Two chances to meet pioneering Phoenix TV helicopter newsman in Prescott

In this circa-1983 TV image, pilot/reporter Jerry Foster places photographer John Bass on a flooded mobile home. Bass went through it, found no one inside, and got back into the helicopter minutes before the flooded New River destroyed the mobile home.

In this circa-1983 TV image, pilot/reporter Jerry Foster places photographer John Bass on a flooded mobile home. Bass went through it, found no one inside, and got back into the helicopter minutes before the flooded New River destroyed the mobile home.

PRESCOTT – If you lived in the Phoenix area – or, really, anywhere in Arizona – in the 1970s and 80s, you know the name Jerry Foster. This month, you have two opportunities to meet him in Prescott as he does a book tour.

Foster was the first helicopter pilot/reporter in the country. Sometimes, he even shot his own video, using one hand (and his knees) to fly the copter and the other hand to hold a TV camera.

Foster was the Chief Pilot for the Arizona Medical Evacuation System, a program started by the Department of Public Safety in 1969, and which was the forerunner of the DPS’ current Ranger air rescue unit.

But it wasn’t until he was flying a tiny helicopter, doing radio traffic for Phoenix radio station KOOL-AM, that he found a way to capture lightning in a bottle that lasted 20 years.

One day, he took one of KOOL-TV’s cameras up and shot some news film. It was a hit and he began shooting more and more.

When KTAR-TV, predecessor to today’s KPNX-TV 12, came calling, with a larger, jet-powered helicopter, a promise to give him live TV transmission gear and essentially free rein to do what he wanted, Foster jumped ship.

He was, for several years, the only pilot of a high-performance helicopter in town, and law enforcement and rescue agencies routinely called on him to help out in rescues—quite an advantage for someone who was covering the news.

But holding lightning in a bottle forever is impossible. By the 1990s, Foster found himself at KTVK, covering traffic again, his rescue pilot skills no longer needed in a city that was, by then, swarming with emergency helicopters.

Then, he was caught up in a drug sting, fired, and went into seclusion.

After years of driving an over-the-road semi, where he could be alone, he was convinced by his daughter to try Facebook. He resisted, sure that people who hated him would ridicule him.

But they didn’t. Instead, the questions fans asked led Foster to write his autobiography, which he titled, “Earthbound Misfit.”

He’ll be signing that book and telling stories Saturday, April 16, at 2 p.m. at the Peregrine Book Company, 219-A N. Cortez St. in Prescott.

Foster will also give a free multimedia presentation chronicling his career, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Davis Learning Center auditorium as part of the ERAU Aviation History program.