Are You Physically Fit to Be a Pilot?

When the fighting ends, some 250,000 or more Army and Navy pilots are going to begin coming back from the war fronts, most of them eager to continue their flying. A large percentage of them will be young men of college age or even younger, and while many will be immediate prospects for personal planes, relatively few will have enough money to buy airplanes of their own.

Even though they could afford a $1,500 plane, pilots accustomed to the speed and performance of a B-25 Mitchell bomber or a P-38 Lightning may find that flying a 60-horse-power private airplane is pretty dull.

It has been suggested that the government sell its surplus fighter planes to these veterans of the air at about 10 percent of their cost. But this scheme just won’t work out. The purchase price of the average fighter plane would run around $4,000 and its 1,000-horsepower motors drink up some 100 gallons of expensive high octane fuel in less than 60 minutes. Only independently wealthy ex-servicemen could afford to buy and maintain such planes.

While it is not practical to sell fighter planes to veterans, it is very important that we do not allow these highly trained pilots to lose their skill. For we must depend on them to prevent our air power from ever again becoming woefully inadequate.

Two practical ways have been suggested in which ex-war-plane pilots can be kept in the air. They could be put on a reserve status, with military planes available for their use, or they could buy flying time from commercial schools and be reimbursed by the government for a certain number of flying hours each week.

Are war pilots safe flyers?

PilotMany service pilots have never received civilian pilot, training. All their air education has been in the aerial acrobatics of combat flying. This is not permitted in the skies over America, where it might endanger civilian lives and property.

Under an official Army Air Force policy, combat and air crews will be required to take training courses in the principles of flying safety and civil air traffic rules after they return from overseas and before they are reassigned to active duty. These special courses are now going on at redistribution centers on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Commenting upon the new policy, General Arnold remarked, “Flying safety in this country shall have first consideration, and unsafe flying habits acquired in combat must be forgotten.”

Returning military pilots are eager to fly, and private plane owners often urge them to fly their planes regardless of their inability to handle such slow and low-powered aircraft after months of flying high-speed military planes. Enough nonmilitary accidents have resulted to make it necessary for the CAA to require returning pilots to prove their complete adequacy for the type of flying involved.

Any service pilot who has not flown a certain type of plane in three months is now required to make five take-offs and landings before he can take up a passenger. If he has not had solo experience within six months, he must take a check flight with an instructor.

To prevent fighter pilots from stepping into the cockpits of commercial airliners and taking up passengers on the strength of their war record, civil air regulations now require the service pilot to prove that his military pilot rating is equal to the type and grade of pilot certificate he seeks. He must submit a certificate from the appropriate officer proving his experience and competency as a military pilot. In addition, he is required to pass a written examination on civil air regulations and must have a certificate of honorable discharge from the military service.

The importance of being healthy

The human body is best adapted to conditions on the ground. Some of these conditions change when man goes up into the air. In flying through a sea of air, you are subjected to various forces and conditions. You move through space at varying speeds and at all angles. The engine of your plane produces constant vibrations and much noise. If you are going to fly, you must be able to tolerate these conditions, and that means you must be physically fit every time you fly.

Unless a pilot keeps physically fit, he is likely to have a fatal flying accident sooner or later. Commercial airlines, military flying organizations, and other organized flying groups keep close watch over the health of their flying personnel, requiring them to take periodic physical checkups or placing them under regular medical supervision.

Since there is no means of checking up on the flying health of private flyers regularly, the flyer himself must take the responsibility for maintaining physical fitness.

More than half the 17,050 air accidents during the period between 1928 and 1937 were officially attributed to “error of the pilot.” Year after year, pilot error is the most outstanding cause of air accidents. The principal reasons for it, according to the CAA, are lack of experience and physical and psychological causes.

Defective vision, poor judgment of distance, unconsciousness, hysterics, air sickness, and the inability to withstand altitude are only a few of the causes that may lead to such accidents as overshooting the field, faulty landing, or collision. Temporary illness, such as a bad cold, or fatigue may cause poor reaction on the part of the pilot and result in an accident.

Private pilots must be intelligently aware of their own physical shortcomings, such as susceptibility to colds, sinusitis, constipation, hay fever, hiccups, headaches, jaundice, kidney and bladder diseases, neuralgia, neuritis, high blood pressure, all of which lower his flying efficiency. For, most new pilots this means adjusting daily routine to better health habits.

It is a good idea for a beginner to consult a doctor or a flight surgeon before his training has progressed very far—it may save his life.

What happens to you when you fly?

PlaneSince most private flyers will not be operating aircraft at altitudes above 8,000 feet, they need not be concerned with the problems of lack of oxygen, low pressures, and subzero temperatures encountered at higher levels. Change in altitude, turbulent or rough air, and change of speed are the factors which will have the most effect on the average private flyer.

The ears and digestive system are affected when you ascend or descend. The eardrums may feel queer because the change in air pressure is not quickly equalized on both sides of the eardrum, a sometimes painful condition that can usually be remedied by swallowing. During a rapid climb, pilots and passengers are sometimes made uncomfortable by distention of the intestines due to expansion of confined gases. At a normal climb of 1,000 feet a minute this condition may usually be avoided.

Rough weather sometimes causes airsickness, a condition similar to seasickness, and nausea. Lack of sleep, drinking of alcoholic beverages, and a disordered stomach frequently contribute to susceptibility to such illness. Pilots who are physically tired or fatigued should never fly, except in case of emergency. Intoxicants such as liquor should not be taken for at least 24 hours before or during flight by pilot or passengers. Alcohol does not mix with gasoline in the air any better than it does on the ground.

After a period of high-speed flying the eyes frequently lose their ability to judge height correctly. A wise precaution before landing a plane, particularly for novice pilots, is to circle the field at 500 feet.

Do you measure up?

If you are physically fit and are willing to learn, you can be taught to fly the conventional private aircraft. If you are not physically fit, however, that does not mean that flying is out of the picture for you. It does mean that you’ll have to work harder so that your weaknesses can be remedied to a point where you can become a safe pilot.

If you have a tendency to be cocky, reckless, and stubborn, you should use a little will power and sensible reasoning to cultivate modesty, care, and openmindedness—characteristics that virtually all the best pilots possess.

When you apply for a student pilot rating, you will have to pass a medical examination. You will not be required to sit in a spinning chair, since the examination does not require that you be a superman. It is given to discover whether you have any physical defect that might suddenly incapacitate you in the air.

Handicapped persons can fly

The loss of a limb, limitation of motion in joints, and the wasting of muscles need not keep any ex-service pilot or civilian from enjoying the pleasures of flying his own plane, if he can prove his ability to fly safely.

In an effort to extend the benefits of flying to still more persons, a new CAA ruling has been made. Under it, physically handicapped persons may obtain student and private pilot certificates without going through the long-drawn-out procedures heretofore required. The applicant’s medical certificate for the license bears a notation of his defect, if he is otherwise qualified.

The applicant’s instructor decides when he is competent to make a solo flight. Later, he takes a flight examination from a CAA flight inspector in order to qualify for a private pilot’s certificate.

Under the new ruling, structural defects and not physical conditions due to active diseases are recognized. The administrator of the CAA may limit the physically handicapped pilot to the operation of certain makes and models of planes, certain general types of planes, or to planes suitably remodeled for the individual concerned.

If there is an increase in accidents involving structurally handicapped persons who have been permitted to get certificates to fly, the CAA was wrong in making this new ruling. However, before the ruling was made, extensive successful tests were run to determine whether or not handicapped persons could qualify for private pilots’ certificates.

No matter how well a plane is designed, or how carefully it is built, an instant’s thoughtlessness at the wrong moment or gross neglect of its mechanical needs can turn the plane into an instrument of death for its pilot and passengers. A handicapped person in good health is no more likely to be guilty of these fatal errors than is a person of sound body.

For Discussion

Should returning service pilots be required to take additional training and prove their ability to fly small planes as is now required under CAA rulings and the AAF reassignment policy? What steps might be taken to prevent returning pilots from losing their flying skills? Should private pilots be required to take frequent medical checkups such as those given regularly to airline pilots? What can be done to prevent private pilots from flying while intoxicated, ill, or, fatigued? Will the advent of private flying help to improve public health? Should doctors in training be required to take courses in aviation medicine?