College of Missionary Aviation: Preparing pilots technically and spiritually

If the term “spin training” conjures up images of an exercise class, you may want to ask the students at the College of Missionary Aviation in Keystone Heights, where spin training is a key component of flight instruction.

“You stall the aircraft so that there’s not enough lift to keep flying,” explains Morgan Schrack, who will graduate from the college later this month. She and the other students have felt a call to be missionaries in a special way: as pilots.

Once stalled, the aircraft quickly descends into a spin. The purpose of the exercise is to learn what to do in the event that ever happens.

“It’s very dangerous if you’re not prepared,” Schrack says.

“It’s a little intense,” she adds with understatement.

“All the maneuvers we practice are to help us in emergency situations,” explains Kenny Hancock, another graduate-to-be.

Preparing missionary pilots both technically and spiritually is the goal of the College of Missionary Aviation. It is accomplished with rigorous flight training and detailed classroom instruction. It is accomplished with a staff of 40 to 45 volunteers. And in the case of at least one student, it is accomplished in part by the generosity of people he met while driving Uber and Lyft.

“We make it accessible and affordable to those who have been called,” says Bob Britton, college president.

He says that a bachelor’s degree that includes commercial pilot certification can be achieved elsewhere, but at a cost that may exceed $300,000. Student loans are available to pay for that, but the debt incurred makes it virtually impossible to become a missionary pilot.

By contrast, it only costs $60,000 at the College of Missionary Aviation. Graduates receive a Bachelor of Science in Missions with a concentration in aviation, as well as a commercial pilot license.

Students are required to take a series of classes on The Bible and theology in addition to their flight training. In the classroom, it’s not just theory, Britton says. Much of the teaching is done by those who have been in the mission field themselves.

“The need for the gospel in these locations is real, having seen it firsthand,” Britton says of the teachers. For example, the Cultural Anthropology professor spent 27 years in Indonesia. Another instructor spent six years in Albania in the 1990’s during a time of ethnic unrest.

“The professors here are pretty amazing,” says student David Lyon.

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“We really have that one-to-one relationship,” Lyon says, echoing similar statements from the others.

Most students at the college have never received any training prior to entering, Britton says.

“They go from ‘zero’ to ‘hero’,” he adds with a smile. 

Missionaries are frequently expected to raise money to fund their efforts. Britton says the same is true for the students at the College of Missionary Aviation. To meet the overall cost, Britton says he encourages prospective students to get commitments for $2,500 a month. That seems like a lot to some, but it’s what you would pay at a typical college, he says.

Funding his education was where the generosity of a couple of Lyft passengers came in for graduate-to-be Matt Kindle.

Kindle had been a business owner, but closed his business as he and his wife were drawn to missions. He drove Uber and Lyft on the side for cash. 

One night, a Lyft passenger asked Kindle about his life. He responded with his desire to become a missionary pilot. 

“ ‘God spoke to me tonight and told me to empty my wallet and give it to you’,” Kindle recalls the passenger saying.

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“That sounds like robbery,” Kindle says he joked in return.

But it wasn’t a joke. The passenger left Kindle $415 that night, and has since donated nearly $7,000 to Kindle’s schooling. Another Lyft passenger has donated between $1,000 and $1,500 each month for two years.

It’s important to note here that Kindle did not initiate these conversations. The passengers did.

“I was obedient,” Kindle says, explaining how this happened.

“I’ve been 100% supported,” says Kenny Hancock. “God has provided every step.”

Hancock is already committed to using his missionary pilot training to reach orphans and young people in foster care. 

Morgan Schrack intends to further her education and become a flight instructor. That reflects the experience she has had at a college where the gospel permeates all aspects of learning.

“I get discipled in the aviation classes,” she says.

“I’d like to be an ‘in country’ pilot at some point,” says Matt Kindle. He got a taste of that on a trip to Peru earlier this year.

“God laid a burden on my heart to reach people who would otherwise never receive salvation,” says David Lyon.

Meanwhile, volunteers continue to teach classes, upgrade equipment, and rebuild donated planes.

The college was founded five years ago by Tim Huggins, who is still involved in the school as a flight instructor.

President Britton says the college will also have an FAA Part 61 Apprentice Mechanic Program. Doubtless, it will be taught in the same manner as the flight training.

“We’re all family here,” says David Lyon.

To learn more about the college, visit www.collegeofmissionaryaviation.com

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