Unique Medical Situation
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Answered By AOPA

Hi All. I am new to this forum and was recommended by a good friend of mine who is a pilot. I am currently looking at different options for flight school, with my end goal being that I would like to fly commercially. 

I am in a unique situation medically. I was a deputy sheriff for a time but was seriously injured in the line of duty, resulting in now having a prosthetic left leg. I am functional with my leg and am able to perform normally day to day. That said, I know that in order to get a first-class medical, I will have to get a SODA. 

I currently don't have any flying experience. Obviously I never planned on being injured and having a career change, but have always had an interest in getting my pilots license and I know that I would enjoy being a pilot. I am looking for some help or suggestions on how to best go about getting enough flying experience so that I can demonstrate my ability to a medical examiner. Without currently having a PPL, I am not quite sure how to go about this and would appreciate any help you all could offer. Thank you. 

I am from the Memphis, TN area if you guys know of any connections I should follow up with there. 

13 Replies
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AOPA Staff Answer

You might consider getting in touch with Able Flight as well.  They have a lot of experience in this area.  All the best with your training.

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1522 Posts

@Austin Eldridge
First, your situation is hardly unique – there are a lot of pilots flying with prosthetic limbs.

Second, there are no barriers to beginning training right now.  As long as you have no other issues preventing medical issuance, an AME can do the examination for a restricted Third Class medical.  The application will be deferred to FAA HQ which will issue a special authorization valid only for Student Pilot purposes. You will eventually have to demonstrate your ability to an FAA Operations Inspector (not an AME) your ability to fly with your prosthetic leg (this may be combined with your a Private Pilot practical test) but you don't have to do that until your much further along in your training.

For more information on this process, check with the AOPA Medical Help Desk at 800-USA-AOPA.

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@Ronald Levy
Thank you so much for your response. My biggest “concern” of course is the operation of rudder and brakes with the prosthesis, but there are so many pilots flying as amputees that it must be possible. 

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1522 Posts

@Austin Eldridge
One thing you can do to allay your concerns would be to go to a flight school and ask for an introductory flight.  Explain your concerns to the instructor and ask them to get you to use the rudder pedals for steering/braking on the ground and coordination/slipping in flight.  If you can do that, press on.

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@Ronald Levy
The procedure is outlined in 8900.1 Volume 5, Chapter 8, Section 1, Paragraph 1526 E(3).

Observe an applicant with a deformity or with the absence of an extremity demonstrate the following in an aircraft:
a) The ability to reach and operate effectively all controls which would normally require the use of that extremity (or those extremities). Note any unusual body position the applicant may use to compensate for the defect and what effect that position has on the applicant's field of vision.
b) The ability to satisfactorily perform emergency procedures relative to flight, such as recovery from stalls, and engine-out procedures (multiengine aircraft).
c) If the pilot has an arm prosthesis and tests in turboprops, the ability to lift the power handles for reversing (including asymmetrical reversing).
d) If the pilot has a deformity or absence of an extremity, determine whether the applicant should be restricted to the specific make and model of aircraft in which the medical flight test is accomplished, to a make and model within a series (e.g., Cessna 172), or to aircraft models with special equipment or control arrangements, and/or determine whether to impose special operating conditions, as necessary.

At the time I left the FAA (a year ago), they had stopped issuing a medical certificate with the limitation “Valid for Student Pilot Purposes”.

The FAA now allows a DPE to do the Medical Flight Test.  You can look them up on the FAA's web site.  There are none from the Memphis FSDO currently authorized, but there are 3 from the Little Rock FSDO.  You can probably schedule quicker with a DPE.  While there is no charge for an Inspector to conduct the test, a DPE will likely charge for his services.

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@Kristian Kortokrax
I really appreciate all that information. I had the privilege this morning to talk with another amputee pilot who flies commercially and has no issues with using the brakes or getting a SODA, and he is the exact same kind of amputee I am. So that certainly gives me more confidence knowing it’s possible and can be done.