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.



2017 in Review


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.


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.


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.


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:


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:


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.


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!



We Need An Airplane!

Since becoming a CFI in October of 2016, I have been gaining experience in instruction with several students.  One of these students, Stephen, is a graduate of our Great Commission Aviation ground school and is planning on, one day, utilizing aviation in his vocational ministry.

We have several other prospects for flight aptitude training, and would love to market for more, but we need an airplane!  As we have explained before, Great Commission Aviation was created to train future “preacher/pilots” in the micro-aviation world.  This includes both flight training and maintenance training on these type of aircraft.  Our favorite is the Zenith 750, available as both a kit aircraft assembled in the field, or a factory-assembled aircraft.  However, these aircraft cost approximately $50,000 unassembled or double that for a completed aircraft.  We are asking that everyone give a tax-deductible gift to the acquisition of one of these aircraft and share this post with anyone who may have an interest in assisting this aviation ministry.  Thanks for your prayers and financial support!



What is a Mission Pilot?

What is a mission pilot?  I have been asked by many people if Liani, the kids and I intend on moving to a remote part of the planet and living the life of the stereotypical missionary pilot.  The answer is “no” but, also, raises the discussion of people not really understanding how aviation can be used outside of the jungle bush-pilot.  Can a pilot be a missionary domestically?  The answer is a resounding “yes!”  I want to describe some of the avenues that have been brought to me as a domestic mission pilot:

  1.  Training – As you all know, I just received my CFI (Flight Instructor) rating.  There were several reasons for me desiring this. I love teaching and one of my spiritual gifts is teaching.  I don’t have to just teach aspiring mission pilots or those exploring that field.  I will also instruct my fellow aviation enthusiasts of all walks of life.  Let me tell you, when another pilot/passenger in a small general aviation aircraft finds out you are an ordained minister with a Seminary degree, A LOT of ministry opportunities occur.  Discussions about God, eternity and life’s struggles are all opened up when you share a small cockpit (and I don’t mean people being scared of the “dangerous” airplanes).
  2. “Discovery” Flights/Sightseeing – I have flown more than a handful of individuals/families who have never been in a small airplane, including foreign missionaries’ children who were here on furlough.  It is a great ministry to bring joy and excitement to peoples’ lives and give them an experience they will never forget.  Remember, many of these families, especially the missionary kids, do not have the expendable income just to do “fun” stuff.
  3. Mission Trips/Disaster Relief – Last year, I was given the opportunity to fly a Piper Aztec twin-engine airplane to Eleuthera, The Bahamas on a mission trip.  We packed the plane with ceiling fans, lawn chairs, and dog food.  Why?  The Bahamians have to spend a ridiculously high price for these items due to shipping on a container ship from Florida.  We bring them for the extra price of the duty tax in a quick hour flight from Florida (5 hours from North Carolina).  Our cargo was just a sampling of what the missionaries on Eleuthera were needing at the time.  It changes every time we fly.  Other private pilots have flown hundreds of relief missions to West Virginia during the flooding and to Haiti post-earthquake.  Disaster relief is gearing up again due to the flooding in Louisiana, and now, Hurricane Matthew’s path through the Caribbean.
  4. Civil Air Patrol – Did you know that the US Air Force has a civilian auxiliary; the Civil Air Patrol (CAP)?  CAP has been around since 1941 and is considered a “non-combatant” arm of the Air Force.  We fly the largest collection of Cessna aircraft in the world, including Cessna 172’s, 182’s, and 206’s.  CAP has three primary missions; Cadet Programs, Aerospace Education and Emergency Services.  I am involved in all three to some degree.  As a pilot, I have been certified as a Mission Pilot for Search and Rescue and Disaster Relief.  We are the guys tasked with finding missing aircraft and even missing persons to an extent, such as flood victims or lost hikers.  We fly photography missions documenting storm damage, or man-made damage (i.e., terrorist attacks such as 9/11).  Post Hurricane-Matthew, CAP airplanes took tens of thousands of digital pictures of water levels and flood damage.  I personally flew several of these Aerial Photography missions.

As you can see, mission aviation encompasses so much more than stereotypical “bush” flying.  My family and I have been called to mission aviation, but in a domestic context.  If you would like to join with us in this endeavor, please visit our giving page at https://globalservicenetwork.org/ and search for Jason Wilkinson under GIVE/Find An Associate.