By Richard B. Harding, EAA 295523
At age 23 in 1959, I earned my private pilot certificate to fly small aircraft as a civilian working for Sandia Corporation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I enjoyed many years of flying until 1987, when I was diagnosed with eye cancer in my right eye. In 1988, it became necessary to have my eye surgically removed at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As required by regulations, I notified the FAA of the situation. After two months, I received a letter from the medical department of the FAA in Oklahoma City informing me that I would need to relinquish my private pilot certificate.
During that time, I received a student pilot certificate. I was given instructions to make an appointment for a flight test following the six-month waiting period with the FSDO office at the Allentown ABE Airport in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I felt discouraged and diminished, but then after making a phone call to Oklahoma City, I learned that it was standard procedure when losing an eye. This waiting period of six months was necessary for the remaining eye to adjust. Six months later, and after several attempts to schedule an appointment in the month of January and cancelling it because of weather, my appointment was finally made.
I rented a Piper Colt from the Skyhaven Airport (76 north) in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania, and Steve Gay flew with me to the FSDO office at Allentown Airport (KABE, now Lehigh Valley International).. Beginning the exam, the flight examiner and I did a preflight on the Piper Colt and taxied to the active runway. Once cleared, we took off to the north after talking to departure control. At about 3,000 feet, the examiner told me to look down and tell him what I could see. I told him I saw the northeast extension of the Pennsylvania turnpike. That was the correct response. At that point, the examiner idled the engine and told me there was an emergency that I had to handle. Previously, I had noticed that we had flown over Slattington Airport. I told the examiner I would attempt to return to Slattington Airport for an emergency landing. The instructor said that was a good decision, so we started to spiral down to enter the approach at the airport. Entering downwind, I realized I was a little low on altitude and turned early to base and then to final. About 50 feet from the runway, the instructor put the power back on, and we started climbing back to return to the Allentown Airport. The examiner called approach control who cleared us for landing in Allentown. Upon approach, however, another aircraft was just turning from downward leg to base. Luckily, I could see the airplane as he was banking to base leg. I reported that sighting to the examiner, and he was satisfied that I had the vision necessary to see that aircraft. After landing, we made another takeoff and reentered the pattern to land again. At this point, we cleared the runway, talked to ground control, and returned to the FSDO.
My student pilot certificate was signed off. I received a certificate of demonstrated ability to be presented to the examining doctor when taking the third-class physical. There was a big difference between the original flight test I took in 1959, and the test I took in 1989. In the first test I had to prove I could successfully take off, fly, and land the aircraft. In the second test, I had to prove I could successfully see to take off, fly, and land the aircraft.
After completing the flight exam with the examiner, I was elated to find out I could enjoy the privilege of being a private pilot once again.