Posted 4/12/16 (Tue)
By Sydney Glasoe Caraballo
The young boy perched on the grain bin with a bird’s eye view as he followed the pattern of the crop dusters flying over the green fields beyond him. While other boys were tossing baseballs and driving toy tractors in the dirt, he looked up into the blue sky and prayed it would be his playground some day.
David Jacobson, an airline pilot with Virgin America, is on a stopover in Honolulu, Hawaii, as he talks about achieving his lifelong goal to be a full-time pilot. While he never imagined being anything else, Jacobson’s journey to his current career did not follow the metaphorical precision of the flight paths he now flies.
He has pursued flying since he was a child, but his pragmatic and practical nature kept him grounded in other pursuits longer than he hoped.
The first time Jacobson flew in an airplane, he was a Webelo Cub Scout in fifth grade. Scout leader John Fosland, who flew a single prop Cessna 150, offered to take Jacobson and his friend, Craig Molander, for a ride.
“I was hooked before that flight,” says Jacobson. “But after that all I wanted to do was fly.”
Jacobson considers Fosland, who passed away in December 2015, a mentor who literally took Jacobson under his wing to show him the sky was the limit.
“He would drop out of the sky and land on the highway and taxi onto our farm,” says Jacobson, recalling that Fosland charged him 25 cents for every flight so the boy would feel he was earning his keep.
“He’d release the controls, fold his arms and say, ‘Take me someplace.’” Jacobson says.
The 10-year-old would grab the controls and fly off to Tioga or Williston where Fosland would buy him a 50-cent Coke or to Columbus where he could practice landing on a grass strip. By the time he was 12, Jacobson was flying in formation with the crop duster he had once admired while Fosland leaned out the window to take photos of the other pilot.
“He was so trusting. He was yelling, ‘Closer! Up! Down! Faster!’” Jacobson says. “That a guy like him would take a kid like me and go flying . . . ”
Jacobson’s voice stills, breaks, for a moment.
“I’m so grateful for him. He was an amazing man.”
When he wasn’t in Fosland’s Cessna, Jacobson read flying manuals and any book about aviation he could get his hands on. By the time he was 17, he earned a private pilot certificate. The graduating high school senior in 1993 wanted to be a pilot, but it was a terrible time to enter the aviation market. Biding his time, Jacobson went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., to get a degree in physics and mathematics.
“I don’t remember what I was going to do with my physics degree,” Jacobson says, chuckling. “I was just fascinated with the subject.”
Jacobson, knowing he couldn’t land a job as a pilot when he graduated, pursued a job in the tech industry, which was booming. He worked in software with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) for several years. He then took a product manager job with HighJump Software in Minnesota.
The company did very well and so did Jacobson. He was on the corporate fast track garnering the attention of the company’s founder.
But Jacobson found himself looking out of his office window pondering the sky. He caught himself logging into his 401 K account at least three times a week to see when he could retire.
“I was 26 years old having a midlife crisis,” he says. “I didn’t want to wait to pursue my dream of being a pilot.”
He went to a local airport and began spending all his spare time cranking out flight hours and certificates and ratings and became a flight instructor.
Then HighJump Software’s founder scheduled a meeting to discuss Jacobson’s future. He wanted to promote Jacobson and asked him where he saw himself in 10 years. Jacobson remembers thinking: I just want to fly.
Out loud, Jacobson said that while he was honored, he didn’t think he was the right fit because he wanted to go to a flexible work schedule to pursue becoming a pilot. As a hobby, he was asked? He told his boss, no, as a profession. His boss reluctantly agreed to let Jacobson manage his workload on his own time.
Then 9/11 occurred. “The aviation world was rocked by that event,” Jacobson says. “Companies went bankrupt, and pilots were being furloughed.”
He continued to work for the company while accommodating his love of flying as a flight instructor; he opened his own flight school in 2004.
Jacobson, who dreamed of being a bush pilot in Alaska, finally gave his resignation. HighJump quickly counter-offered with a consultant position. Jacobson agreed to it for several months but started calling flight companies in April of 2005. One company told Jacobson they received thousands of resumes. Jacobson changed his strategy. He bough a plane ticket, and banged on doors throughout Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.
One owner said if Jacobson would do a flight interview with him, he’d consider him. So Jacobson hopped in his plane. He took off on the ice and flew out to an airstrip in the bush. The owner asked Jacobson if he could land the plane. Jacobson knew if he said no, he’d never get the job. He landed the plane.
Jacobson loved his bush pilot season flying for Alaska Air Taxi. GPS didn’t really work in the wilderness so Jacobson used for navigation handwritten topography maps of creeks and mountain passes his boss scribbled on notepads. Jacobson recalls flight plans with directions such as: at the third tributary after the river, count to 120 and then take a hard left and land.
“It felt like I was home and where I was meant to be,” Jacobson says.
He flew tourists on glacier and wildlife viewing tours. He flew hunters and fishermen and white water rafters deep into the wilderness. He flew freight and core samples and explosives for gold exploration companies.
Then he went to an employee barbecue and met his future wife, who lived in California and was visiting a friend in Alaska. Kim, a teacher and writer, went on a hike with him. After a few more dates and her departure, Jacobson says he promptly bought a computer printer to print out his resume and send to airline companies in California. He landed a job with West Coast Charter near Kim’s home. During the following years he continued to build his experience and also flew for Skywest Airlines, XOJET and KMR Aviation. In November he started working for Virgin America.
Today Jacobson pilots Airbus 319s and 320s, planes he says are comparable with a Boeing 737, holding 155 passengers.
He credits growing up in the Crosby community and his family for preparing him for diverse career opportunities and instilling the core values of kindness, integrity, hard work and responsibility while pursuing those jobs.
Jacobson admits he doesn’t like to stagnate and discovered he also enjoys editing and publishing after assisting his wife in those efforts with her nonfiction book, “For Underdogs Only,” and her upcoming novel, “Touching the Moon.”
Jacobson says he and his wife love to travel, but they’d be most happy someday owning a bit of land with a vegetable garden and some animals. While Jacobson doesn’t mention an airstrip in that musing, his plane waits at the Crosby Airport hangar – ready to fly up into the prairie skyline any time opportunity allows.