Saturday, July 2, 2011

Arc en Ciel

[I prefer writing about flying to writing about me, but this is an unusual juncture so please indulge me.]

For some reason the date was memorable: May 5, 1992. My third class medical certificate was expiring, and that day I got a second class certificate. The way things work in the USA, flight privileges are tied to the medical. For commercial privileges, one needs a second class certificate; for Airline Transport privileges, one needs a first class.

I got my commercial certificate in an old Cessna 210, the kind with struts and a hydraulic system so ancient that it took significant strength to position the valves to raise or lower the landing gear. An ag plane cut me off in the pattern and the examiner seemed to think that the required emergency was covered. I was a Commercial pilot.

I worked my way up, earning a bunch of certificates: multi, CFI, CFII, MEI, Commercial glider, CFI-G, and, most important of all, ATP (which took two tries, the only one that did so). For that I needed a first class medical (technically a third class will do to take the test, but you need a first class to use it), and after my double bypass in 1998 I kept my first class medical certificate, hoping for a jet job (jet captains under 14CFR135 must have an ATP, hence need a first class medical). Since I wasn't using it I let it lapse to a second class for the second six months, but during that first six months I endorsed a lot of logbooks with "ATP" rather than "CFI", instruction in commercial operations being an ATP privilege.

I flew freight, fires, and frightened patients all over the West. There is no possible universe in which a part-time pilot who is also a mathematics professor with heart disease can fly a King Air, but I got three years in King Air 200s anyway.

Two more cardiac interventions cost me the King Air, and I gave up on the jet idea and, as a consequence, on the first class medical. But I kept the second class and my commercial privileges. ATP was now a diploma on my wall and an attitude toward flying, but not something I used.

A year ago, after the incident described here, the FAA's annual letter describing what it would take to renew my second class medical became draconian: they were demanding much more testing, testing that neither my insurance company nor wallet could justify. AMEs tell me this level of testing won't be required for a third class medical.

My second class medical certificate expired June 30, and I have informed the FAA that I will not seek another (see above). The FAA is concerned about my heart, but without Rheumatoid Arthritis I would have the energy to make enough money to pay for the heart testing. And now there's evidence connecting RA and heart disease. Since my heart disease is unusual (no risk factors, no lifestyle changes, no symptoms: the only effect is that every now and then they take all of my money), it may have been RA all along.

In other words, I am a Private Pilot now. (I'm still a CFI; that's teaching, not flying.) I even changed my blog profile to say former professional pilot.

Make no mistake about it: I am proud of my PPL. In the next few months I'll write about the joys and adventures being a PPL can bring. I'm hoping for at least one long trip, and maybe a seaplane rating.

And I still intend to fly like an ATP; I have some things to say about that, too.

ps I have started a Google AdSense account, which is supposed to target ads based on content. I hope you don't mind; it seems unobtrusive to me, and it would really be nice to get a little compensation for all of this writing. I noticed in looking up the post on my most recent stent that AdSense came up with ads for heart surgeons. Now that's targetted!

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At July 3, 2011 at 11:37 AM , Blogger Frank Van Haste said...


So, a fork in the road, the adventure continues!

It reminds me of my sailing friends who, as time marches on, have gone from the 44 foot racer to the 28 foot weekender to the 22 foot day-sailer. Yet the sea is unchanging!

I don't care what the paper says - far as I know, you'll always be a professional pilot.

Fair winds,



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