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For as long as he could remember, Joe Balzer dreamed of flying. He pursued his goal with a vigorous passion and earned his pilot licenses, piling up hundreds of hours of flight time with a wide variety of planes and jets with one overarching goal: to one day fly for a major airline. After a frustrating and ultimately failed attempt to fly for Delta, his long-held dream came true when he landed a job in 1985 as a Second Officer flying a Boeing 727 with Eastern Airlines. As far as Joe was concerned, it was the break of a lifetime—a dream job with a great company with a marvelous route structure and distinguishing flying history.
But Joe had a problem. And he refused to admit it to himself or to others. Joe Balzer was an alcoholic.
Joe’s alcoholism caught up with him in March 1990, when he was arrested with two other pilots for flying a commercial airliner while under the influence of alcohol. His world began crumbling down around him. His alcoholism cost him his promising career and his dignity, drained his life savings, and severely tested the strength, love, and endurance of his new marriage. Every major media outlet, including The New York Times, Newsweek, and Time Magazine covered the shocking story for the stunned American flying public. Refusing to take a plea bargain, Joe and his fellow pilots went to trial and were found guilty. All three were sent to federal prison. Instead of a minimum security facility, however, Joe ended up at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, long recognized as one of the country’s most notorious prisons. Flying Drunk is Joe’s bittersweet and thoroughly chilling memoir of his twisted journey to a Federal courtroom, his time behind bars, and his struggle to recapture all that he held dear.
Today, Joe is a recovering alcoholic, celebrating more than nineteen years of sobriety. The long road back from perdition led him to American Airlines, where good people and a great organisation recognised a talented pilot who had cleaned up his act and was ready to fly again, safely. Flying Drunk is an incredible journey of the human spirit, from childhood to hell, and back again.