The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires that you be properly certificated and physically able to operate your aircraft competently before you are licensed to fly. Periodic physical examinations are intended not only to evaluate your general health, but to help ensure that you will not suffer a medical emergency during actual flight. It is also necessary that you be free of conditions which dull your alertness and impair your ability to make quick decisions. As a pilot, you often hold the lives of others in your hands; it is crucial that you be able to instantly recognize and properly react to urgent situations.
The physician who examines you is, in many cases, a pilot himself. He is specially selected by the FAA for his knowledge of “flight medicine.” Your examiner is just one of a network of AME’s (Aviation Medical Examiners) located throughout the country. Whenever you have a question about a health problem which could affect flight safety, consult him/he is anxious to serve you. And he is as important to safe flight as the preflight check of your aircraft or the weather briefing.
During the examination, special attention is focused upon correct functioning of the vital organs and parts of the body most critical to flying. These include the eyes, lungs, heart, ears, and the muscular and nervous systems. This doesn’t mean that you have to be a perfect physical specimen. Some defects can be waived if your performance as a pilot is unimpaired.
Primarily, the AME wishes to discover any physical condition which could threaten safe flight by causing pilot disability – such as epilepsy, heart trouble, or diabetes. Disorders such as acute infections, anemia, and peptic ulcers may be only temporarily disqualifying. Generally, corrected vision, dentures, or certain minor ailments are not an obstacle to certification.
Unlike pilots in the military services who have flight surgeons monitoring their health regularly, or airline pilots with their own medical departments, you are largely on your own to judge when you should or should not fly. So, evaluation of fitness for flight becomes more of a personal matter in your case. The AME can find major problems only when your certificate comes up for renewal, or when consulted. The rest of the time, you alone must evaluate your flying capabilities.
Include in your occasional “required reading” list the Federal Aviation Regulations (?61.45 and ?63.19) described on the back of your medical certificate (which has probably been tucked away in your wallet since its issue). These regulations place the responsibility for determining physical fitness upon the pilot. They state that no person may act as a pilot when he has a known physical deficiency which would make him unable to meet the physical requirements for his medical certificate.
In other words, if you can’t pass the flight physical today, you shouldn’t fly today! It is up to you to know when a physical deficiency or temporary illness might interfere with aircraft operation. If you are unsure, a brief consultation with the AME will quickly clear up any doubts.