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FAA FC1 vs. USAF FC1


Tiger

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Quick discussion for the Air Force guys here.  

A few years back, shortly before I commissioned in the AF, I was selected for UPT but shortly thereafter medically disqualified at Wright Patterson AFB for all flying duty (Pilot, nav, RPA, ABM) based on a very rare but also extremely minor corneal imperfection, Thygeson's Keratitis (small spots on the surface of my eye).  I still met the vision minimums but unfortunately the flight surgeons would not consider me for a waiver, and their justification was that this condition was "debilitating","extremely painful", and "progressive".  I remember the day I was disqualified, they were adamant that I would never be able to get any kind of flight physical above an FC3, military or civilian.  Later on, I saw a few private ophthalmology specialists (one of them an AF reserves flight doc) that concurred with the diagnosis but did not agree with the Air Force's claim that it could cause extreme pain and told me that it was in no way a progressive condition.  These doctors both provided written statements for me to send to the docs at Wright Patterson, but predictably the Air Force still wouldn't budge and I was out of luck.  Not surprisingly, I never did experience any of the symptoms that were used as justification to disqualify me.  

Fast forward to today.  I'm getting ready to take a biannual check-ride this week, so I go to an FAA flight doc to renew my third class medical.  I do the standard tests (vision, urine, etc) with the nurses and then go into the exam room to wait for the doc.  He comes in, goes over my test results, examines me, and then says that I qualify for not only an FC3 but also an FC1 and that he'd be happy to issue one to me if I'm interested in flying for a career.  Long story short, I walked out of his office today with the medical certificate the Air Force told me I would never be eligible for.  On top of that, I didn't require a single waiver.

So, I'm curious as to what you gents think about the situation.  Does an FAA FC1 translate to military flying duty whatsoever?  I'm not sure if and how the standards differ, but I don't understand how in the eyes of the FAA I'm medically qualified to captain a 737 for Southwest airlines, but according to the Air Force I'm apparently too disabled to fly even remote control aircraft, let alone C-130's.  It almost as if the Air Force can't see the forest through the trees, because they keep complaining about a pilot shortage but keep turning away perfectly qualified applicants.  

 

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3 hours ago, Tiger said:

Quick discussion for the Air Force guys here.  

A few years back, shortly before I commissioned in the AF, I was selected for UPT but shortly thereafter medically disqualified at Wright Patterson AFB for all flying duty (Pilot, nav, RPA, ABM) based on a very rare but also extremely minor corneal imperfection, Thygeson's Keratitis (small spots on the surface of my eye).  I still met the vision minimums but unfortunately the flight surgeons would not consider me for a waiver, and their justification was that this condition was "debilitating","extremely painful", and "progressive".  I remember the day I was disqualified, they were adamant that I would never be able to get any kind of flight physical above an FC3, military or civilian.  Later on, I saw a few private ophthalmology specialists (one of them an AF reserves flight doc) that concurred with the diagnosis but did not agree with the Air Force's claim that it could cause extreme pain and told me that it was in no way a progressive condition.  These doctors both provided written statements for me to send to the docs at Wright Patterson, but predictably the Air Force still wouldn't budge and I was out of luck.  Not surprisingly, I never did experience any of the symptoms that were used as justification to disqualify me.  

Fast forward to today.  I'm getting ready to take a biannual check-ride this week, so I go to an FAA flight doc to renew my third class medical.  I do the standard tests (vision, urine, etc) with the nurses and then go into the exam room to wait for the doc.  He comes in, goes over my test results, examines me, and then says that I qualify for not only an FC3 but also an FC1 and that he'd be happy to issue one to me if I'm interested in flying for a career.  Long story short, I walked out of his office today with the medical certificate the Air Force told me I would never be eligible for.  On top of that, I didn't require a single waiver.

So, I'm curious as to what you gents think about the situation.  Does an FAA FC1 translate to military flying duty whatsoever?  I'm not sure if and how the standards differ, but I don't understand how in the eyes of the FAA I'm medically qualified to captain a 737 for Southwest airlines, but according to the Air Force I'm apparently too disabled to fly even remote control aircraft, let alone C-130's.  It almost as if the Air Force can't see the forest through the trees, because they keep complaining about a pilot shortage but keep turning away perfectly qualified applicants.  

 

I had my FC1 a few months ago. In the examination room with the physician he signed into the literal FAA website, the same one the physicians use at an AME's office outside of the military. FAA logo and everything. It wasn't some database linked to it, it was the same thing. I could see it plain as day on the screen three feet from me. I even had to update my FAA MedXpress prior to having the examination, and gave the physician the MedXpress confirmation code. Once I was done with the physician's examination, they handed me an FAA class 3 medical, the exact same paper I got when I started civilian flight training (which is needed to start UPT apparently), but their staff said I met class 1 standards and a month later I was told my FC1 was approved. I did ask if EVERYONE in my examination group got a class 3, and they said yes that is standard procedure. You may have an avenue here.

I agree with you it's a ridiculous system. I had my fair share of roundabouts so far dealing with it. One option would be to go to your U.S. Representative's website and usually they have some sort of link for military academy requests. I would do that and explain your situation in there + calling their office(s) so you can get an email sent to them.

Another option: Contact news media about it if they'll listen. Small newspapers/media outlets may run with it. Don't leave any reasonable option off the table.

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To your question "Does an FAA FC1 translate to military flying duty whatsoever?"  Simply put, not really.  An FAA medical is based strictly on whether you currently meet the standards for a given class and if you are expected to maintain those standards for some limited length of time (I would assume they are looking for something like 6-12 months of stability since that's how long FAA physicals are typically good for).  An AF physical, certainly an initial physical, is based on expected stability of 6-10 years depending on the class.  For example, a pilot applicant has a ten year commitment, thus they want someone who will continue to maintain physical standards for that length of time.

The FAA AME that is signing your medical doesn't have any vested interest in your flying longevity- only that you meet standards until it's time to renew the certificate  The USAF flight doc is employed by the AF to help determine where the AF spends its training dollars.

There's no question that getting disqualified sucks.  And there was certainly a period of time recently where the AF was extremely short of pilots- and it looks like it's going to happen again soon.  But, don't confuse a pilot shortage with a problem finding qualified people to fly.  The last year I was at Wright-Patt, we medically qualified more than twice the number of people the AF could train in one year.  It's a retention problem, not a recruiting problem.

Bottom line is that the pilot selection process is a numbers game.  There are people who get lucky and people who get the short end of the stick.  I always encourage a person to keep trying and things may eventually work out, but not everyone who wants to fly is going to get that chance.

 

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Just now, stuckindayton said:

An AF physical, certainly an initial physical, is based on expected stability of 6-10 years depending on the class.  For example, a pilot applicant has a ten year commitment, thus they want someone who will continue to maintain physical standards for that length of time.

I certainly understand this and I realize that the AF is looking for stability over a long period of time and a good return on investment if you want to call it that.  What irks me is that in my particular situation, it's been five years, I'm an Air Force captain with no health issues, and I'm still meeting first class medical standards without any waivers when most trained Air Force pilots only need a second class (if I recall correctly?).  If I was a pilot, I'd be nearly halfway through the training ADSC at this point in my career.

 

Just now, yervis said:

I agree with you it's a ridiculous system. I had my fair share of roundabouts so far dealing with it. One option would be to go to your U.S. Representative's website and usually they have some sort of link for military academy requests. I would do that and explain your situation in there + calling their office(s) so you can get an email sent to them.

When I first got disqualified, I did try this route with a few different politicians.  But they would always refer my case back to the legislative liaison officer at AF Pentagon and I would get the same answer every time.  I actually just separated from AD a couple months ago, so I was considering writing to a few generals since I really have nothing to lose now and can contact whoever I want without worrying about chain of command BS.     

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1 minute ago, Tiger said:

I certainly understand this and I realize that the AF is looking for stability over a long period of time and a good return on investment if you want to call it that.  What irks me is that in my particular situation, it's been five years, I'm an Air Force captain with no health issues, and I'm still meeting first class medical standards without any waivers when most trained Air Force pilots only need a second class (if I recall correctly?).  If I was a pilot, I'd be nearly halfway through the training ADSC at this point in my career.

Your point is valid.  There is no question that some people who would have been perfectly safe bets in hindsight do not get selected and some people who are selected go on to have major medical complications that cut their career short.  I'd like to think there was a better way, but short of training everybody and making the final decision based on their UPT performance (which won't happen for financial reasons), I don't know what that better way is.

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3 minutes ago, stuckindayton said:

Your point is valid.  There is no question that some people who would have been perfectly safe bets in hindsight do not get selected and some people who are selected go on to have major medical complications that cut their career short.  I'd like to think there was a better way, but short of training everybody and making the final decision based on their UPT performance (which won't happen for financial reasons), I don't know what that better way is.

Simple solution, but would have to come from someone with authority to make it happen. Two steps:

1. Cut the red-tape that currently surrounds pilot applicants. For instance, going through MEPS, just to go to the FC1 later on that is more stringent, but more professional/thorough/makes less mistakes than MEPS? Cut out MEPS.

2. Create an office (or whatever it would be called) that is a single point for the Air Force that has the authority and single objective to help out pilot applicants having issues and get them squared away with wherever their issue is hung up at.

If the AF wants to claim they have a retention shortage, one solution is with helping applicants who are so dedicated they’ve put their lives on pause + spent thousands on personal physicians to try to prove they’re fit for the AF. These dedicated applicants would then go on into the AF knowing they were genuinely helped out and not stepped on by some illogical bureaucracy, which in the long run, may add one piece to their personal decision to stay in longer.

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Yervis,

Agree with you 100% on point #1.

Regarding point #2, I'm not sure the AF cares that much.  Let me give you an example.  My son was in ROTC with the intention of becoming an AF pilot (he's since decided the military isn't for him and is going strictly commercial).  At the "Welcome to ROTC" ceremony, I asked the ROTC commander if they did any type of medical screening before bringing in young folks whose sole goal was to be a pilot.  I cited the example of color vision.  About 8-10% of males are color deficient and it's relatively easy to screen.  He said they couldn't afford to spend a couple of thousand dollars on the device.  One of the first young fellows from my son's class failed color vision at WP and was devastated.  Seemed easily avoidable to me.  Can't change it (a person's color vision), but would have been a whole lot better to know before spending two or three years working towards an AF pilot slot.  I get the whole thing about ROTC being there to create officers, not pilots, but that seems like a bit of a bait and switch to me.

As you said, the AF is a bureaucracy.  Nothing more.  For the most part the individuals who work there are great- some of the best people I've ever met.  But, in the end, big blue is there for big blue no matter what anyone says.  Don't get me wrong, it can be a great career.  I was married into it (i.e. a dependent) for twenty years and spent almost the same amount of time working there myself as a civilian, but in the end the organization's number one goal is self preservation at any cost, even at the expense a lot of good people.

 

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Simple solution, but would have to come from someone with authority to make it happen. Two steps:
1. Cut the red-tape that currently surrounds pilot applicants. For instance, going through MEPS, just to go to the FC1 later on that is more stringent, but more professional/thorough/makes less mistakes than MEPS? Cut out MEPS.
2. Create an office (or whatever it would be called) that is a single point for the Air Force that has the authority and single objective to help out pilot applicants having issues and get them squared away with wherever their issue is hung up at.
If the AF wants to claim they have a retention shortage, one solution is with helping applicants who are so dedicated they’ve put their lives on pause + spent thousands on personal physicians to try to prove they’re fit for the AF. These dedicated applicants would then go on into the AF knowing they were genuinely helped out and not stepped on by some illogical bureaucracy, which in the long run, may add one piece to their personal decision to stay in longer.


1. MEPS qualifies you for basic military service-much cheaper and could screen out people who don't meet basic military medical standards, and reducing workload at Wright Patt. The evaluations are for different things, entry into military vs entry to a specific career in the military.

2. That office is the AF flight surgeon. It sucks that your life is on hold as you fight an uphill battle, but the open secret is the AF just doesn't care about you as an individual, as the machine keeps grinding on and UPT slots get filled. They still have enough applicants that are medically qualified, either outright or with simple waivers that are accepted *at that time* based on demand. It sucks, but luck and timing are just as important if not moreso than just being good.

3. Once you have your wings, the AF is more willing to give waivers since you've already been trained and they would like to keep their investment. Any time invested in an applicant who needs a complex waiver is time that can't be spent getting an active flyer back on flight status.
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Just now, yervis said:

Create an office (or whatever it would be called) that is a single point for the Air Force that has the authority and single objective to help out pilot applicants having issues and get them squared away with wherever their issue is hung up at.

Well they do have the exception to policy thing where the vice chief of staff looks at your case, but that system seems to be broken.  I wasn't even told the ETP program existed until I read about it once I commissioned.  I've heard the only folks on active duty that get ETP's approved are the officers with the best strats, most CGOQ awards, etc which if true is a ridiculous way to pick pilots in my opinion.  

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On 8/23/2021 at 6:33 PM, Tiger said:

FAA flight doc to renew my third class medical.  I do the standard tests (vision, urine, etc) with the nurses and then go into the exam room to wait for the doc.  He comes in, goes over my test results, examines me, and then says that I qualify for not only an FC3 but also an FC1 and that he'd be happy to issue one to me if I'm interested in flying for a career.  Long story short, I walked out of his office today with the medical certificate the Air Force told me I would never be eligible for.  On top of that, I didn't require a single waiver.

Maybe I missed something in this thread, but was the FC1 you walked out of that office with, the same FC1 that you didn't get from WP? Or does the AF not recognize it since it came from the FAA?

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25 minutes ago, Gideon said:

Maybe I missed something in this thread, but was the FC1 you walked out of that office with, the same FC1 that you didn't get from WP? Or does the AF not recognize it since it came from the FAA?

They are different.  He was issued an FAA First Class.  That's a completely different animal than a USAF Flying Class I.  Apples and oranges.  Civilian docs can't issue USAF certificates- only USAF flight docs do that.  USAF flight docs MAY also be FAA AMEs and may issue FAA certs.  The docs at WP generally offer FAA third class certs to UPT applicants processing through WP who qualify.

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6 minutes ago, stuckindayton said:

They are different.  He was issued an FAA First Class.  That's a completely different animal than a USAF Flying Class I.  Apples and oranges.  Civilian docs can't issue USAF certificates- only USAF flight docs do that.  USAF flight docs MAY also be FAA AMEs and may issue FAA certs.  The docs at WP generally offer FAA third class certs to UPT applicants processing through WP who qualify.

Got it.

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On 8/23/2021 at 7:33 PM, Tiger said:

Quick discussion for the Air Force guys here.  

A few years back, shortly before I commissioned in the AF, I was selected for UPT but shortly thereafter medically disqualified at Wright Patterson AFB for all flying duty (Pilot, nav, RPA, ABM) based on a very rare but also extremely minor corneal imperfection, Thygeson's Keratitis (small spots on the surface of my eye).  I still met the vision minimums but unfortunately the flight surgeons would not consider me for a waiver, and their justification was that this condition was "debilitating","extremely painful", and "progressive".  I remember the day I was disqualified, they were adamant that I would never be able to get any kind of flight physical above an FC3, military or civilian.  Later on, I saw a few private ophthalmology specialists (one of them an AF reserves flight doc) that concurred with the diagnosis but did not agree with the Air Force's claim that it could cause extreme pain and told me that it was in no way a progressive condition.  These doctors both provided written statements for me to send to the docs at Wright Patterson, but predictably the Air Force still wouldn't budge and I was out of luck.  Not surprisingly, I never did experience any of the symptoms that were used as justification to disqualify me.  

Fast forward to today.  I'm getting ready to take a biannual check-ride this week, so I go to an FAA flight doc to renew my third class medical.  I do the standard tests (vision, urine, etc) with the nurses and then go into the exam room to wait for the doc.  He comes in, goes over my test results, examines me, and then says that I qualify for not only an FC3 but also an FC1 and that he'd be happy to issue one to me if I'm interested in flying for a career.  Long story short, I walked out of his office today with the medical certificate the Air Force told me I would never be eligible for.  On top of that, I didn't require a single waiver.

So, I'm curious as to what you gents think about the situation.  Does an FAA FC1 translate to military flying duty whatsoever?  I'm not sure if and how the standards differ, but I don't understand how in the eyes of the FAA I'm medically qualified to captain a 737 for Southwest airlines, but according to the Air Force I'm apparently too disabled to fly even remote control aircraft, let alone C-130's.  It almost as if the Air Force can't see the forest through the trees, because they keep complaining about a pilot shortage but keep turning away perfectly qualified applicants.  

 

Same situation here.

I currently have an FAA Class 1, but have never been able to secure even an Air Force Class 3. Unfortunately one won't help secure the other in my opinion. It is frustrating that, for example, the FAA trusts you (medically) to fly a large plane with hundreds of men, women, and children onboard, but the Air Force won't trust you to fly a plane with a single crewmember, or in my case, won't trust me to even sit in the back of an AWACS, watch a screen, and talk on the radio.

The FAA also gives you a chance to get qual'd with "demonstrated ability" tests to prove you can operate and fly properly despite medical conditions that DQ you, but sadly, the Air Force gives no such chance.

Flight standards exist for a reason, though the Air Force flight standards seem restrictive to the point of irrationality at times. In my experience its because they are flight doctors, and may not have the depth of experience in certain disqualifying issues related to specialties like gastroenterology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, etc. This is probably why a lot of civilian doctors will claim there aren't any aeromedical concerns but flight docs disagree. Just my experience with a GI problem, but @stuckindaytonmight have a better perspective on it overall.

Just because the Air Force is a little "ableist" with your condition, not every employer/AME will be. There are a lot of cool civil flying jobs that still run missions that serve your community. EMS transport, aerial firefighting, etc. That's what I'm looking into because it's the next best thing to military service. 

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On 8/24/2021 at 4:15 PM, yervis said:

Simple solution, but would have to come from someone with authority to make it happen. Two steps:

1. Cut the red-tape that currently surrounds pilot applicants. For instance, going through MEPS, just to go to the FC1 later on that is more stringent, but more professional/thorough/makes less mistakes than MEPS? Cut out MEPS.

2. Create an office (or whatever it would be called) that is a single point for the Air Force that has the authority and single objective to help out pilot applicants having issues and get them squared away with wherever their issue is hung up at.

If the AF wants to claim they have a retention shortage, one solution is with helping applicants who are so dedicated they’ve put their lives on pause + spent thousands on personal physicians to try to prove they’re fit for the AF. These dedicated applicants would then go on into the AF knowing they were genuinely helped out and not stepped on by some illogical bureaucracy, which in the long run, may add one piece to their personal decision to stay in longer.

I actually think your solution would be appropriate. I'm not sure if the medical screening happens after contracting and selection for bait-and-switch purposes or if its a budgetary thing, but I'd argue that your method would still save money simply by helping out pilot applicants and ensuring motivated officers are are qualified and then retained. I've known a lot of fellow flight DQ'd officers who just do their 4 years as an LT (where you mostly learn and get trained) and separate right when they make captain and can actually put their skills and knowledge to use, to pursue aviation on the civilian side. The AF just spent $42K on my training for a career that won't persist past another 10 months if I go that route, and I won't use any of what I was just trained on in that timespan. All that is on top of the $20K+ in 2018 that I similarly haven't used. 

Point is, the AF wastes money on the officers it DQ's anyway by investing in them just to have them leave if they never come to terms with the flight docs decision. Seems like they could use that in a different way, and ensure that people in non-rated positions are those that actually want to do them.

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32 minutes ago, AlexLM12 said:

I currently have an FAA Class 1, but have never been able to secure even an Air Force Class 3. Unfortunately one won't help secure the other in my opinion. It is frustrating that, for example, the FAA trusts you (medically) to fly a large plane with hundreds of men, women, and children onboard, but the Air Force won't trust you to fly a plane with a single crewmember, or in my case, won't trust me to even sit in the back of an AWACS, watch a screen, and talk on the radio.

Flight standards exist for a reason, though the Air Force flight standards seem restrictive to the point of irrationality at times. In my experience its because they are flight doctors, and may not have the depth of experience in certain disqualifying issues related to specialties like gastroenterology, ophthalmology, orthopedics, etc. This is probably why a lot of civilian doctors will claim there aren't any aeromedical concerns but flight docs disagree. Just my experience with a GI problem, but @stuckindaytonmight have a better perspective on it overall.

 

Standards are actually established through experts in each field (i.e. gastro, ophthal, ortho, etc), although you are correct that flight docs frequently are tasked with interpreting and enforcing them.

I won't sit here and defend all standards as I personally don't agree with all of them either, but sometimes there's more to them than meets the eye.  For example, a GI problem may not be a big deal for an ABM, but it may be a problem for deploying so it applies to all flying classes across the board.  I don't know that for fact, just throwing out a possibility.

 

36 minutes ago, AlexLM12 said:

The AF just spent $42K on my training for a career that won't persist past another 10 months if I go that route, and I won't use any of what I was just trained on in that timespan. All that is on top of the $20K+ in 2018 that I similarly haven't used. 

Point is, the AF wastes money on the officers it DQ's anyway by investing in them just to have them leave if they never come to terms with the flight docs decision. Seems like they could use that in a different way, and ensure that people in non-rated positions are those that actually want to do them.

Agreed wholeheartedly.  It seems the AF spends a lot of money training many career fields only to have them split after the ADSC.  I would say the majority of my medical appointments at the MDG utilize some type of student, resident or intern simply because the AF has to keep training folks to replace those who don't stay.  Nothing worse than a phlebotomist who is still learning the trade.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As someone who was similarly disqualified from an AF FC1 but who has held an FAA Class 1 since 2016, no, nobody in the AF cares. It makes no sense, it is frustrating as hell, but IMO the AF is looking for every reason to tell you no, whereas the FAA seems to only care if you meet the standard or not. My buddy was also permanently DQ’d by Wright Patt for a condition that they contradicted themselves on in the paperwork (no joke, they said it is not a rapid onset condition but we’re worried about sudden loss of eyesight), while a civilian ophthalmologist said he would absolutely not suffer a sudden loss of sight and should be qualified. Welcome to dealing with AF medical…

I’m honestly a bit jaded, if that’s not obvious, but it’s the Air Force’s loss. They created this mess and keep turning away otherwise highly qualified people who would gladly give them another decade of service on the cockpit. I’m going to take my talents (and my FAA Class 1) and fly for somebody else. If I were in your shoes, I’d look at doing the same. The regionals are throwing six figure bonuses at people…the regionals!  It’s a pilot’s market out there right now. Go find your opportunity!

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