Big Announcement!!

Hey Guys and Happy New Year!  We have some exciting news for 2019!  As many of you know, we started Great Commission Aviation approximately 5 years ago to expand the use of experimental, light sport and non-traditional aviation in the mission field.  Since then, God has opened many doors and we have had many ministry opportunities in this field of non-traditional aircraft.  I have been able to serve and fly all over the United States, and at fly-ins and airshows like Bensen Days, Sun N Fun and Oshkosh.

Well, this year, we are excited to announce that we will be joining with Harvest Aviation in Wauchula, Florida, to implement their new “Now Generation Training” initiative.  This training will involve boot camps to expose future and current missionaries to the use of aviation in their ministries and full-time training programs to educate missionaries on building, maintaining and flying light sport, experimental and other non-traditional aircraft, which we are calling “Now Generation”.  Liani and I both will be serving in roles at Harvest Aviation and we are ready to get started!

This means that we will be leaving Wake Forest, North Carolina, and moving to Wauchula, Florida.  This also means that we will be serving as full-time missionaries and are having to raise funds for all of our living expenses and benefits, such as insurance.  We will be asking each of you to become a ministry partner with us as we transition into this new role.  As a partner in this ministry, we ask first and foremost for prayer.  In addition, we ask for financial support.  This can be whatever God is calling you to give for His purpose.  Can you commit to $30/month, a cup of coffee a day, $50/month, the cost of one family meal out, or $100-200/month, or even more?  We will honestly say that this is the hardest part of joining the mission field, but we know that if God has opened these doors so far, He will provide.

We hope to visit with as many of you as we can during the next few months.  If we can come and speak to your church, mission committee or small group, we would love to get that coordinated.  We look forward to telling you more about this new adventure.  Talk to you later!

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December 2018 Newsletter (Is It Worth It?)

As we come to the close of 2018, the major events that occurred during this quarter include another huge cross-country in a gyroplane and another death of a close friend in aviation.

In October, the Gyroplane Guy, Chris Lord, asked if I would be willing to ferry his ELA 07 Cougar gyroplane to Sebring from his home in Galena, IL.  I agreed and I knew that as Winter was approaching, it would be cold, I didn’t expect this cold!  I caught an airline flight to Dubuque, Iowa and stayed the night with the Lord family catching up.  The next morning, bright and early, and 30 degrees! I took off in an OPEN COCKPIT gyroplane headed for Florida.  I had on several layers of clothing, hand warmers shoved in my gloves and socks and a seat warmer plugged into the 12 volt outlet.  I wasn’t cold but I couldn’t move either.  The biggest event of the first day wasn’t the weather, but the fact that I had a 35 mph headwind the whole way!  It took forever to get to Mexico, MO from Galena.

If you have been reading my posts, you would know that Zenith Aircraft is located in Mexico, MO; the makers of the Zenith 750 series kit bushplane.  I stopped there to get a flight in the 750 and to tour the factory.  In only a God-ordained fashion, Chuck McConkey from Harvest Aviation was travelling to Ohio from Arizona and was going to be in Mexico on the same day!  We met at the Zenith factory and both flew in the 750 to see the full-capabilities of this micro-aviation kit plane.  We both came away very impressed and spoke with Sebastian Heintz (President of Zenith) at length about our ministries.  Some very exciting things are in the works so stay tuned!

After a restful night of sleep in Mexico, I departed the next morning for Memphis.  Dennis Long of Aeroprakt USA based his US distributorship of Aeroprakt light-sport aircraft at a grass-strip just outside of Memphis.  The weather had warmed up to a balmy 55 degrees when I arrive outside Memphis.  Dennis took me for demonstration rides in the Aeroprakt A22 and A32 airplanes.  They are as impressive as the Zenith 750 in performance!  However, they are not kit-planes but imported fully built light sport airplanes.  Cost is higher, but no building required.

I stayed the night with Dennis as my host and left the following morning of my longest leg; Memphis, TN to Keystone Height, FL.  Hurricane Michael had just hit the Gulf Coast and I knew it would be hard to stop for fuel or rest in the disaster area, so I just decided to push all the way to Keystone Heights and the College of Missionary Aviation.  When I arrived at Keystone Heights, I was surprised to find an aerobatics competition occurring at the airport.  I enjoyed watching the competition with several students and families from the college and was able to give gyroplane demo rides to a College student and his daughter.

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The afternoon of the Friday, after leaving Galena on Tuesday, I flew the last 2 hour leg to Sebring.  The temperature at Sebring was 90 degrees after being 30 in Galena!  Talk about shedding clothes on this trip!  I met Jeff (another gyroplane instructor) and left the Cougar in his possession.  Long trip but really memorable!

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My hotel in Sebring.

Unfortunately, tragedy would hit the next week or so.  I was back in North Carolina and Chris Lord had gone down to Sebring to get ready for the light-sport showcase in DeLand, FL.  He was flying an Autogyro Cavalon when a Mayday call was heard on the radio and he struck a power line and mobile home just west of Highway 27 in Sebring.  He and another passenger were killed instantly.  We may never know what fully happened but no one had more experience in modern gyroplanes than Chris Lord; it was NOT pilot error.

I was asked by his wife, Crissa, to speak at his Celebration of Life service two weeks later back in Galena.  It was a time for celebration and grief.  Chris impacted peoples’ lives all across the globe.  I also found out how much he had been telling my story of mission aviation; many people I had never met came up to me to exchange contact information and to receive more information regarding mission aviation and spreading the Gospel through aviation.  Chris loved snow and snow skiing and as was fitting, it snowed the night before the service.

After this event, and again as I write this newsletter post, the question arises of “is it worth it?”  I have lost two very close friends in less than a year to aircraft crashes (Steve and Chris).  I do not want to subject my family to the pain that the Merritt and Lord family have experienced and are experiencing.  As I have spoken to my wife and to others in ministry, I come to the conclusion that if this was just a hobby, than I should quit now.  However, delivering the Gospel is more important than our life on this earth.  There have been millions of examples of that throughout world history.  I (and my family and others) have been given a vision for delivering the Gospel through the means of aviation and I think that Steve and Chris would be the first to say, “Don’t you dare stop now just because of this.”  Therefore, we press on.

Needless to say, things will change (they always do).  Exciting prospects were in process prior to this tragedy and they are moving forward on several fronts.  I look forward to sharing those with you early next year.

 

September 2018 Newsletter

Mission Aviation Camp, Oshkosh and a Hurricane!

July 2018 started off with a ton of activity!  The whole family left North Carolina for Keystone Heights, Florida to attend and staff the College of Missionary Aviation’s Mission Aviation Camp for teenagers.  Michael went as an attendee and I flew the students in the College’s American Ranger Gyroplane.  I also taught ground school during the day and was a guest pastor/speaker at one of the nightly worship services.

The students stayed at Lake Swan Camp, which is a nice church camp with bunkhouses, cafeteria, game room and lake for swimming and boating.  After breakfast each day, the students were loaded up onto buses and carried to the Keystone Heights Airport where they were able to experience flight in various fixed-wing aircraft, such as a Cessna 172 and 310 (twin-engine), and rotary-wing aircraft (Robinson R44 helicopter and the gyroplane).  Every night, the staff and students participated in a worship service including singing, testimonials and guest speakers.  It was a great week!

 

The last week of July was Oshkosh.  Once again, I was able to attend as a demonstration pilot for the gyroplanes and staff a booth that focused on gyroplanes and mission aviation.  Oshkosh is always an extremely busy and tiring week, but I love it!  I had many great conversations regarding mission aviation and my life as a preacher/pilot.  I was also able to revisit friends with the other missionary aviation organizations.  I am always saddened on the day I have to leave this great event.

 

After a pretty normal August of kids returning to school and normal flight activities, we got an unexpected and unwelcomed visitor here in North Carolina; Hurricane Florence.  This hurricane hit the coast near Wilmington with Category 1 winds but dumped more than 3 feet of rain in certain areas!  Here in the Raleigh area, we only experienced 5-7 inches of rain and 40 mph winds but it got really bad South and East of here.

Since the hurricane only hit last week, my responsibilities are still ongoing.  So far, I have been able to fly with Civil Air Patrol on Aerial Photography missions and fly with Operation Airdrop.  This non-profit organization was formed last year after Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf to provide a lifeline of supplies to cut-off areas utilizing general aviation.  Basically, a kindred spirit of Great Commission Aviation.  More than 200 planes and pilots have delivered thousands of pounds of supplies to areas where the roads are too flooded to reach.  I was able to deliver 300 pounds of supplies to Lumberton, NC and another 300 pounds of supplies to New Bern, NC yesterday and will probably fly again today.  All of the following pictures were taken while serving with Operation Airdrop.

 

As I’ve said before, only God knows what’s next for us and Great Commission Aviation.  We appreciate all of your continued prayers and financial support.  If God is calling you to support us financially, please visit our funding site at http://www.globalservicenetwork.org and hit FIND, then enter my name: Jason Wilkinson.  Thank you and God bless.

 

Oshkosh 2018

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Oshkosh, Part II!  For the 2nd year in a row, I had the opportunity to attend the world’s largest general aviation airshow and expo; EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, WI (i.e., Oshkosh).  The EAA (Experimental Aviation Association; the hosts of AirVenture) claim that 601,000 people attended this year and I believe it!

This year, I had the opportunity of having a booth promoting both Great Commission Aviation and gyroplanes.  I had 5 shirts just like the one in the picture above that I wore to the show everyday.  I walked around 601,000 people from 6AM until approximately 7PM for 5 1/2 days.  Many people asked about the meaning of the shirt and I was able to discuss ministry and mission several times a day.  I was also privileged to meet several church leaders and mission leaders and discussed micro-aviation and Great Commission Aviation at length with several of them.

Of course, I also get to fly demonstrations at the Ultralight field.  I am extremely blessed that not only do I get to attend Oshkosh each year, but that I get to FLY at Oshkosh each year.

Each morning, all pilots must attend the daily briefing to discuss any safety issues, weather and scheduling changes.  Once this is complete, we prepare our aircraft for the daily flights, including preflight and fueling.  At 11:30 each day, rotorcraft, including gyroplanes, were given the airspace at the Ultralight field.  I either flew, or assisted as ground crew, each day from 11:30 – 2:00, when the flying was terminated for the daily afternoon airshow.

When not flying, I was manning the booth and discussing mission aviation and gyroplanes.  We had several hundred people stop and talk over the 5 1/2 days of the show.  It was a great place to promote mission aviation and especially micro-aviation!

While I walked a couple of marathons and was hoarse from all of the talking, I did get to roam around the show during a couple of afternoons.  Oshkosh is way too big to see in that short of time but I tried!  I was even able to get a picture of a WWII gyroplane from Great Britain.

Now that I am sufficiently rested from Oshkosh 2018, I get to prepare to follow-up on the conversations started during the week.  I am also preparing to attend several Fall fly-in events to continue to promote micro-aviation and to continue my ministry as the “Preacher-Pilot.”

Aviation Camp

During the first week of July, the family got to spend part of our vacation staffing the Mission Aviation Camp at the College of Missionary Aviation in Keystone Heights, Florida.  Michael was able to attend as a camper.  I helped teach ground school and flew the College’s American Ranger AR-1 gyroplane.

We stayed at Lake Swan Camp in one of the motel rooms.  Michael, of course, stayed in a bunkhouse with the other boys.  Each morning, the students were transported to the Keystone Park Airpark where they attended ground school and were given flights in several aircraft; 2 Cessna 172’s, a Robinson R44 helicopter, the AR-1 gyroplane, and a Cessna 310 twin-engine airplane.

Liani and Marissa were able to stay at the camp, as well, and Liani assisted wherever needed.  She mainly helped organize the students and helped me with preflight and other logistical matters for the gyroplane.

The students flew from 8:30AM to around noon each day.  They had the afternoon free for swimming and other activities.  During the evening, we all met for a worship service and heard speakers concentrating on mission aviation.  I was able to speak on Thursday about Great Commission Aviation.  It was a great time and we look forward to being able to attend again in the future.

Training and More Training

During the past several weeks, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to cross-train other missionary pilots in the utilization of gyroplanes.  I made these contacts during Bensen Days and Sun N’ Fun.

In May, Chuck McConkey, chief pilot of Harvest Aviation stopped by KLHZ for a couple of days of gyro training.  Chuck is a Vietnam War veteran; who spent his tour as a Huey pilot.  He also spent time in Central America during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as a missionary pilot in both airplanes and helicopters.

We spent 2 days together training and discussing the use of light-aircraft, especially gyroplanes, in the mission field.  He enjoyed his flying immensely and stated that Harvest Aviation would like to work with Great Commission Aviation in any way possible in order to facilitate the use of micro-aviation in the mission field.

In June, I was asked to drive down to Keystone Heights, Florida to train with the College of Missionary Aviation.  This a newer institution designed for students to complete a Bachelor’s degree and their commercial pilot rating within 24 months.  They do not get a break and it is intense!  Tim Huggins is the President of the college and a Helicopter CFI.  The college purchased a gyroplane (see my blog post about Sun N’ Fun) to be used to build time towards the Commercial Helicopter Rating.  However, after I spent a couple of days in Keystone Heights, he began to see the benefit of the gyro itself in mission work.

Since Tim is already a Helicopter CFI, I was playing the part of student while he trained to add his Gyroplane CFI.  We were able to get a log of flying in between the normal afternoon Florida thunderstorms.

My living accommodations was a rent house used as the boys’ dorm.  I didn’t remember how noisy college boys are!  Some are up past midnight, while others are up at 5AM for work.  I woke up every time the door closed!  I slept like a baby the night I got home!

The whole family is going back to Keystone Heights in early July as Tim requested that I help staff, fly and speak at the Missionary Aviation Camp held the first week of July at Lake Swan Camp.  Michael is able to attend as a camper and is very excited!  We will see what mission and ministry opportunities arise in the coming weeks!

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!