It doesn’t matter if his life is up in the air or firmly planted on a stage, Jacob Nelson, 21, is living the dream; both of them- and working towards his third.
A native of the Antelope Valley, Jacob has always wanted to become a pilot.
Now, he is a Certified Flight Instructor, working over the skies of the AV. “Growing up here in the Valley was absolutely incredible, it was like having your own personal airshow every day!”
He also grew up with a passion for music – a passion he still pursues today.
Spending his formative years in Lake Elizabeth, after T-Ball practice, Nelson and his team mates would go to the Rock Inn in Lake Hughes for lunch.
“It was great; all you could eat spaghetti and sodas for five dollars, plus they had a karaoke lady who would let us sing.” It was there that five year-old Jacob first picked up a microphone. He was hooked; he knew he wanted to be a singer.
“Jake has been singing before he could talk,” says his mother, Shawna. “When Jake was a baby and fussy, all I had to do was put on Wynonna’s (Judd) music and he would stop fussing and start smiling and humming. When he was around three, he came sliding into the kitchen singing one of Wynonna’s songs and announced to all present, ‘I’m going to marry Wynonna!’ Then he turned right around and ran back down the hallway.”
If you listen closely, you can hear Wynonna’s influence in his music.
Fortunately, his parents have always encouraged him to dream big and to pursue his passions, not just dream them. “We’ve always told Jake, if you want to do something, do it with passion and give it 150 percent,” said Shawna. “Like Jake says, do what you love, love what you do and it never feels like you’re working.” He claims he gets his talent from his father, Patrick, who is always singing.
Several years ago, Jacob, 10, was asked by Assemblywoman Sharon Runner to sing at a “Support the Troops Rally.” His family took him out to Wing and a Prayer in East Lancaster to rehearse. As they were leaving a group of young test pilots and engineers from Edwards Air Force Base walked in. Fascinated with flight or anything to do with airplanes, Jacob told his parents he wanted to sing for them. “They were pretty happy since they just received their call signs that day,” said Jacob. “I sang Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue, by Toby Keith and by the end of the night, I was riding on their shoulders.” The pilots gave him a call sign, “Little Nest” because, the eagle rises from the little nest.
His new friends came to the performance. Soon after that, Air Force Captains Chris and Julie Elenbaum arranged for Nelson to take a ride in a Cessna through the Edwards Aero Club and the EAA Young Eagles program.
“Up in the air, looking over my Antelope Valley, right then and there, I knew I truly wanted to be a pilot. Hook, line and sinker. It was a defining moment in young Jake’s life,” he laughs.
The second time Jacob flew with Capt. Chris Elenbaum, he flew right seat. “When I handed over the aircraft controls to Jake, he was a natural. He practiced a few maneuvers, flew over his house and lined up for approaches – his grin was ear to ear. And even though his singing career is taking off, he has had that laser beam focus on his flying education,” says Lieutenant Colonel Elenbaum who now works as Materiel Leader within the Space Based Infrared Systems program at Los Angeles Air Force Base.
The Elenbaums mentored him by suggesting what schools to apply to, news to watch and classes to take. In 2009 Jacob received the David P. Cooley Innovation Scholarship award. “They helped mold me into the man I am today.”
At 18, Nelson was the first in his class to solo at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport in Arizona. “It was Oct. 10, 2010, at 10 am.”
Soon to be graduating from Arizona State University with a Aeronautical Management Technology Degree with a concentration in professional flight, he is a flight instructor CFII-MEI at Edwards Air Force Base Aero Club and works with a multitude of clients.
“Talk about a full-circle story. I took my first flight in N104ED through the Edwards Aero Club. I had my first revenue flight as an instructor pilot in the same bird – It’s meant to be!” He has also traveled the country speaking to the FAA, Congress and the Air Line Pilots Association.
Since then, Nelson has met the Judds, still sings in front of thousands at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, the RAM PRCA CA Circuit Finals Rodeo in Lancaster, and tours California with his band, Jacob Nelson and the Tone Wranglers. “We were so honored to open for Tracy Lawrence last September,” said Jacob.
“Yes, people often say Jake is so lucky. Yes, he is very fortunate, very blessed,” explains his mother, “but make no mistake about it, it was all him. We (his parents) don’t fly airplanes – that’s all Jake. He set his goals and he has worked extremely hard to reach those goals. He had to make choices, being a teenager and college student – some choices were tough. When he is teaching someone to fly, he knows he is molding a new pilot. If he is singing in front of two people or ten thousand he is passionate and giving it his all.”
Working towards his third goal, Nelson is focused on becoming a captain for Southwest Airlines. “I have studied them – their financials, management, maintenance, their employees … Everyone there seems to respect the company and it shows. I think we would make a perfect fit.”
Jacob Nelson and the Tone Wranglers will be performing on second base at JetHawks Stadium “The Hanger” in Lancaster for the LA County Airshow’s award ceremony March 21 to benefit the Flight Test Historical Foundation. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $30 for VIP seating and barbecue.
“It’s an honor to perform and help out the community,” said Jacob, “no matter what I give, they always give me more.”