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?
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.
- In a glider: Get a flight instructor certificate and give flying lessons.
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 any one of the following three 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.
- You're flying as a solo student, not as a licensed sport pilot.
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! However, even if that happens, you can still fly as a solo student.
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 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.