight is about 30 miles and the gaggle of 5 gyroplanes was a sight to behold.  John in the Eclipse and Tim in his Butterfly separated from the group to land in Choppertown at Sun N’ Fun while Chris announced the “flight of 3 gyroplanes” inbound to the main runway.  We all three landed together (sort of) on the huge runway and taxied to Paradise City (the ultralight and light-sport area of Sun N’ Fun).

As you guys have read in the blogs, I have been to Sun N’ Fun several times researching aircraft and the industry for Great Commission Aviation but this was an exciting first-time of being involved directly in the show.  Anthony arrived later in the day with the camper and we set-up in the Campground area of Sun N’ Fun ready to get prepared for the upcoming week.

As I have said before, Sun N’ Fun is huge!  While not as big as Oshkosh, it is still an amazing assortment of aviation enthusiasts and vendors.  We camped next to a father/daughter who were there representing a cargo aircraft that flew in the Berlin Airlift!  He owned a TBM Avenger WWII torpedo-plane and had previously owned an A-26 WWII bomber!  They were a great family to visit!

Unfortunately, we lost Tuesday due to horrible weather; it poured all day!  However, the following 4 days were absolutely perfect; 80 degrees and sunny!

Once again, I spent the week discussing gyroplanes, flying, helping volunteers, making contacts, and being known as the “preacher/pilot.”  It was a great opportunity to serve and minister.  Here are a few more pics from the week:

SUCCESS!!!

I do want to specifically mention one episode during the week that affirmed all that we have been working toward with Great Commission Aviation.

I visited the IAMA Mission Tent several times during the week.  This tent is where all of the mission aviation organizations set-up booths to discuss their ministries.  I made great contacts with several new and existing organizations.  While speaking with Tim Huggins of the College of Missionary Aviation (www.floridaaviationcollege.com), he informed me that the College had been donated a gyroplane for training!  The purpose of this gyroplane was to start students down the path of helicopter training.  I worked on convincing Tim that this type of aircraft, and other micro-aviation aircraft, were perfect mission vehicles themselves!  Tim informed me that the gyroplane was going to be delivered during Sun N’ Fun and we decided it would be a great idea if it was parked in front of the mission tent for publicity.

You can’t even imagine my elation when I saw this the next morning:

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Later in the day, I went by to see the reaction of visitors and was greeted with this:

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Everyone wanted to know what it was and were excited to see it!  I spent the next hour describing gyroplanes and the use of aircraft like this in the mission field.  Since I was there to assist Anthony and SkyBlazer, though, I had to excuse myself and get back to work!  Future shows, this is the goal!

I was glowing the rest of the day to see a vision God had given me several years ago appear at Sun N’ Fun.  Now I know that we are to continue down this path and expand Great Commission Aviation into a larger role.

The final day of Sun N’ Fun, Sunday, was greeted with another storm system.  The weather guys were predicting strong thunderstorms for later in the day and the organizers actually cancelled the show early in anticipation of the storms.  I had already planned with Chris to fly the GT 2-place gyroplane to his hangar in Sebring to wait out the storms.  I left early Sunday and actually attended church with Chris in Sebring and then helped out around the hangar the rest of the day.

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When I woke up on Monday, I was greeted with more extremely high winds, but now out of the north!  I did not want a repeat of my flight down, so I delayed my return to North Carolina until Tuesday.  I spent Monday still working with Chris and helping wherever I could.

I departed Tuesday early for the flight back.  While the headwinds were gone, the crosswinds and turbulence were horrific!  I had to keep my speed down due to the turbulence and it took 9 hours of flight time to get back.  I arrived back in Louisburg at 6:30pm and could barely walk from the long flight.  The family was glad to see me and I was glad to see them!  We put the gyroplane in the hangar, went to dinner and immediately to bed!

As I look back, I am astonished at the journey over the past few years.  God called us into a facet of mission aviation called “micro-aviation” and the creation of “preacher/pilots”.  Just a short-time later, that is my nickname; the “preacher/pilot.”  Last year, at Sun N’ Fun, I was introduced to Chris Lord.  Since that time, I have added the flight instructor sport rating in gyroplanes and have been able to fly gyroplanes in Florida, Florida to North Carolina, North Carolina to Tennessee, and at Oshkosh!  I continue to train and fly airplanes, as well.  It has been a busy year but exciting to see God moving!  Let’s pray that God continues to bless and expand the mission of Great Commission Aviation!

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“Tower, Golf Charlie Alpha holding short ready for takeoff.”

“Roger, Golf Charlie Alpha, cleared for takeoff.”

Friends, as we enter 2018, the opportunities facing Great Commission Aviation are both exciting and overwhelming.  We have missionaries from all over the world giving us their stories about using micro-aviation in their mission fields and encouraging us as we face many of the same obstacles they did.  Each week, I receive calls from potential students looking to get into mission aviation, or who want to utilize aviation in their current and future ministries.  Personally, I have been blessed and challenged with many opportunities to serve others both ministerially and through flying here in North Carolina and around the country.  The role of the “preacher/pilot” is expanding and God is blessing this ministry.

However, we need additional funding to pursue these opportunities.  I want to personally thank all who have given to the ministry in the past and know that we are using your gifts wisely.

We are making the simple request that every friend of Great Commission Aviation pray for us as we continue to expand Great Commission Aviation.  In addition, we are asking each of you to commit to a $1 per day pledge ($30/month).  Please visit www.globalservicenetwork.org and enter your gift and frequency.  We greatly appreciate your financial assistance in our ministry.

Of course, if you cannot commit financially, please commit to continue to pray for us.  Please pray that we have wisdom and discernment in charting the future of the ministry.

 

Losing a Friend and Mentor

They say that if you are in aviation long enough, you will lose a friend to an aviation related accident.  I guess that is true of any endeavor in life that contains risk but it has happened here.  We have to regretfully say that Great Commission Aviation Board Member, Steve Merritt, passed away today (December 18, 2017) due to injuries sustained in a plane crash that occurred on Saturday, December 16, 2017.   Before I say anything else, I will really miss him.  He was my biggest mentor in aviation.

I met Steve a few years ago while I was training for my Instrument Rating.  He and I hit it off immediately as I shared the dream of Great Commission Aviation.  Steve had a passion for ministering to others through aviation and was my opportunity for flying missions such as the trip to Eleuthera, The Bahamas.  He had touched people all over the country, and world, but was humble enough to take younger pilots under his wing.  If  there was a desire and a passion for aviation, he wanted to help you make it happen.

I had lunch with Steve at least twice a month, usually at Johnnie’s Barbecue in Louisburg, NC.  On Fridays, they serve what Steve called the “Fred Flintstone”.  It is a fish sandwich where the fried fish filet hangs over both sides of the bun.  At these lunches with Steve and other older pilots, I was regaled with flying stories and North Carolina aviation history.  I learned more from these lunches than any training I have ever received in an airplane.

Steve was also known for his pithy sayings, or Steve-isms.  These included:

  • Don’t major in the minors.
  • A Cessna can fly a little overweight, it cannot fly a little out of gas.
  • Altitude, Airspeed and Ability; A pilot always needs 2 of the 3.
  • Hey look, there’s 5 pilots and 6 opinions in this room.

At this point, the FAA and NTSB are conducting investigations into the accident.  Therefore, I will not speculate nor expound on the event.

A wise old pilot once said that there are pilots who know that today is the last day they will ever fly an airplane and there are pilots who do not know that today is the last day they will ever fly an airplane.  Steve woke up Saturday morning not knowing that it would be his last day to fly.  Let that be a wake-up call to all of us about our inevitable mortality.  There will be a day where we stand before our Lord and long to hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Blue Skies and Tailwinds, Steve Merritt.

Steve

2017 in Review

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2017 was a very busy, activity-filled year for the family and our ministry in Great Commission Aviation.  We started off by visiting the Sun N’ Fun International Expo and Fly-In in April.  It was there that we were introduced to the gyroplane!  Since then, I have become a flight instructor in gyroplanes (in addition to airplanes) and have trained other prospective gyro pilots.  In addition, I had the awesome opportunity to attend EAA Airventure (Oshkosh) as a demonstration pilot for ELA USA gyroplanes!

Back in North Carolina, I have continued to serve as Senior Pastor at Union Chapel Baptist Church of Zebulon and still flight instruct for Civil Air Patrol and general aviation students.

Liani and I have noticed that wherever we are, I am now known as the “preacher-pilot.”  Guests have visited our church to hear the “preacher-pilot.”  What a way to be on mission!  The goal of Great Commission Aviation is to create these “preacher-pilots” and I guess it has succeeded with me.

As of last count, we have given 75 hours of flight time/flight instruction for free.  This includes free training and orientation flights to introduce Seminary students and others to the world of aviation and mission aviation.

WHAT WE DO

The original intent of Great Commission Aviation was to train “preacher-pilots.”  Our mission statement, though, is “Obedience to the Great Commission through Aviation.”  While we continue to market for potential students, I have become the most visible “preacher-pilot.”  I did not envision that I would be the minister and missionary, but that is what God has orchestrated.  Through a myriad of flying opportunities, both in fixed-wing and gyroplanes, I have been able to minister to people throughout the United States (and even the Bahamas).  As we enter 2018, pray that God will continue to open doors of ministry through aviation.  Also pray how you may help in this ministry.

2018 PREVIEW

In the upcoming year, we plan on returning to Sun N’ Fun.  In addition, I may have the opportunity to attend the Sebring Expo, Bensen Days (gyroplane fly-in in Florida), Oshkosh and the PRA (Popular Rotorcraft Association) Annual Convention and Fly-In in Mentone, Indiana.

We will also continue with the flight instruction and ministry opportunities as they arise throughout North Carolina, the United States and wherever we are led abroad.

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As we enter into the next year, all administrative items are in place.  What we need are prayers first, and funding.  Please pray, and then visit http://www.globalservicenetwork.org to give.  Simply scroll down to “Find An Associate”, enter my name (Jason Wilkinson) and voila!  Thank you for the support, both through prayer and financial.

 

Oshkosh in a Gyroplane!

After I finished my CFI-Gyroplane training with Chris in Sebring in May, I asked if he needed any assistance at the EAA Airventure 2017 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  He responded with an enthusiastic, sure, and planning started.  Now, for those of you that do not know about Oshkosh, I have included the following stat image from the EAA:

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Needless to say, it is a BIG DEAL!  Every pilot dreams of attending Oshkosh at some point.  During the week of the convention, Oshkosh, WI, becomes the world’s busiest airspace and control tower.

I went with two priorities: 1) to assist in promoting ELA Gryoplanes with Chris Lord and http://www.gyroplaneguy.com,  and 2) to promote the use of light aircraft in mission aviation.

So what did I do there?  The “show” lasted from Monday, July 24 through Sunday, July 30.  I arrived by airline on Monday morning and flew demonstration flights from Tuesday through Saturday 11:30AM – 2:00PM each day.  When I wasn’t flying, I was talking to potential customers and other aviators from 7:30AM to about 7:30PM each day.

 

The amount of airplanes is overwhelming!  Above is a row of Cessna 195’s from the late 1940’s and on the right is a row of Piper Cubs.  There were several rows of Cubs; 2017 is the 80th Anniversary of the Piper Cub and they came in droves!

 

I had never seen an actual skywriter before and this is an example of their artistry every day.  I also had never seen this many WWII trainers in the air at one time.  It looked like something from a history book.

 

Just a couple of pictures from the main booth area of the convention.

 

My demo flights consisted of taking-off from one of the main runways at Oshkosh (Runway 18-36), usually with one or two other gyroplanes together to lessen traffic.  The air traffic at Oshkosh is so busy that they have airplanes line-up on both the right and left side of the runway and take-off every few seconds.  When us gyroplanes could take-off as a group, it really helped the controllers.

We would then depart Oshkosh airspace to the South, perform some low-level gyroplane maneuvers (air traffic wanted us to stay below the fixed wing traffic of 1,300 feet; we were usually around 500 feet) and return to Oshkosh to re-enter the “ultralight” pattern.  This pattern flew over Camp Scholler and the many RV’s (seen above) and utilized a 900 foot grass runway.

When I wasn’t flying, I was talking about gyroplanes, aviation and mission aviation.  I made several contacts with mission aviators and missionaries who all loved the idea of gyroplanes (and other micro-aviation airplanes) in the mission field.  I will follow-up with these contacts in the coming months.

On the final Saturday of the show, Chris, Bill (another ELA Eclipse gyroplane owner) and myself ferried (flew) three of the aircraft back to Chris’ farm in Illinois.  It was a beautiful 1.5 hour trip across Wisconsin and Illinois countryside.  That flight culminated in a landing on a farm strip that was shape like the inside of a bowl on the side of a hill (about 700 feet long).  It was bush flying for a gyroplane!

The aircraft were going to go on the following Monday to Mentone, Indiana, and the Popular Rotorcraft Association (PRA) Convention.  I, however, caught a Southwest flight from Milwaukee back to Raleigh (via a connection in Orlando).

What’s next?  Looks like more training opportunities in the gyroplanes.  We have had a lot of interest in training.  There is also building interest among Seminary professors and mission aviators regarding the use of micro-aviation and gyroplanes.  I will schedule a flying demo for these contacts within a couple of months.  Remember to pray for our ministry here and give monetarily when possible.

 

Gyro Cross-Country (Literally)

Well, the sale of Anthony’s maroon ELA Eclipse didn’t go through so I was asked to fly (commercially) back to Florida for two purposes: 1) Help train Paul from Charlotte (ironic, huh?) while Chris was in Utah for Rotors Over the Rockies and 2) ferry Anthony’s Eclipse back to North Carolina.

After 3 days of training with Paul, I was ready to depart back to North Carolina.

The total trip was close to 650 miles and took about 7 hours of flight time.  I departed Sebring at around 8AM in order to get out before some rain showers moved in.  Kissimmee and Orlando were reporting 700 foot ceilings from morning mist and Winter Haven was clear.  Luckily, gyroplanes travel cross-country like helicopters, so I stayed below the clouds at 500 feet.  I departed to the northwest to avoid military restricted airspace, Orlando’s busy and congested airspace, and the Disney TFR (“temporary flight restriction” that isn’t temporary).

Once north of Disneyworld, I flew northeast towards Apopka and then on to Deland.  From there, I continued northeast towards the coast around Daytona Beach.  I flew about 5 miles inland to keep away from all the beach traffic of helicopters and flying banners and tourist stuff.  Once I reached Jacksonville, I actually had to talk to air traffic controllers to proceed north through Jacksonville airspace.  I actually flew over Craig Field (Jacksonville Executive) and then continued northeast towards Fernandina Beach.

My first stop after leaving Sebring was Fernandina Beach.  I was burning fuel a little faster than anticipated and I didn’t think it was wise to push on to my first planned fuel stop in Brunswick, GA.  The airport at Fernandina Beach was very friendly and accommodating and the Eclipse immediately drew a crowd of onlookers.  Many people took pictures of the aircraft and asked a ton of questions.

As I went to depart, I had my first “glitch”.  When I went to rotate on takeoff, the trim pressure on my rotor trim went to full pressure (pushing the stick back into my lap).  I fought the trim pressure and pushed forward on the cyclic (stick), cut engine power, and landed.  When I turned on the rotor brake, I was able to relieve all trim pressure.  As I was troubleshooting, I though maybe I had been touching the trim switch during takeoff and caused this issue myself.  I taxied back to the runway, tried again, and had the exact same issue while making sure I wasn’t touching any switches unnecessarily.  Huh.  I sent a text back to Chris about the problem and taxied back to the terminal to assess.  At this time, a friendly gentleman walked up and asked if I would be willing to show-off the aircraft at the EAA hot dog lunch being held at the airfield.  I was given a free lunch and spent about an hour talking about the gyroplane.

When lunch was finished and I had spoken to Chris, I taxied into takeoff position again.  At this time, I had reset the circuit breaker on the trim switch and was ready to pop the breaker out if the pressure started to rise on takeoff.  I would then try to reset in flight, or just manually fly without the pneumatic trim.  When I went full power, trim pressure stayed where it should be and I never had the issue again.  I guess resetting the breaker was the fix.

Leaving Fernandina Beach to the north, I got some good shots of the beach and a fort guarding the inlet.

My next stop was Brunswick, GA, which was only an hour away from Fernandina Beach.  That stop was for “pilot relief”.  I stopped again in Walterboro, SC at the Lowcountry Regional Airport for another fuel stop after flying past Savannah, GA and Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station.  Lowcountry was my last stop before Triangle North Executive Airport back home.  I didn’t take any picture along this route.  From Brunswick north, I didn’t see anything but trees and farmland.  As populated as parts of this country is, there is still a lot of undeveloped, pristine land!  The scenery from Florida all the way to North Carolina looked practically the same, sans the little bit of time over Jacksonville, FL and the beaches of north Florida and south Georgia.

When I landed at KLHZ back home in North Carolina, I was pretty numb and tired.   I had been in the cockpit for 8 hours (7 flying and another  hour taxiing and such at my different stops).  But was it fun!!!  This aircraft will not be used to train future gyroplane pilots.  I am still fully convinced that gyroplanes will be a magnificent asset to missionary aviation and I am blessed to be on the front-edge of that development.

Gyroplane Pilot/Instructor

This past week, I had the opportunity to train in Sebring, FL in this:

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This is an ELA Eclipse-10 gyroplane.  It is owned by an aspiring-pilot here in North Carolina (edit: he sold it the week after I trained in it, but is ordering another one in green) but it is still with Pictaio Aerospace in Sebring since he doesn’t have a license to fly it.  I spent a week there first learning how to fly gyroplanes and then learning how to instruct in them.  It was a very intense week but I was endorsed as a gyroplane pilot on Wednesday and as a gyroplane sport instructor on Friday.  These aircraft are amazing! I wrote about their possibilities in the mission field a year or so ago, and am only more convinced today.

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Here is a picture of another Eclipse driving up a driveway at an airpark in Florida.  As part of my training, I transported my instructor (Chris Lord) to several different airports and airparks for demonstration rides with prospective customers and training with students.  We cruised at approximately 115-120 mph without the typical turbulence felt in a light airplane on a hot, Florida day.  These gyroplanes are very stable and can take-off and land in very short distances (landings are almost 0 distance)!

I am very excited to see where the gyroplane opportunity leads for myself and Great Commission Aviation.  I only see promise from here!