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The Dreaded FAA Physical Exam

. . . and some proven tips on how to pass it . . .OR NOT!

©Jim Trusty 2011

On the road back from my semi-annual FAA Physical, I thought about writing this article in hopes that it might help someone else about to face this ordeal. I really wanted to point out some of the things that I have found necessary to do over the years in order to “maintain my health” and to keep flying at the ripe old age of—? Are you aware that failing this test can STOP you from flying TODAY? I was reminded of that consequence by the FAA Doctor. “Thanks a lot,” I told him, “that should really help my blood pressure, heart check, and pulse.”

I’ll brag some and lie some about me and then we’ll talk some more about you and your physical condition. I still get the hardest FAA physical available, the First Class, every six months, and pass it with flying colors. Height 74”, weight 184, blood pressure 118/66, resting pulse 46 bpm, no glasses, no hearing aids, no prescription drugs (or the other kind), most of my hair and teeth, and no major medical problems . . . ever. Oh yeah, I still fly a Corporate 135 Mitsubishi Marquise, work part-time as a “Gold Seal” Flight and Ground Instructor, serve the FAA community as an Aviation Safety Team Representative, write for 35 different aviation publications, and I just turned 75.

REALITY: The hardest thing to do daily is to try and stay healthy by controlling your diet and exercising regularly, and it’s something that has to be done daily or it will escape your capacity to control it. I just had lunch with a group from my airport and one of the guys who is a tad overweight ordered a salad rather than the usual hamburger and fries. I asked him, why the healthy change? He said he had a physical coming up in three days and he wanted to get ready for it. He also walked for 15 minutes that morning. I told him Yep, that oughta do it! If only it were that easy……It’s not!

GENETICS: Do they play a major role in our health? Certainly, but not to the point that you have lost all control of your destiny. Being overweight, laziness, drinking, smoking, and a bad diet are not necessarily inherited. Habits, however, over a long period of time can be easily adopted and accepted as a trait. It doesn’t stand to reason that you have to take on only the bad things you have witnessed throughout your lifetime from your kinfolks, even though some do. This should be an easy choice for you to make if you take a close look at some of those relatives.

DIET: This is hard! We have been raised on greasy, salty, fattening, sugary food from day one and to ask ourselves to now quit or at least cut back is next to impossible for most. If we can’t quit entirely, what about improving on one meal a day? Then as our body makes adjustments, add another meal to get even healthier. Like a healthy breakfast. Some combination of oatmeal, turkey bacon, poached eggs, yogurt, dry cereal, fresh fruit, skim or soy milk, or for me personally, a smoothie milkshake made with frozen fruit and soy milk with a heaping of protein powder added. If I had my choice I would forego this first meal of the day altogether, but it is important to the rest of your day.

EXERCISE: Nothing strenuous, mind you, but walking early in the morning while it’s still cool and quiet certainly can’t hurt. Whatever you do has to be done regularly. I’ll let you decide the endeavor and the intensity, but it has to be a daily chore and hopefully something you really enjoy doing. Remember, if you are not sweating, you are not exercising.

WITH A FRIEND: This whole healthy thing really works better if you have a friend or family member to share it with…Even a pet works.

THE EXAM: Just think about what the actual exam entails for a moment and then ask yourself, if I can’t pass this thing ever so often, maybe I really shouldn’t be flying an airplane, or driving a car, or possibly even walking. If mine, the First Class Medical, is the hardest with eye, ear, weight, urine sample, electrocardiogram, and a blood pressure check, then the Second and the Third should be a cake walk. Take a look at some of the pilots you fly with and know in your mind that they passed it.

FAILURE: Medication, blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes and DUI seem to top the lists. Some things can be corrected or waived by you or the FAA, and many others can be corrected without getting involved with drugs. I’ve had students with one eye, deaf, one leg, several that have overcome heart and health problems and some that I could swear had severe mental problems, and they pass regularly. So can you if you really want to and try extra hard daily.

DUI/DWI: Let’s take just a moment to talk about this problem and the circumstances of getting yourself involved in it. It is the simplest to handle, yet most pilots shy away from it. They hate to tell on themselves or admit that there is a problem. Before you are arrested or ticketed for Driving under the Influence or Driving while Intoxicated, get on the government website and read what has to be done by you in a given period of time. You can call them 405-954-4848 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Time is of the essence in this matter.

TIPS: Ever think about getting a complete physical once a year with your regular doctor just so you can be notified in advance of anything that could potentially jeopardize your getting through the FAA exam? I alternate mine, FAA AME in July, regular family physician in January. Some insurance companies will usually pay for this checkup once a year, but not the FAA visit.

FINALLY: Just how badly do you want to keep flying? It really all comes down to the answer to that question. Is it a high priority? To me, it is my life. If you are giving aviation the ranking in stature that I do, staying healthy is uppermost on your agenda. Your family will probably appreciate that dedication to a job also.

READY?: Let’s start today with a program that will make us ready for that next FAA Medical Examination. We are not going to be able to cure everything we have already done to our bodies and health, but we can make some adjustments that will be noticeable to the doctor, the FAA, and most importantly, to you and your family. It is never too late as long as you are vertical; it’s when you go horizontal that the problems really begin.

IN CLOSING: I’d love to hear from you and find out what changes you are making in your lifestyle. Personally, I’m always looking to lose another pound, see a little better, hear what people are saying, and certainly, striving for a little more energy. You can e-mail me at the address listed below. I always appreciate your comments and will answer if you pose a question. Thanks, and stay healthy!

Written permission from the author required to reprint this copyrighted article. (2011)


JAMES E. (Jim) TRUSTY, ATP~CFI~IGI~AGI, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the first ever FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 and then again in 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate 135 Pilot~ “Gold Seal” Flight & Ground Instructor~FAA Aviation Safety Team Lead Representative~ Internationally Published Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide.

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