Jim was born in Wichita, KS in 1954, but his family moved to Silver Bay, Minnesota shortly after his birth. Like many boys growing up in Minnesota, Jim's passion was hockey, and in high school he was the starting goalie on the school team. By his senior year Jim had become well known for his abilities on the ice and was recruited by colleges from across the country, including the University of Anchorage. So at the age of 18 the strapping young man from Minnesota moved to Alaska to play college hockey, but it was here that he discovered his love for flying. Jim would take flying lessons whenever he could find time between his college classes and hockey practice, and eventually earned his pilot's license.
Although Jim was a talented hockey player, he knew that it wouldn't be his lifelong career. So in 1980 he stopped playing hockey and moved to the village of Unalakleet to start building fishing boats. Jim was a hard worker, but not without a sense of humor, naming his company "Gussik Ventures" after the Eskimo term for a white person. These "Tweto Boats" were used by the locals for all types of fishing, and nearly three-quarters of the boats in the region today were built by Jim in the early 80's.
In December of 1984, Jim decided to try his hand as a professional pilot and started flying for a small airline in Unalakleet. The company was run by Ferno's father, and it was here that Jim and Ferno's relationship blossomed. Jim was a natural as a pilot, and his entrepreneurial spirit encouraged him to start his own company several years later. A far cry from the Era Alaska of today, Jim's company started with one airplane and Ferno taking calls at home while their young daughters Ayla and Ariel were toddling around their small apartment. Jim's business was a big success, and in 1990 he joined forces with Mike Hageland to form Hageland Aviation. Over the next decade the company continued to grow, and in 2008 they merged with Era Alaska, creating the largest regional airline in Alaska.
Jim is respected across the state as one of the best small plane pilots, and has logged over 30,000 hours behind the yoke of an aircraft. But flying small planes in Alaska can be a dangerous profession, so it is rare for a pilot to rack up so many hours of flying in the bush without a mishap. Jim has only had one accident during his many years of flying, during a 2007 off airport landing in his Super Cub. Although Jim's neck was broken in the accident, within months he was back to work, loading planes with essential supplies and flying the wilds of bush Alaska.