Back in the Saddle


crutchTwo weeks is a long time for me to go without flying. It doesn’t happen very often – even most of the time when I go on trips or vacation – I’m flying. But every once in awhile, forces conspire to keep me out of the cockpit – for instance a couple of weeks ago, I had a rapid, unscheduled dismount off of my mountain bike while coming down a steep, rocky road. Well, more of a ravine actually – calling it a road would be insulting people that build roads. Anyway – one iliac crest contusion later, I spent a couple of weeks barely walking, much less climbing in to a cockpit. So I decertified myself – so to speak.

The whole notion of the pilot medical is based upon the concept of self-certification, if you think of it. Those unencumbered by the thought process might think that the medical assures that pilots are always fit as a fiddle. Well, that might be true on the day they walked in and out of the AME’s office. But the rest of the time – we self-certify. And we do a pretty good job of it. Oh sure, I’ve flown when I had a little ache or pain, maybe a touch of a sore throat – but I could clear my ears and had no fever.

A major injury tends to make you feel bad enough that flying just doesn’t seem all that appealing. Oh sure, we want to go slip the surly bonds… but there is that thing about climbing in to the cockpit. We owe it to ourselves to be mobile enough to get in and out of the craft under our own power, don’t you think? I mean… what if you over prime and start a fire? It would be embarrassing to be trapped because the legs don’t work. It’s good to think about what one actually needs to DO as a pilot when evaluating our fitness to aviate.

Certainly ingress and egress are important, but so are all of the motions we need to make to manipulate the controls. Can you reach that fuel valve with a stiff back? Are your legs up to pushing with the force necessary should maximum braking become necessary? Can you latch the hatch with those broken ribs ?

(Sure – a little cheater bar is allowed – all is fair in war and aviation, don’t you think? Just get the job done!)

So I did a little test – climbed in and out of the airplane (without help), manipulated all of the controls, pushed on the brakes – and self-certified that I was fit to fly. Felt darn good to get some space between me and the ground again. I don’t like being grounded any more than any other pilot – but sometimes it happens. And based on my personal statistics, flying is FAR safer than mountain biking – at least at my age…

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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


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