The Pilot Medical: A Rigorous Process, but Worth It!

Before even beginning flight training, a medical must be obtained. I document my experiences of the Initial Class 1 Medical, and how the Civil Aviation Authority took a lot of my money over a piece of paper.

My Class 1 Medical (Source: Original)

While I only remember the exact date of my Initial Class 1 medical from a piece of paper, I remember that day very well – 26th November 2018. I went to Heathrow Medical Services, based right in the path of the third proposed runway – in the small village of Longford, directly northwest of Heathrow Airport.

Upon entering the building, I immediately got that clinic, sterile aroma – the sort of smell you get upon entering your local doctor’s surgery or hospital. This brought about a sense of dread for me, as I never liked places like this. I sat down with my mum, who eventually left after getting the initial greetings as I knew that the day would be a long day.

First was to pass a urine sample, and that was fine – tip: make sure you drink water beforehand, so you can provide a sample. I then had to provide my height and weight. These steps were simple and not the most stressful parts. Greeting me afterwards was the optometrist, who performed a series of tests on my eyes and out of all the staff I met there, she was the friendliest. I was never worried about my eyesight or eyes, as I knew they were good and there were no surprising results.  Everything was going uphill and I was passing the tests with flying colours, up until my appointment with the examiner who would be signing off my medical certificate.

When I entered the room in which he was situated, the first thing he says to me is: “I just had to turn away the previous applicant because he did not fill out his form correctly, so I hope you do just fine!” This did not please me in the slightest…

For about 20 minutes, he scanned through my application, as well as my medical history – this was the moment everything went downhill. When I was a baby, I had an operation on my kidney, and since then I have remained healthy and fit. The examiner noticed this on my medical records and said to me: “You will need to get a CT scan done on your kidney so that we can deem you fit to fly”. That was an extra £300 down the drain on top of the £460 initially paid – and a delay in obtaining my Class 1 medical. We then proceeded with the fitness tests, blood tests, audiogram, and soon came the echocardiogram (ECG). I took off my shoes, socks, and t-shirt as he proceeded to stick these wires onto me, and everything seemed fine when my heart rate was measured. However, under his breath, I heard the phrase I did not want to hear: “Another referral”.

From this, I had to see a cardiologist and a urologist, and get many more tests done – when there was nothing wrong with me! This led me to question the processes I had undertaken: Are they just trying to rip me off? And is it worth this amount of money?

Eventually, I received my medical in March 2019, later than I had wanted to. Looking back at everything that occurred, I give the CAA and Heathrow Medical Services the benefit of the doubt. All these tests help keep the skies safe and keeps yourself safe as well. Consider it like an M.O.T. but for your body! While I had quite a tough process in obtaining my medical, a lot have had it much harder and paid more than me. So while this does not look like a pleasing experience, look at the bright side of it – you know you can officially become a pilot and achieve the dreams you had when you were young.

Some top tips for the medical:

  • Ensure you have drunk enough water.
  • Make sure that the application is sorted and filled out correctly – and medical history is up to date. Double check it! Triple check it!
  • If you wear glasses, bring an up to date prescription and any documents necessary.
  • Always save up for any extras incurred aside from the initial medical.

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I'm an aspiring commercial pilot, with the goal of being able to influence others to join me in the industry. I study Air Transport Management alongside my pilot training.

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