What to Expect at Your First Aviation Medical Exam

What to Expect at Your First Aviation Medical Exam

By Gustin Robinson, FAA CFI-ASEL, CPL-IR ASEL

As a student pilot, one step in your journey to the skies lands you in the doctor’s office. No, you aren’t sick. Instead you are here at the request of your flight instructor to get an “Aviation Medical Certificate.”


What is a Medical Certificate?

A medical certificate is similar to the CDL Physical required by federal and state governments for commercial drivers. The certificate allows you to operate as pilot-in-command with certain privileges as dependent on the “class” of medical. The 1st Class allows you to operate as an Airline Transport Pilot, 2nd Class allows for Commercial Pilot privileges, and 3rd Class governs Student pilots, Recreational pilots, Sport pilots, and Private pilots. Each higher class of medical certificate you receive has stricter medical testing to ensure you are fit for flight. .


  • 61.23 Medical certificates: Requirement and duration.

(a) Operations requiring a medical certificate. Except as provided in paragraphs (b) and (c) of this section, a person -

(1) Must hold a first-class medical certificate:

(i) When exercising the pilot-in-command privileges of an airline transport pilot certificate;

(ii) When exercising the second-in-command privileges of an airline transport pilot certificate in a flag or supplemental operation in part 121 of this chapter that requires three or more pilots; or

(iii) When serving as a required pilot flightcrew member in an operation conducted under part 121 of this chapter if the pilot has reached his or her 60th birthday.

(2) Must hold at least a second class medical certificate when exercising:

(i) Second-in-command privileges of an airline transport pilot certificate in part 121 of this chapter (other than operations specified in paragraph (a)(1)(ii) of this section); or

(ii) Privileges of a commercial pilot certificate; or

(3) Must hold at least a third-class medical certificate -

(i) When exercising the privileges of a private pilot certificate, recreational pilot certificate, or student pilot certificate, except when operating under the conditions and limitations set forth in § 61.113(i);

(ii) When exercising the privileges of a flight instructor certificate and acting as the pilot in command or as a required flightcrew member, except when operating under the conditions and limitations set forth in § 61.113(i);

(iii) When taking a practical test in an aircraft for a recreational pilot, private pilot, commercial pilot, or airline transport pilot certificate, or for a flight instructor certificate, except when operating under the conditions and limitations set forth in § 61.113(i); or

(iv) When performing the duties as an Examiner in an aircraft when administering a practical test or proficiency check for an airman certificate, rating, or authorization.

Quick Guide to Medical Expirations

Class of Medical

FAA Cert. Privileges


1st Class Medical


Under 40: 12 months        

Over 40: 6 months

2nd Class Medical


12 months, no age difference

3rd Class Medical

Sport, Rec, Private

Under 40: 60 months     

Over 40: 48 months

Note: You can apply for a 1st Class Medical as a Private pilot. The privileges will expire until you can only operate as a 3rd Class Medical.

For example, you receive your 1st Class Medical on 01/2022 at 41 years old.

  1. Privileges of 1st Class expire at 07/2022. (After 6 months)
  2. Privileges of 2nd Class expire at 01/2023. (After 6 months, equal to the total of 12 months of 2nd Class)
  3. Privileges of 3rd Class expire at 01/2025. (After 36 more months, which equates to 48 total).

This means that your medical will expire completely after 48 months and you will require a new medical certificate.

Before the Visit

  1. Visit https://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator to find an Aviation Medical Examiner in your area
  2. Create an account and login to https://medxpress.faa.gov
  3. Fill out the form for the 3rd Class Medical
  4. Be sure to answer thoroughly and to the best of your knowledge
  5. When complete, write the application number down, and feel free to print your own copy.

During the Visit

Your Aviation Medical Examiner  isn’t “out to get you.” In fact many of them are pilots or have some sort of aviation experience. They want to help you get in the skies, albeit safely. Expect yourself to be submitted to some basic questions about your health and family history. Your AME will take your blood pressure, an eye exam (Your vision must be correctable to 20/20), and a hearing test. You may be required to discuss new options for prescription medications that are allowed by the FAA. Take the time to talk to your AME and discuss any questions you might have about any pre-existing conditions you have or disqualifying conditions.

After the Visit

There are 3 possible outcomes after the exam has concluded: Issuance, Deferral, and Denial.

  • Issuance is the outcome we all desire and make up the majority of application results. The AME will print out your certificate, sign it, and hand it to you. The specific expiration depends on the class and date of your medical.
  • Deferral is not the end of the world. The AME may not be sure on how to proceed with application based on a number of factors, such as past medical history, family history, etc. You will be deferred to the FAA for action.
  • Denial makes up a percentage of a percent of applicants. Again, the examiners want you to fly, and they want to help you achieve your goals. Unfortunately, some applicants present with disqualifying conditions as set out by the FAA and you cannot proceed with receiving a medical certificate, though it is important to note, you can appeal any decision to the FAA for further action.

Now Go Fly!

It’s important to note that flying is safer than it has ever been. Medical certificates play a role in keeping passengers and crew safe on journeys thousands of feet in the air. Do your part and get your certificate as soon as possible, and ensure that you renew it when applicable.

By Gustin Robinson, FAA CFI-ASEL, CPL-IR ASEL

Northstar Aviation References brings you the Pre-Tabbed ASA FAR/AIMDIY tabs for your FAR/AIM and other pilot resources so that you can more easily study the regulations that form the foundation of your flying career or hobby. Have any questions? Check out our FAQs page or contact us. Check out other blog posts here.