In late December 2021, when YouTube creator and former Olympic snowboarder Trevor Jacob posted a video of himself bailing out of his recently purchased Taylorcraft light plane over mountainous terrain, pilots immediately smelled something fishy. And they weren’t impressed. In fact, the incident, which is now being investigated by the FAA, according to AVweb (good scoop, y’all), was everything that pilots hate about the kind of flashy self-promotion that has been spawned and inspired by sites like YouTube and TikTok, which reward creators, like cash money rewards, for their viral videos. Jacob’s video currently has around 1.5 million page views.
I won’t belabor why people suspect that Jacob’s bailing out of the light plane was a hoax. In short, it was too perfectly choreographed. Jacob was wearing a skydiving parachute, the T’Craft’s door appears to be unlatched before the engine quits, the fuel selector looks to be shut off, according to one T-Craft owner, and the pilot’s reactions seem less than spontaneous in response to what many suspect was a faux emergency. The entire thing seemed perfectly set up to make a video. Even the title: I Crashed My Plane, seems to imply more than Jacob intended.
True believers would counter with the claim that Jacob wouldn’t have chosen such a remote place to exit his plane had it been planned. Skeptics would respond that such a location was actually ideal, and that Jacob, an experienced skydiver and backcountry athlete, would have been able to save himself from such an emergency.
But I’m not really concerned with making a case against Jacob—there are plenty of others who have done just that and done it well. I was a skeptic before I saw 10 seconds of the video, and the footage did nothing but cement that non-belief. Most pilots feel exactly the same way.
My point is that such stunts, as the FAA suspects it was, do not impress pilots. Quite the opposite. While we all embrace the videos of joyful selfies or wild crosswind landings, such self-made moments are capturing real flying. It is authentic, the joy, the challenges, even the risks. Wing suit flyers—Jacob was said to be carrying the ashes of a friend who died in a wingsuit accident—often take crazy risks, but they are doing so not to manufacture a crisis moment but to experience it and share that experience. And I vigorously support their freedom to do so while even more vigorously advising would-be flyers to find less risky aviation pursuits.
On the other hand, pilots find stunts wildly tone deaf to the nature of aviation. Manufacturing an emergency invites real harm, which real pilots would never do. Sure, many pilots embrace increased levels of risk in order to get an extra jolt out of their flying, but the idea is to not crash. And even more, such stunts are disrespectful of the losses that so many pilot have suffered, when people they care about are lost in an actual crash. There’s nothing clever or funny about them. They are little more than a demonstration of the creator’s ignorance of the culture of safety that real pilots live out loud on every flight.
Did Jacob create this emergency for YouTube bucks? I’ll let the FAA decide that. Whether it was a stunt or just a suspiciously opportune video moment, I wouldn’t want to be in Jacob’s shoes right now.