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Back in the air with BasicMedBack in the air with BasicMed

The joy in Terry Edwards’s voice was unmistakable as he described how it felt to be back in the cockpit as pilot in command under the new BasicMed rule after five years on the sidelines.

Terry Edwards has resumed flying under BasicMed as a member of the Tyler Flyers in Tyler, Texas. Photo courtesy of Donna Edwards.

“I flew yesterday for the first time under BasicMed and I’m taking my wife up this afternoon,” he said in a May 9 phone interview from Tyler, Texas.

When BasicMed, the new medical self-certification procedure that lets many pilots fly without a third class medical certificate, took effect May 1, Edwards, 65, was putting the final touches on a long-planned return to the controls of a Cessna 172.

Five years earlier, he had given up on the often-frustrating process of getting special issuance medicals for his well-controlled diabetes—a process that tended to hold up his flying for months at a time as more information was requested with each renewal, he said.

He let his medical certificate expire in 2012, and sold his interest in the Cessna Skyhawk that he and a partner had bought from a flight school that was closing.

Selling was a painful decision; Edwards had accumulated 670 hours in the Skyhawk after he added airplane privileges to a glider pilot certificate he had earned in 2002.

Even worse, walking away seemed to mean abandoning a lifelong desire to fly. From the time Edwards was 10 years old, flight had occupied his thoughts. But it wasn’t until he had reached age 50, with the kids grown up and a little bit of disposable income available, that he could—as he put it—“dispose of it in a glider.”

Realizing the dream of becoming a pilot had started innocently enough in 2001. His wife Donna bought him an introductory flight from a glider operation they often drove past when traveling to visit relatives after Edwards had casually mentioned that he’d “like to try that some time.”

Six weeks after the intro flight, he went back for another ride. This time the pilot let him land the glider.

“I was hooked. It was the worst drug I have ever injected into my system,” he said.

Soon a certificated glider pilot with 175 hours, Edwards began powered aircraft training in a Cessna 152, earning his airplane-single engine land privileges, and becoming a Skyhawk owner.

Once he had let his last medical certificate expire rather than endure the headaches of continuing to apply for special-issuance medicals, Edwards considered becoming a sport pilot. But he was living far from the nearest place to fly a light sport aircraft, he said.

He was keeping up with aviation news, however, and as time went on, another plan seemed plausible to the veteran of the Texas oil industry: AOPA had begun to press for medical reform, and momentum was beginning to build.

Edwards connected with a local flying club, the Tyler Flyers. After two years of monitoring positive developments on the medical-reform front, Edwards made a strategic decision to join the club, based at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport.

“I paid dues for eight months knowing that if I was patient, it would be money well spent,” he said. “Now they have a waiting list.”

In December 2016 Edwards attended an AOPA Rusty Pilots seminar presented by Pat Brown, the 2013 Houston District and Southwest Regional Flight Instructor of The Year (and the instructor who had soloed Edwards in gliders years before). Flying clubs and Rusty Pilots seminars are key components of the targeted programs of AOPA’s You Can Fly initiative that strives to bolster the active pilot population by making flying accessible and affordable.

As the BasicMed effective date drew near, Edwards pursued his preparation by flying three times, for a total of four hours, in the flying club’s 1980 Cessna 172N with a local instructor, “to knock the rust off” and get a fresh flight review.

The flights focused on “basic maneuvers and a bunch of landings,” he said.

Edwards made an appointment to visit the doctor who had handled his special-issuance medicals in the past for his BasicMed physical examination. He provided the physician with the results of vision and hearing tests that the doctor could not perform in his office that are on the BasicMed Comprehensive Medical Examination Checklist.

Edwards also took the required BasicMed medical-education course, completing it in two sessions that took about an hour altogether.

“There was a lot of good information that, as a rusty pilot, I had let slip into the depths of my memory. I was very pleased with the course,” he said in an email he sent to AOPA to offer feedback on BasicMed.

On May 4, Edwards printed the certificate of completion of the online medical-education course—and he was good to go.

He said he approaches his second chance at flying with strong awareness of his good fortune and the responsibility he takes on each time he self-certifies that he is fit to fly before firing up the engine of the club’s 180-horsepower Cessna 172.

“I started at 50, not 16, and I know I’m not bulletproof,” he said. “Being prepared—that’s the key.”

Dan Namowitz

Dan Namowitz

Associate Editor Web
Associate Editor Web Dan Namowitz has been writing for AOPA in a variety of capacities since 1991. He has been a flight instructor since 1990 and is a 30-year AOPA member.
Topics: You Can Fly, Advocacy, Medical Reform

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