Ask anyone about Jerry Foster these days and you will almost always hear answers that start with "Oh, the helicopter pilot?" But end with a variety of reponses, such as:
"I loved that guy; he was my hero."
"What's he doing anyways?"
"I heard he died."
"Wasn't he grounded by the FCC?" FAA. Whatever.
Regardless if you love or hated Foster, everyone who has ever heard of Jerry Foster has also heard about the pot. In the jacket. Sucked out of the back of the helicopter during a visit to an elementary school. Even better, found by two kids in the D.A.R.E. program who took it to school officials who then called Gilbert police. Officer meets Foster at the field and reads him his rights. Foster panics and makes a bad situation worse. So began the unfortunate turn of events that led to a very personal downward spiral and became the moment that defined the man.
Out of anyone, anywhere who ever used a helicopter for good, Foster definitely stood out. The first of his kind; helicopter pilot, news reporter; broadcast journalist; friend to law enforcement; hero. No matter how you felt, you could identify with the soft-spoken guy in the short white shorts, sport socks and shock of white hair. Phoenix residents loved him, watched his newscasts, asked him to show up, awarded him for exemplary service. They also began to complain about the noise of the rotors, question his every decision on the ground and in the air and would ask more than one editorial "just who the hell does Foster think he is?" Foster is a man who always wanted to fly---ALWAYS. He mastered his craft and was available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with legions of people watching. Foster was able to do some unbelievable flying at a time when the rules were still to be made, to the detriment of his own family and personal safety in an amazing flying career that began in the late 1960s and continued through the late 1990s.
The February day Foster found the jacket changed the path of his flying career forever. Sure, there would be other incidents reported in the news, and Foster would eventually be fired for a potential scandal nearly 8 years after the pot by a different television station for an entirely different situation. But not for the pot. The Federal Aviation Administration actually did pull his ticket for reckless behavior for two separate incidents; one for a plane crash that occurred when Foster was just 21 years old and the other for chasing a suspected bank robber too closely with his bird in the mid-1980s. In light of his contribution to aviation, law enforcement and a generation of young pilots who were inspired by Foster's career, his license was handed back to him, in person, sealed with FAA-caliber handshakes.
Foster's name was eventually cleared for the pot (was not his jacket, gun or marijuana) by local police, but his name wasn't; Foster would eventually ride off into the sunset a decade later, quietly shamed and publicly humiliated; comfortably numb in the knowledge that he did his best with what he could. Still the most decorated civilian helicopter pilot in history, and the first of so many firsts in aviation, journalism, search and rescue; it was the sum of the parts that equaled the pot. I mean, the man.