The issue of medical certification for private pilots is a deeply personal one for me, which makes the creating of this column even more self-reflective than most of the writing I do—and those of you who follow this space know that much of what I publish has involved looking deeply into the mirror over the years.
It’s been so personal because I have never had a “normal” third-class medical. From the day in the 1980s that I first soloed, even my student pilot certificate had a Special Issuance Medical associated with it. Therefore I have some real-world experience about the FAA’s medical certification process garnered over several decades of flying—legally—after jumping through the various hoops established by the Aerospace Medical Certification Division in Oklahoma City.
Back then, pre-solo, it came as quite a shock to me when I discovered that a drug prescribed by my doctor was on the FAA’s proscribed list of medications and that I could not just be issued a Third Class Medical after a cursory visit to the medical examiner and the writing of a check. Some months before I had experienced a circulatory problem in my left leg and was put on a blood thinner that the FAA required more information about. When I gave FAA the letter from my doctor and some lab test results, it sent me the first of my many Special Issuance Medicals.
In the decades since, instead of seeing the medical examiner every two years like you are probably used to (or every three years, when the rules changed) I had to be processed each year, with lab reports and letters from my physician sent to Oklahoma City. I’d see the flight surgeon one year, and do the lab/paperwork shuffle the next.
And each year I’d face the stressful wait to see if the docs in Oklahoma City would once again approve my Special Issuance Medical.