I live in the United States. I haven't been able to get a medical certificate yet, but I'm interested in flying airplanes (or maybe other kinds of aircraft). Is there any way I can fly without having a medical certificate? What are my options here?


1 Answer 1


There are lots of options for flying without a medical certificate in the United States. Most of the regulations about medical certification are in 14 CFR Part 61, Section 23.

Note that even if an operation does not require a medical certificate, it's still illegal to fly if you have a medical condition which would make it unsafe for you to fly.

Your options for flying without a medical certificate are:

Fly with an instructor, or someone else as the pilot in command (FAR 61.23(a))

You usually need a medical certificate to act as the pilot in command, but you don't need a medical certificate to merely handle the controls!

This means that you can take flying lessons without a medical certificate, as long as you have an instructor with you. The instructor will act as pilot in command, but you will get to do some (or maybe even all) of the flying.

This also means that if you have a friend who's a pilot (with a pilot's license and a medical certificate), and you and her are in an airplane together, she can let you do all of the flying! She will need to act as pilot in command, meaning that she's responsible for ensuring that everything is done safely, and for taking control of the aircraft if need be. But she can have you do the flying.

In case you're working towards a pilot's license, flying lessons received from a certified flight instructor can be logged as pilot time. If you're flying with a friend who's not an instructor, you cannot log that time.

Fly a glider or a balloon (FAR 61.23(b))

You don't need a medical certificate at all in order to fly a glider or balloon. Even without a medical certificate, you can still:

  • Get a solo endorsement from an instructor and fly by yourself.
  • Get a pilot's license and fly with passengers.
  • Get a commercial pilot's license and fly for compensation.
  • Get a flight instructor certificate and give flying lessons. (In a balloon, you only need a commercial pilot's license to give flying lessons; there is no flight instructor certificate for balloons.)

If your goal is to get an airplane pilot's license, pilot time in balloons and gliders can be counted towards that license! To get a private pilot's license for airplanes, you need 40 hours of pilot time; some, but not all, of that time is required to be done in airplanes.

Fly a light-sport aircraft (FAR 61.23(c)(1) and (2))

If you have an aircraft whose maximum takeoff weight is 1,320 pounds or less, it's probably a light-sport aircraft. If you fly a light-sport aircraft under the sport flying rules, then you can satisfy the medical requirement using a driver's license instead of a medical certificate. If your driver's license has any limitations, then those limitations also apply to your flying.

However, there's a caveat. In order to fly a light-sport aircraft using a driver's license instead of a medical certificate, you must satisfy either of the following conditions:

  • You have never applied for a medical certificate.
  • After the most recent time that you applied for a medical certificate, you were issued the certificate, and that certificate has never been suspended and revoked.

This means that if you're a licensed sport pilot, and you don't have a medical certificate, and you apply for a medical certificate, the privileges of your sport pilot's license go away until the medical certificate is issued!

Time in light-sport aircraft can be logged as pilot time.

Fly under BasicMed (FAR 61.23(c)(1) and (3), and 61.113(i))

If you've had a medical certificate in the past, but it's expired, you can still fly if you meet all the requirements for BasicMed. The main requirements are:

  • You must have a driver's license.
  • If your driver's license has any limitations, then you must also obey those limitations while flying.
  • You must have held a medical certificate at some point after July 14, 2006.
  • Your doctor must do a medical examination and sign off.
  • Your most recently issued medical certificate must not ever have been suspended or revoked.
  • Your most recent application for a medical certificate must not have been denied.
  • You must comply with the operating limitations in FAR 61.113(i).

Fly an ultralight aircraft (FAR 103.7(b))

If you're brave enough to fly an ultralight aircraft, good news! You don't need a medical certificate (or even a pilot's license) to fly a Part 103 ultralight aircraft.

Time in ultralight aircraft cannot be logged as pilot time.

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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the first section about flying with an instructor, I agree as long as you consider them orientation flights. However, per 61.23(a)(3)(i), if you want to log your flight time with a CFI you would need a 3rd class medical and student pilot certificate. As far as taking the controls with any pilot other than a CFI, I know this happens all the time but I would challenge you to find it specifically permitted in the FARs. And wait, did you both ask and answer the question @Tanner Swett?! $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2018 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ For the light sport aircraft case, it's important to mention the condition that you "Not know or have reason to know of any medical condition that would make that person unable to operate a light-sport aircraft in a safe manner." If the reason you don't have a medical certificate yet involves some medical condition (as opposed to "I haven't made an appointment"), this route may not be legal and/or safe. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2018 at 2:36
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall Re logging flight time without a medical: I don't think that's correct. 61.23(a)(3)(i) says that you need a medical certificate "When exercising the privileges of a [...] student pilot certificate", but receiving flight training is not one of "the privileges of a student pilot certificate". 61.51(h)(1) says that "a person" (not "a student pilot") may log training time. Re letting the passenger take the controls: as far as I know, it's permitted because no regulation prohibits it. See aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/3039. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2018 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @ZachLipton I think that point is covered by my note that "it's still illegal to fly if you have a medical condition which would make it unsafe for you to fly". (61.53(b) and (c) places the same restriction on all non-Part 103 operations; I don't know why the restriction is restated for light-sport aircraft in 61.23(c)(2)(iv).) $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2018 at 3:31
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelHall I posted this question and answer because I thought other people were likely to find it useful and interesting. $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2018 at 17:27

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