A little about you.
Hey there! My name is Jake Nelson. I am a First Officer, flying the Airbus A320 series out of Dallas/Fort-Worth. Prior to my current flying position, I was a Captain and Pilot Recruiter at SkyWest on the CRJ & ERJ. My journey in aviation started in 2010 when I went to flight school and college in Arizona. I was a flight instructor during the day and I flew air-support missions for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department by night. When I’m not flying airplanes, I can be found touring with my Country band “Jacob Nelson & The Tone Wranglers.” I also enjoy spending time with my parents in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho; fishing, jet skiing and playing with the dogs. I live in Dallas, Texas with my partner, who is also an airline pilot.
1. We certainly don’t want to dwell in the past, but sometimes it’s helps the drive forward to look in the rear view mirror. If you could go back and change one thing about the way you were raised, what would it be? If it’s nothing, tell us why?
One lyric that I often repeat to myself comes from Billy Joel’s “Vienna.”
“Slow down you crazy child/ Take the phone off the hook and disappear for a while/ It’s alright, you can afford to lose a day or two.”
I don’t wish to change my past - All of my decisions have led me to where I am today and I am beyond grateful. If asked for advice, however, I would tell people to focus on living in the present. Yes, we can’t wait for our “lives to begin.” I find that a lot of my peers chase “destination happiness.” I will be happy… when I get to United (or to a Major Airline)…. Or, I will be happy… when I buy a house. Having goals is important. I can’t help but feel that if you are so laser-focused on a goal, that you are missing the magical moments in between where life truly happens. Go try that new restaurant. Go surprise your Grandparents with delivering a home-cooked meal. Go ask that person who you think is cute out for coffee. You may find you start a magical chain reaction.
2. If you could go back and tell your 10 year-old self, or tell an authority figure, one thing, which person would you choose and what would you say?
Oh, I would definitely have a chat with ten-year-old me. Even at ten years old, I was really conscientious about what others thought of me. I tried so incredibly hard to fit in. I tried to play sports, I tried listening to “popular” music that I didn’t like… anything to gain the acceptance of my peers. Shockingly, it didn’t work. I used to ask “Why was I made differently? What did I do wrong?” So… I kept on, keepin’ on. I followed my passions. I listened to my weird 90’s country music that no one else on earth thought was cool (Ten points to Gryffindor if you got that subtle Wynonna Judd nod). Joined the “nerdy” TechLab club and became the anchor of the school TV news. And you know what? Slowly, my tribe formed. Putting aside my attempts to be “liked” by everyone. I started living authentically. Doing things that made my heart sing. Then all the pieces fell into place. I would simply tell myself this magical nugget of information sooner in my life… maybe I could have cut out some heartache.
3. When’s the last time you felt afraid and/or lonely? We’re not trying to be sad here but a little “me too” always feels good.
The pandemic was (and… is) really scary. I don’t think a lot of people truly acknowledge that our entire world changed in the course of 2 weeks. It is absolutely okay to feel like the rug was pulled out from beneath you… because it was! Obviously, as someone who works in the airline industry, it was terrifying to have the thought cross my mind that this may be my last flight for a long time. At first, it was “business as usual,” except that we had 4 passengers on the airplane. I knew in my heart that would not be sustainable. While also acknowledging that if I had to, I could figure out something else to do to pay the bills. Aviation is one of those career paths that you just have to “get.” Some of my non-pilot friends (initially!) were stoked to have some time off from work. Being in the air is my happy place. So not only was I concerned about the money aspect of potentially being furloughed… I became concerned for my spiritual well-being. I am part airplane! I can’t go too long without the excitement and spirit of adventure my job gives me. I'm always grateful that some very smart people crunched the numbers and could keep us all flying. I am optimistic about our path forward out of the pandemic but the thought still lurks in the back of my mind; if travel demand slows down again, we may be in the same precarious situation again.
4. We all know magic is way more than a card trick. So, when was the last time you experienced magic? Or the only way to describe the experience was “magical”?
When starting at my very first airline, I was introduced to Captain Brian; Brian was a Check Airman at the company. From the moment we were introduced, I knew that this would be someone who would be a part of my life’s journey. There was this twinkle in his eye and a smile that was infectious. Captain Brian has been an airline pilot for nearly 35 years and has an incredibly soothing aura about him. I formed a study group of 4 peers during initial ground school. Captain Brian tutored my group, brought us dinner when we were burning the midnight oil studying for exams, and check rides. He made it a personal mission to take us all on our first flights. Fast forward a few years later when I was upgrading to Captain myself… I got a text from Captain Brain “Jake, go check your schedule!” To my surprise, I found out that Captain Brian was going to be flying with me on my first day as a Captain! To me, kindness is the manifestation of magic in the real world. It’s something that is so easy to share and the dividends return tenfold. I joke that when I grow up, I want to be as magical as Captain Brian.
5. When is the last time you felt the most free? Any tips for how we can replicate it?
I knew I was put on this earth to do two things: to fly airplanes and to sing. I feel like most people understand the freedom that being on an airplane gives. For me, singing is the ultimate expression of my soul. As the saying goes “Where words fail, music speaks.” I couldn’t do the flying job that I do without my music to balance it out. Sometimes, I feel like a touring musician, moving city to city, hotel to hotel with my flying job! But when I’m on stage, and those stage lights hit my face… I can let it all go. Sing from the depths of soul, find connection with others, and help form a sense of community. I have never left a band performance without the heaviness in my heart being lifted. It’s like I fuse with my band and become something greater than myself. Music is a healer and I am grateful to share that gift with others.
6. Is there a way that aviation taps into the sacred/holy/spiritual/universe to you? If not - no, wait, there has to be right?
My favorite time to fly is early in the morning. When that sun starts rising in the east, it lights up the land in an orange, red, pink and yellow glow. It’s usually pretty quiet on the radios; that moment is when I feel most connected to the Universe. I’ve never been a very religious person… but it’s hard to deny that feeling of belonging in my heart when I see that sun coming up. Knowing that 36,000 feet below me, people are just waking up and making their coffee. Kids are brushing their teeth and getting ready for school. Parents are trying to figure out the game plan for the day. I feel so incredibly blessed and humbled to be a silent observer of the world even for a just short time. THAT is why I do what I do.
7. If you could guarantee 1 thing for yourself 10 years from now, what would it be? Or maybe it’s nothing because messing with the future is tricky?
I am now a firm believer that things happen for a reason and in their own time. I used to be a control freak. I knew that I had to go from A to B and I did everything in my power to not let anything get in my way. Guess what…. Life happened. Sure, I eventually made it to B… but not after stopping at L, M N, O and P. So, I now quote the (ever so slightly modified) Serenity Prayer daily. “Universe, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I only hope that I never lose sight of the kindness, compassion and love that has been given so freely to me. If I keep those things in mind, the next ten years will put me precisely where I am supposed to be.
8. What gives you hope that tomorrow will be better than today? And thus, gives us all a little hope?
I am fortunate that my job inspires many people. Very frequently, I field questions from little kids in the airport asking about my job and why I do what I do. It may sound a little corny, but I totally relate to those kids. I make it a point to get down on their level and talk eye to eye. Firmly believing that “if you can see it, you can be it.” I see the same inquisitiveness, passion and excitement in their eyes that I had at their age. If we take the time to kindle that fire… this world is going to turn out a-okay