By Art Toalston
Contributing writer, B&R
NASHVILLE — From Hangar No. 7 at the Nashville International Airport, Baptist layman Chris Erlanson aspires to help change the world.
At Nashville Flight Training, less than 200 yards from two of BNA’s four runways, Erlanson oversees the airport’s only flight school.
“I was really happy in the music business, doing well, but I had the opportunity to buy a flight school,” said Erlanson, a member of Inglewood Baptist Church, Nashville.
He left a 23-year career on the record label, production and management side of the business, supporting such artists as Mercy Me, the Jonas Brothers, Skillet and Sara Groves.
Now in his sixth year as Nashville Flight Training’s president, Erlanson keeps the “1 percent” — which refers to the 1 percent of students intent on becoming missionary pilots in Latin America, Africa or Asia — close to his heart.
When an individual earns a pilot’s license, he said, it’s a moment for the flight school to celebrate “because we’ve just taken this really cool skill and transferred it to someone else.”
And it’s celebrated when someone goes to the airlines for the next level of training after completing the various license levels, the career goal of nearly two-thirds of students at the school with 11 aircraft, flight simulators, 25 instructors and a secure room for FAA computer-based tests.
The 1 percent, however, are “not just going out to move people from one airport to another,” Erlanson said. “They’re literally changing the world through aviation.
“For some of them, it’s flying medical supplies from one village to another. Some of them, it’s flying supplies to build a well.” And some will work with Bible translators helping remote people groups get a Bible in their own language.
Erlanson and representatives of nine aviation ministries will seek to undergird the 1 percent and any others interested in their calling during Missions Day 2019 on Saturday, Oct. 26, the fourth year for the event at Nashville Flight Training at 801 Hangar Lane No. 7.
It begins at 9 a.m. with a devotional: “A little thought to get our feet back on the ground,” Erlanson said.
Each representative will describe their ministry’s work for 10-15 minutes then interact with attendees at tables displaying their pamphlets and other materials, winding down around noon.
Among the organizations to be represented at Missions Day are JAARS (Jungle Aviation and Radio Service), Wycliffe Bible Translators’ affiliate for aviation, land and water transportation and communications and Mission Aviation Fellowship, both founded during the 1940s.
“We’ve had some great speakers over the years, nobody of a celebrity status, but in our hearts these are godly men and women who have come and reminded all of us that we serve an awesome God,” Erlanson said.
The stories of aviation service and opportunities, he said, may stir a person to realize, “I can do that. I can use my talents with this organization for the glory of God,” whether as a pilot or mechanic, volunteer, or someone providing financial or prayer support.
At the first Missions Day in 2016, Erlanson was excited that “people actually showed up.” Christians who are airplane enthusiasts “know that they’re supposed to be part of spreading the gospel, they just don’t know the practical next step. … Everybody has a gift and it just so happens that all the giftings around here are aviation-oriented.”
Dan Osborn, JAARS aviation training manager, said Nashville Flight Training’s “heart for missions” is unique for a flight school among the various venues — which include air shows, airports, colleges with aviation programs and church missions conferences — where JAARS personnel speak throughout the year.
Osborn voiced appreciation for the flight school “opening up their facilities and inviting different mission organizations that use aviation to come in and speak to the students and staff” on how the ministries “scratch a particular itch that’s needed throughout the world.”
For JAARS, its aviation operations are based in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, Cameroon, Peru, Australia and at its 600-acre training grounds in Waxhaw, N.C., encompassing 26 single-engine planes, four helicopters and 150 families, both Christians from the U.S. and in the six other countries.
Erlanson earned a pilot’s license at the former Cornelia Fort Airport not long before the 2010 floods inundated the East Nashville airfield. Ten years ago, he aided in starting Nashville Flight Training at Nashville International Airport and became its president five years ago.
The school has served an average of 300 individuals a year over its decade in operation, from those who take a single flight to those who earn licenses for single-engine and double-engine aircraft.
During a 2010 trip to Mumbai, India, for songwriting and street witnessing, Erlanson and his wife Laura sensed a call to mobilize Christians to venture overseas to share their faith, reflecting the 2008 recording she had done with her music trio No Other Name of “Lead You to the Cross” in behalf of the annual Southern Baptist offering for international missions.
They also did the mission offering’s featured recording in 2010, “Let It Start with Me.”
Then came the moment five years ago when Erlanson went home to tell his wife that he’d just received an offer to purchase “the flight school that we’ve been hanging out at.”
“She said, ‘Remember the sermon we heard yesterday about using your assets for the Lord?’ And immediately I had my answer, which was, we can help train missionary pilots.”
They agreed to “lay it out before the Lord and see what the bank says, see how it all comes together. And the next thing you know, it was like a boulder rolling downhill. Everything worked out and I was the owner of a flight school.”
The flight school’s aircraft, instructors and office personnel, Erlanson said, are “assets that God has entrusted me with” for which “I’m accountable.” B&R — Toalston is a freelance writer based in Nashville.