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From Pilot To Patient . . . The Longest And Hardest Transition That We Will Ever Make

Jim Trusty, 2006

Is old age catching up with you? Having a hard time passing the FAA physical examination? Old body just wearing out? Tired of the hassle? Are you eating more medication than you are food? Has it started tasting good? If so, you just may be a candidate for losing your FAA Medical Certificate. Make you happy?

This is something that eventually happens to most of us. We spend almost a lifetime as healthy, vibrant members of the aviation community, but as age sneaks up on us we suddenly get old. It seems like overnight but actually it's over time. First we slow down, then we get sick, then we stop. I'm watching this take place more and more as former students and pilots that have flown with me for years are getting grounded by illness. High blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, circulation, eyes, ears, nose, throat, and a host of everyday maladies are catching up with my friends.

What if you find yourself for the first time in probably 50 years having someone tell you that you are not healthy enough or safe enough to fly? Just think for a minute what that statement would mean to you. I have watched grown men cry after hearing this statement. I've seen them get better, fight for the right to fly, change their lifestyle, start eating right or at least better, lose some weight, slack off on the booze, quit smoking, and all of a sudden they feel better and can pass muster once again for the FAA AME. Some simply can't take the pressure and they are too scared to fight and get driven out.

Now that the secret is out (the fact that we all get old), whatever age and condition you are today, plan on doing whatever is necessary to be better tomorrow. It isn't fun, but it really works. This is a choice that we in the aviation community have to make. We are entrusted with the lives of others and that means due diligence on our part for every single flight.

For those of you who have met me, I am the perfect example of what a healthy lifestyle can produce, but all that I do won't keep me from getting sick or dying tomorrow. I eat what is healthy. I walk, run, and lift weights. I only have one wife and she doesn't let me date other women. I don't smoke or drink and I'm too cheap to buy dope. At the ripe old age of 71, I can still pass a 1st Class physical, fly a Mitsubishi in Part 135, teach flight and ground students, present FAA Safety Seminars several times each year, and make myself and my time available to almost anyone who needs a boost in flying. Oh yes, I still write for several aviation magazines on a monthly basis. Does all that stuff make me happy? You bet!

If it didn't I'd give it up today, buy a Harley and a gallon of Black Jack and ride off into the moonlight. Does it mean that I can't die of cancer or get run over by a car later on today? Nope. It simply means that I have chosen to try to keep active in aviation as long as I can. I absolutely love aviation and know that most of you do, too. What we each must decide is whether it is worth the sacrifices it requires to stay healthy in order to fly an airplane. My answer will always be yes, what's yours? What we as pilots have to do is live for today and do whatever we can to stay alive and pass that 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Class FAA Physical. I really don't think that any of us set out to be unhealthy; we just realize that it is a chore to stay that way. It really, for some, takes all the fun out of living.

The FAA is not out to get your certificate! Take that thought out of your hard peanut. The rules apply to all of us and we are given every chance and plenty of time to prepare for this yearly ordeal. What we will be tested for and what parameters they expect us to meet are clearly spelled out for all to read in our rules and regulations. I've watched our local FAA Doc go far out of his way to help those about to fail an exam. He doesn't have to, so the onus is really on us from the first time that we decide to fly and take a physical.

What we don't do generally is spend much time in the preparation department. What it takes is that daily commitment on our part to stay healthy and a desire to keep flying. Both of these things will go a long way toward getting our mindset straight. You've really got to want to stay healthy.

I know a lot of this sounds like the same old deja poo, but there's some truth in the statement that you can do what you want to do if you really set your mind to it. Remember, you can fly an airplane. You are one out of every 300 and you are a part of the less than 1% of the population that can aviate. You, my friends, are very special.

Besides losing the right to fly, hangar or airplane, to bum around the airport, to listen in and tell tall tales from years gone by, and to lend a hand with a newbie just getting their wings, not being healthy costs more money than being healthy. How so? All those tests, paperwork, telephone calls, land spam and otherwise are billed to you as you try to recoup your certificate along with the FAA AME, who charges also. And just so you know, it isn't covered by insurance, at least that's what I am told from those going through it now.

Maybe the truth of the matter is that you have been looking at the rules and regulations for Sport Pilots, Experimentals, Gliders, Ultralights, Powered Parachutes, Bungee Jumping, or a host of other ways to become one with the sky. Or maybe you have gone for a test ride on a new Harley-Davidson. I hope not because I'll miss you as a fellow pilot and airport buddy.

As the meanest flight instructor on the base, I really can't afford to lose any more friends so I'm asking you to stand in front of your mirror, take a look at where you are in life and tell yourself what it is that you want to do. If you think you have had a good run, done everything you wanted to accomplish, flown everything and everywhere you could, and think it is getting close to rocking chair time, then so mote it be. I'm going to miss you and if you have second thoughts on any day I am at the airport, just stop by my hangar. I can always use an extra hand getting the bugs off the wings, and if you feel up to it, we can fly to a $100 hamburger caf' and I'll buy. Sound fair? I look forward to seeing you.

(Everything we've talked about here can be found in your most recent FAR book under Part 67.)

Written permission from the author required to reprint this copyrighted article. (2006)

JAMES E. (Jim) TRUSTY, ATP CFI IGI ASC, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 & 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate 135 Pilot/ "Gold Seal" Flight & Ground Instructor/ FAA Aviation Safety Counselor/ National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide. If you have comments, questions, complaints, or compliments, please e-mail them directly to him, and he will certainly respond. Thank You. (Lrn2Fly@bellsouth.net)