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Truth and the FAA (Part II): What It Got Me

The phone call came as bad news: The doctor I’d hired to represent me before the FAA was calling to say the agency needed more information.The phone call came as bad news: The doctor I’d hired to represent me before the FAA was calling to say the agency needed more information. This sounded ominous. A couple months before, I’d voluntarily admitted to the FAA that I’d suffered painful cluster headaches and put renewal of medical certificate in jeopardy. (Editor's note: see Part I). In the meantime, I’d seen a neurologist and with medication gotten the headaches under control. I'd also sought out help from Virtual Flight Surgeons (VFS). The VFS doc -- who had urged me to be honest -- had seemed confident that I would get my medical back. Now, he sounded worried...

'We need a letter from your doctor,' he said, '... and we need a letter from you.' The FAA was concerned that I might be in the air, suffer a severe headache and become incapacitated. I’d been told, early on, that the agency takes a very conservative approach to medical problems and tends to ere on the side of caution. I got off the phone and started to stew and fuss. Over and over, I kept thinking, “You should have listened to those pilots who told you to keep your damn mouth shut! Mark ... you're a bonehead!” I figured I was in for more hassles and maybe even lawyers. (Who was it that handled Hoover's case again? Ah, crud.)

In a mild panic, I called and left a message with my neurologist. When she called back, I explained what happened. She said she thought I should be allowed to fly and would be happy to write a letter on my behalf. My letter took a day to write, which included a valuable critique and some useful suggestions from my wife, and then a night to sleep on it, followed by a couple careful rewrites the next day and dropped the letters in the mail. There was no turning back.

I was tense, so I sat down and did a little couch flying. Cleared for takeoff. Power up. Rolling. Gauges in the green, airspeed alive ... rotate, WOW! I’m flyin’. It was beautiful. Then a cold flash shot through me ... is this just a memory? Will I ever really fly again? I don't mind telling you, I felt more than a little sick that day -- and it had nothing to do with headaches.

A week later, the phone rang. The Caller I.D. read: “Aviation Medicine.” I snatched up the phone. Dr. Keith Martin (the fellow I’d hired to work through my case) was on the other end. 'We just got a wire from the FAA. You’re good for a 3rd Class Medical.'

For a minute, I didn’t know what to say.

Then I remembered to say thanks ... thanks, again ... and broke into a grin that I haven't lost since. I’m back -- and I'm not bringing any dirty-little-secrets into the cockpit with me! Turn up the music! “BLAME IT ON THE BOSA NOVA.”

Next Stop: Tailwheel Endorsement and Instrument Rating!

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About This Author:
Mark Roberts started flying in late '98 and earned a private pilot certificate in December '99. He has accumulated some 225 hours in old favorites like the C-172, 182, the Piper Archer -- and even has some Citabria and DA20 Katana time. Mark is a former staff reporter for National Public Radio and currently works as a freelancer in both radio and print.
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