Medical examinations


You would be very wise to go for your initial Medical before you get the 'flying bug'.

It would be a blow to find you cannot get a certificate just as you are due to go solo.

Don't fear the examination, you will have had many of the same tests as a child at school or having a check up with your GP. Much attention will be paid to the central nervous system, body heart and lung functions for obvious reasons. Depending on your age it is likely that the Doctor will run an ECG test. During this test, relax when you lie down, concentrate on breathing fully and do not allow anything stressful to enter your mind. Hearing and eyesight are important as are more 'mechanical' body functions like mobility and power (which can link back to the nervous system). In some countries tests such as blood, hearing, ECG and X ray will be done by outside contractors and you will have to make appointments to and go see them separately. The results will be collated before sending them to Headquarters. In other Countries the whole process will be centralised, as it is at Gatwick, UK.


If you smoke, GIVE UP! The tide of anti-smoking legislation in general society is unlikely to reverse and some of the more subtle ways that it can affect a person's ordinary functions are only just beginning to surface. The major effects it may have are well documented elsewhere and you can find all of them easily enough without them being repeated here. This is not to say that smokers are exluded from Aviation, It isn't as simple as that. There are Pilots that smoke but don't allow that to bolster justification for your addiction.

If you begin a carreer in Aviation and continue to smoke you can only expect peroidic Medical checks to become more and more of a trial. Your pulse and blood pressure will be higher because of that and may further rise when the dreaded questions on smoking come up. The effects of carbon monoxide being dissolved into the blood from smoke are to reduce oxygen take up. (CO is more readily taken up by the blood in preference to oxygen). It is said that the average smoker is at the equivalent of 6 -10,000 ft of altitude whilst standing next to a non-smoker at ground level. Further effects are to restrict blood flow by making vessels and arteries constrict, which tends to raise blood pressure. Not good for a Pilot!

Other adverse effects of smoking are coming to Not so long ago people seldom expected to keep their teeth past 35 or so, due to a mumber of factors. Now it is unusual for people to lose them before their seventies and then only due to wear and tear. BUT ! Smoking is now known to be a major contributing factor in diseases which cause gums to shrink away from healthy teeth. Bone loss results and good teeth just fall out. Do you want that to happen?


If you have ever taken drugs of any kind, give that up too, right now. Traces of them can remain in your system for a long time and you'll need to get them out and keep them out. No one can expect anything but contempt (and worse) if found with drugs in their system whilst flying or potentially flying an aircraft of any kind.

If you wish to use drugs then that is your choice but it is not the choice of the people that fly with you, nor is it the choice of the people you will fly over. To be blunt, you have no place in aviation.



In many ways alcohol is the most dangerous and insdious drug as it is so completely accepted by modern societies. It's OK to not smoke and not take drugs (of other kinds) but to refuse a 'drink' can be sacrilige anywhere. The difficulty is compounded when the mixed messages of popular opinion abound. One glass of red wine a day is often said to be 'good for the heart function' but over 21 units a week is too much and you risk dependency, liver and kidney damage if sustained over a long period. The rule has to be MODERATION IN ALL THINGS. (See 'Moderation' later in this article)


Don't undo all of your good work in preparation by just selecting another 'crutch' to lean on, eg. drinking endless cups of of Coffee or Tea. Too much of anything can cause problems and in this case your heart function and blood pressure may be adversly portrayed when it would otherwise have been OK!

Judging you - the comparatives

Some of the process of judgement of physical fitness will involve you being put against 'Models' or parameters seen as indicators of physical condition of you as a individual. They are normally things that you will have heard of before, the height/weight ratio chart, pulse at rest, blood pressure, blood chemistry and so on. The only time these are a problem (in general) is when someone falls well outside the 'norm', ie. if they are more than just a little overweight for instance. A collection of things outside 'Model' criteria may set off alarm bells, ie. Obesity AND high blood pressure joined by high blood cholesterol in a smoker. www.helicopterpilotsguide.com

Its not just a Medical.....

There are other things to be done during your first examination that are not Medical issues as such. The Medical is often the first time that you meet the CAA (or whatever authority governs flying in your Country) and the first time they meet you. They need to find out more about you than whether you can stand and breathe whilst stringing a sentence together! One of the main (non Medical) issues is to see if you are a 'fit and proper person' as defined in Aviation Law for the domain. This will take account of any criminal convictions you may have, and include how you have conducted yourself when in charge of other types of machinery or transport (eg. your car). If you have any that are 'active', (ie. that are not seen as 'spent' under the common law of your Country) then you MUST tell them right off. People have been known to 'forget' to disclose convictions in the past (ie. Drink Driving) and get an initial certificate only to have this come back and haunt them later.....The CAA has the power to check your records with the Police and other agencies (eg. Credit blacklisting and Civil Court records) and will not be impressed if you didn't disclose a conviction. They'll get suspicious, start digging, it's human nature. They might even revoke any Medical cert. already granted to you....It has been known. This is not the way to start your relationship with a large and powerful government agency!


Preparation is the key

Apply the 6 P's rule. (Good for flying too!)

P rior
P lanning
P revents
P retty
P oor
P erformance
(There are other versions!)

Preparing for your Medical examination.

Chose a date when you will be rested, not up to your neck in business or work and suffering stress. Reduce any excesses you indulge in, food, drink, exercise, anything that might affect your results for several days before the appointment. Don't slip back into old habits afterward.

Take exercise but not TOO MUCH in the days before the exam. It would be silly to suddenly launch on some strenuous fitness regime a week prior and appear to be a tired wreck!

Gor for a mid-morning appointment if possible and book the whole day off from work or other duties so no stress may enter your mind or the process. Good blood pressure and heart rate results will be greatly assisted by this. DON'T book a date that will require you to rush out of work in your lunch hour and arrive hurried and stressed. Arrive calm, serene and don't think about any of life's worries for any of that morning.

If you smoke book your appointment at least a week in advance and make that your goal - To go and be examined as a non-smoker. This can be a very useful piece of motivation to give up. DON'T start again afterward! You'll be over the worst of withdrawal already and you just need to give yourself a new goal to serve as motivation to remain a non- smoker. Maybe the money you can save will go towards flying lessons?

Moderation in all things

We all grow tired of the latest opinions on which foods are good for us, which are not, the overall effect is that people in general lose respect for such opinions as they appear to be contradicted in the following weeks or months. Whatever the popular view is at the time, there is one little maxim that will always serve you well, and it is just that, 'Moderation in all things.'

The plain fact is that too much of anything is bad for your body, be it water, oxygen, sugar, smoke, fat or anything else. All of the things we see as 'good', even essential, may harm your heath if taken to excess. Moderation will ensure that this does not happen.

A balance of the major food types that will supply your system with enough (but not too much) of any one dietary element is by far the safest (and simplest) way to good general health.

Exercise in the future

Flying is not noted for being strenuous in a physical way. If you are the 'sporty' type then you may still get enough exercise. If you are not then some other form of physical work will be a good way to maintain your fitness. See what interests you and channel some energy in that direction, be it sport, gardening or anything that can raise your heart rate. Any activity that will get you out of your chair and exercising will bring benefits in many ways.

Finally, I hope that at least part of this information helps you to be healthier and fitter in your future. I hope it helps you to obtain and retain a Medical certificate. But make no mistake! This advice has not been placed here for those that just want to get that certificate and then slip back into old habits. Don't use it in that way. It you take heed of anything said in this article, if you change anything, change it for GOOD!

SPS 01/2001


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