Life of Smuggling Daredevil Gary Betzner Chronicled in HBO Miniseries, 'The Invisible Pilot'

The movie poster image from "The Invisible Pilot" and Gary Betzner in front of one of his crashed smuggling planes in the ’80s.

Gary Betzner, a crop duster from Arkansas who got caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal, is the subject of HBO's three-episode smuggling series, The Invisible Pilot.

Busted several times on cocaine trafficking charges, Betzner faked his death in 1977, renamed himself Lucas Harmony and moved to California and then Hawaii. He embraced Guru Maharaji and fell in love with marijuana, flying to Colombia where the best weed was at.

"I wanted to make drugs available to everyone," Betzner says in one of many interview clips with him. "It was a satisfying service... The more weed I could bring in, the more the possibility of enlightenment and peace on Earth that was my personal contribution."

Betzner married twice. His second wife Sally, their two children Travis and Sara Lee, and Polly, from his first marriage, all play major supporting roles in the series. 

"There are so many stories about crazy smugglers," Sally explains, "but they never talk about the women in the family. They never talk about those who are left behind that really carry the weight." She gets to tell hers.

Betzner eventually teamed up with coke smuggler George Morales who was connected with Pablo Escobar and the CIA. As part of the covert effort to fund the Contras and oust the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Betzner at first unwittingly ran military arms from Florida to Costa Rica in exchange for cocaine. 

While Betzner doesn't have his own Wikipedia page, he's listed as a notable person at the Hazen, Arkansas page: "Former US Navy pilotcivic leader and convicted drug smuggler employed by Pablo Escobar and the CIA during the Iran-Contra affair."

In 1984, he was busted with a load of Escobar's product and sentenced to 27 years in federal lockup. Hoping to receive a sentence reduction, in 1988, Betzner testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations. He ended up serving his entire term.

Betzner's an enigmatic figure, a man always on the run, or making a run, the invisible stoner pilot, hippie daredevil and dreamer with distain for the law and unabashed hatred of Ronald Reagan. It's not really clear what drew Betzner to the life; perhaps it came down to him just not saying no.

All three episodes are available at HBO Max. 


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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.