Walt Starling, one of the first flying traffic reporters, died of cancer Jan. 4 at his home in Maryland. He was 52 years old.
Starling’s career started as a class project at the University of Maryland, where he was studying radio and television in 1973.
His assignment was to create a job for himself. He was a student pilot at the time, and his idea was to provide live radio reports while monitoring traffic from an airplane. Starling’s professor told him it was just about the dumbest idea he’d ever heard.
Undeterred, Starling took the idea to Washington, D.C., radio station WAVA, which agreed to try it. On March 4, 1974, he started delivering morning and afternoon rush hour reports from a Cessna 172, circling Washington at 1,200 feet. He was one of the few traffic reporters who did his own flying, and may have been the first. By the time he quit he had flown about 2.2 million miles – nearly all inside the Washington Beltway. That’s a lot of time in a little airplane for a big man who stood at 6 feet 4 inches.
Although his traffic reports kept him busy, Starling found time to restore and fly vintage airplanes, and to perform in the Flying Circus Airshows at Beallsville, Virginia.