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Torgoen Adventurers: Zane Jacobson

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We first discoverd Zane Jacobson, the creator and founder of BackcountryPilot.org website and forum through his Youtube Channel. Through these media outlets Zane created a large exciting and passionate community of like minded aviators. His videos reach millions of people, spreading the adventurer spirit online.

We asked Zane to tell us a little bit more about his passion to Aviation, what is it like to establish an aviation dedicated community and more:

What made you interested in aviation?

My grandfather was a private pilot in the late ’50s. He owned a Cessna 140A and later a Comanche 180. My dad tells stories of riding around the western United States as a 9-year-old boy with his brother in the back of that airplane. He became a pilot as an adult, and got into flying ultralights in the early ’90s because of the lower cost and barrier to entry.

I was halfway through college and couldn’t resist trying my hand at it too. It’s still one of my favorite ways to fly– the open cockpit, the extraordinary sensory experience and visceral connection to the relative wind in the face. I got my Private certificate in 2003 after several years of flying ultralights, but my focus was similar. I wanted to explore further while still enjoying a small, simple aircraft.

My interest in aviation is rooted in an innate sense for adventure, the desire to get away from the population and see the wonders of nature close-up and from up high. I’ve always enjoyed rock climbing, snow skiing, mountain biking, fishing…flying is just another similar way to explore. But it’s also a vast universe of its own where knowledge, technique, decision making, and craftsmanship all intersect. Today I am building a 260hp 4-place experimental bush plane, and I own a restored 1956 Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer that’s converted to tailwheel configuration. Aside from my family, flying is my life

Please tell us how and why did you found BackcountryPilot.org?

In 2004, shortly after getting my Private certificate, I was a starry-eyed low-time pilot eager to learn as much as I could about bush flying and bush planes. The landscape of discussion forums and flying communities back then was just beginning to blossom on the Internet.

There were plentiful websites that brought pilots together based on aircraft type…Super Cubs, Champs, all manner of Cessnas, et al. But there was no single website that provided a venue for the pilot who just enjoys that certain type of flying: backcountry, or bush flying, in any airplane.

I am a software developer by trade, so I combined a few off-the-shelf tools to prop up a forum-based site. About 10 years into the effort, I branched out into more comprehensive content: articles, videos, knowledge guides, etc, which is what you see now when visiting Backcountry Pilot. It’s a very collaborative effort with other talented members of the community, like photographers, instructors, authors– all generous pilots who are willing to write about their experiences.


What is the best thing about an online aviation community

If I have to choose one thing, I’d say it’s the same characteristic of any community that’s based on a shared interest, virtual or not: camaraderie. It’s easy to make friends when all of you are in love with the same basic thing: flying away from people.

It’s difficult to get thousands of people in the same room though, and then coordinate discussing the same things. Online communities, especially independent ones like ours, as opposed to Facebook or large platform-owned ones, possess something special, something unique, because it’s very focused. The interaction is also instant and very dynamic; it changes every day, both the participants and the topics. But there is a strong element of posterity too. We can view conversations dating back to 2004.

There are many more cool aspects to online communities though, too, like information sharing, peer guidance, peer commerce. In the US (and around the world, for that matter) general aviation struggles to exist in a bit of an austere regulatory environment. As a result, most of the airplanes we enjoy are 50 or more years old. Many Pipers, Champs, Taylorcraft, early Cessnas, etc are pushing 70. Combined with the fact that the pilot community as a whole is pretty small, with bush flying a subset, the pockets of knowledge for how to maintain the aging fleet of these airplanes is also small. This is a way to make that connection with the small number of people who have the experience and answers, and archive it for all time.

Is there a difference between the various social media channels versus a forum-type site?

Definitely, though the contrast isn’t necessarily viewed the same by everyone. Social media like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, etc are powerful sharing platforms with great tools and the potential to collect extremely large audiences. Small independent communities like Backcountry Pilot, on the other hand, enjoy a grassroots feel; our participants are, for the most part, authentic pilots who are dedicated to genuine two-way interaction with other pilots.

Social media can be largely made up of voyeurs; people who want to consume entertainment, and at times, contribute uninformed opinions just because they can. We make use of light-handed moderation to ensure that interactions are positive and inspiring. Being an actual pilot is a requirement for posting on our site. And we don’t allow politics. It’s been a controversial policy, but it’s turned out to be very successful in keeping the site fun and positive.

We do participate in social media, though. I share all new articles, videos, and sometimes juicy forum topics, but I view it as a way to attract new pilots to our little community.

The most exciting adventure you had the chance to cover is...

Tough to choose, but I’d say the DoubleEnder prototype twin-engine bush plane. It’s such a cool concept, and I felt very honored to be allowed to fly in it, film it, and write about it. For some reason, it’s the single most popular video we’ve produced. I think it’s because the novelty of the machine is pretty obvious to everyone, even non-pilots. It’s also really exciting how the designer/pilot flies it.

 article link: https://bck.pt/8fmnd

Tell us a little bit about an individual (pilot/adventurer) that you met during BackcountryPilot.org that left the most impression on you

    This is by far the toughest question in this interview! I’ve been privileged to meet some extremely accomplished, as well as generous and kind individuals through the years while running Backcountry Pilot. I am still a fairly low-time pilot by comparison to many of our members, and so it’s always a funny thing to meet and interact with someone from the community who takes an interest in…me? All I’ve done is make some web pages and rules and shoot a few videos. We’ve got members with tens of thousands of hours flying in Alaska and many other true backcountry regions of the world, as well as accomplished military pilots flying everything from F-15s to C-5s to the U-2 reconnaissance plane, some doctors, some scientists, some film and photography pros...so I am often humbled.

    One person in particular that has left an impression is Kurt Wien. He’s the grandson of legendary Alaska pioneer bush pilot Noel Wien, about whom many books are written and countless stories told. Noel blazed the way in Alaska for many pilots to come after him. Kurt, his father Merrill, and several others in their family have proudly continued that legacy. Kurt himself has blazed his own trail. He's an airline captain flying the Boeing 787, and today owns an Aviat Husky; just one of many cool bush planes he’s had over the years. But most of all, he’s been a humble friend to me and a champion of Backcountry Pilot, often sharing stories and photos from his grandfather’s collection, or advising me on flying related topics.

    I met most of my good friends on Backcountry Pilot– the guys I go flying with on a regular basis or adventure in Alaska with (article link: https://bck.pt/fdt6g). Each of them inspires me a little in some way. I’m very, very lucky in that regard.



    What are the future plans? Any exciting projects/features?

    Some days I think I’d like to follow my dream of starting a print magazine, but logic and prudence always bring me back around. We will continue to try to distinguish the website and its content by focusing on storytelling, camaraderie, and humility; these are the core ingredients for success, in my opinion. I have some tech ideas to improve the website for the community experience– a mobile app, and making it easier to share media. I also really love shooting short films, so keep an eye out for more of those, as well as a new web series on building bush planes coming later this summer 2019.

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