Color blindness for FAA Physical
I am curious what happens to someone who cannot pass the color blindness part of a Class III FAA physical.  I have perfect color vision, but was just curious. It seems that the color blindness test involves the ability to see light gun signals from the tower in event of a radio failure.  Is this really necessary these days? 
23 Replies
I failed the color vision test on my first class 3 medical. Had to get a waiver that entailed a series of light signals sent from the tower while an a FAA inspector observed. Never had to take the color vision test on any subsequent flight physicals. That was 50 years ago and a 39 year airline career, I don’t think it has changed.
My experience was like yours, but it's more complicated now. See Color Vision Test  You can still fly in the daytime with defective color vision as long as you avoid situations requiring light gun signals.

I'm glad I received my SODA before the new testing requirements came.
If you fail the color blind test at your physical you can take a couple of other practical tests. The Farnsworth Lantern test being one. Or the light gun from tower test that would be set up through FSDO. If you fail all of those, you will have a restriction on your medical that says "Not valid for night flying or color signal control".
I have had recent experience with this exact situation. After flying for 20 plus years I failed my class 3 color blindness test at my last physical. The AME put a restriction on my medical stating "Not valid for night flying or light gun control". 

Needless to say I was shocked and angry. My favorite time to fly is at night. I had even just bought a light twin, a Seneca, just to add to the safety factor of flying at night, among other reasons.

 The concept of flight control by light gun signals is beyond antiquated. I don't know about you but, when was the last time you heard a story conveyed that somebody had to land via light signals.

In today's day and age I fly with two panel mounted radios, a handheld radio in the seat back pocket, and worst case scenario we all have cell phones in the cockpit.  Australia does not even require color vision for their commercial pilots.
Frank, your post could have been written by me, exact same thing back in 1979 for me.
I had to land using light gun signals last year.  The ELT in my rental Warrior started going off (no idea how it tripped) when I was about 10nm from my home airport, a class D.  The closest uncontrolled airport was on the other side of the class D, which sits next to a class B.  The Warrior had 2 radios, but the ELT signal totally overwhelmed everything and I could not hear any transmissions (I found out after I landed that tower could hear me 5x5).  We had cellphones, but I didn't have the tower number handy.  So I squawked 7600 and flew in via light gun, smooth and no complications.

So while rare, it still happens.
TR Proven
2 Posts
Duane,
Just curious, have you flown at night with a qualified pilot and been able to identify the colors of the lights on the airport?
Thanks
TR
I first became aware that I had "color vision deficiency" when I went through my USAF physical in 1964.  Couldn't see the number in the middle of all those dots on 13 of the 15 plates presented to me.  Then, when I got married, my wife would say to me, "You're not really wearing THAT, are you?"  Skip to 1990 when I took my first Class III Airman's Physical, again, failed miserably.  Called the local FSDO to set up an appointment for a waiver.  We went to the closest towered airport.  Shot light gun signals of red, green and white from 1,000 feet, then 3,000 ft.  Got all of them right.  Went back to the FSDO, the examiner typed my "waiver of demonstrated ability".  "It's good for life", he told me.  He was right.  All I have to do each time I take another FAA physical is present the waiver.  I don't have to embarrass myself by taking a color blindness test. 
While I passed the light gun test in the 1990s making me grandfathered in, I have never understood the FAA obsession about this. As one person suggested the light gun is antiquated and most all of us have backup radios. I have two on the panel, and one handheld battery operated, plus, as was said, my cell phone.

But it is the night flying that is so illogical. Most color deficient men have standard red-green colorblindness. So I might have trouble distinguishing between red and green. (actually with light colors, as opposed to paint colors, the biggest problem with red-green colorblindness is distinguishing between green and white). The lights on the end of the runway threshold are red and the side lights on the runway are white. Am Iikely to get this confused and land sideways on the runway? I would suggest in the history of aviation there has never been a single incident of a pilot landing sideways on the runway because of light color confusion.The taxiway lights are blue and nearly all men with red-green colorblindness can see blue easily (we can't see purple because we can't see the red that makes blue purple - but there are no purple lights on the field).

It is, like many things with the FAA, antiquated policy that does not reflect modern technology - or even simple logic.
The FAA should be embarrassed! Wasting time on light gun signals while we all fly around with antiquated magnetos and carburetors. Put the light guns back in their box if you can find them and work on something that can help GA,