As a student pilot, you will need a Student Pilot Certificate at some point during flight training program.  When you will need it and how you can obtain it will vary based upon the type of training that you are doing.

You may also need an FAA Medical Certificate.  The type of certificate you should obtain, if you should obtain one at all, depends on your flight training goals.

Your Student Pilot Certificate

You will need a Student Pilot Certificate before your first solo; that wondrous time when your instructor has enough confidence in your ability to get out of the airplane and send you off by yourself.  When training under the general rules for flight training, often referred to as “Part 61 training,” you can obtain the certificate at any time prior to the solo.

If you are training under the more formalized rules for flight schools, referred to as “Part 141 training,” you must obtain your Student Pilot Certificate prior to enrolling in the flight curriculum.  Basically, you need the Student Pilot Certificate before you can start.

Your Student Pilot Certificate can be a part of your FAA Medical Certificate.  If you find that you need a medical for the type of flying that you will be learning, this is the way to go.  When you go for your medical exam, be sure to tell your medical examiner that you need a Student Pilot Certificate.  He or she will simply print your medical on the appropriate form which includes the Student Pilot Certificate.

If you do not require an FAA Medical Certificate, you can get a standalone Student Pilot Certificate from an Inspector at the FAA Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) or from an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE).

Student Pilot Certificates do expire, but typically not before you’ve completed your training and earned your full certificate.  The expiration date will generally coincide with the expiration of your FAA Medical Certificate if it is a part of this form (varies with age as noted in the next section).  A standalone Student Pilot Certificate will expire after 60 calendar months.

Your FAA Medical Certificate and Alternatives

The pursuit of most pilot certificates will require you to obtain and hold an FAA Medical Certificate prior to flying solo.

If you are pursuing a Sport Pilot Certificate and will only be flying solo in a Light Sport Airplane, you may be able to use your valid driver’s license as a testament to your acceptable health.  To exercise the option of using your driver’s license in place an FAA Medical Certificate, you must not have failed your most recent attempt at an FAA Medical Certificate or be under a medical suspension.  If you have never attempted to obtain an FAA Medical Certificate or you allowed your most recent medical to expire, the valid driver’s license may be an option for you.

If you are learning to fly in a glider, motorglider, or balloon, you will not need a medical.  You will simply need to be able to attest to the fact that you do not have any medical conditions that would preclude your safe operation of the aircraft in solo flight.

FAA Medical Certificate’s are issued by an FAA Designated Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).  AME’s are physicians with a special interest in aviation safety and have training in aviation medicine.

If you have any condition that may be medically disqualifying or could slow your medical approval, do not visit your AME before meeting with and discussing your options with a knowledgeable instructor.  Alternatively, you can contact a resource like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) to discuss your situation.  You can get a free 6 month membership as a Student Pilot.  They have experts available to help find your best route for success in the medical certification process.

Some conditions that can be disqualifying or could slow your medical approval include but are not limited to:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Nervous Disorders
  • History of Kidney Stones
  • Emotional or Mental Disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Uncorrectable Vision
  • Certain Levels of Hearing Loss
  • History of Alcohol or Drug Dependence
  • Any condition that could impair your ability to operate an aircraft safely

If you would like further information on potentially disqualifying conditions, the standards for medical certification are contained in Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 67.  If 14 CFR Part 67 indicates that a condition will not allow you to obtain a medical certificate, all hope is not lost.  There may be an option to obtain a special issuance medical certificate or obtain a medical with certain operating limitations.  Discuss this with one of the previously mentioned sources before pushing forward with your examination.

If you are in good health and ready to obtain your FAA Medical Certificate, find an AME, schedule an appointment, and fill out your application on MedXPress before going to see the doctor.  Be truthful on this application, especially in the area of alcohol related driving offenses.  The FAA can and will check your answers against the National Driver Register database.  Falsification of facts can lead to fines and revocation of certificates.

You can find an AME using the FAA’s database found at http://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/.

At some point in the process, you will be asked about the “Class” of medical you would like to apply for.  We will review the classes in a moment but you should plan to obtain the class of medical certificate required, for the certificate level you ultimately want.  This will tell you if you are medically qualified for that certificate.  Finding this out now is better than waiting until you have already spent thousands of dollars on training for a certificate that you ultimately may not be able to use.

A 1st Class medical is required when flight operations require an Air Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.  An ATP is required to act as the Pilot in Command (PIC) or Captain of a scheduled airliner.

A 2nd Class medical is required when flight operations require a Commercial Pilot certificate.  A Commercial certificate is required essentially to get paid to be a pilot.

A 3rd Class medical is required for all other flight operations that require an FAA Medical Certificate.  This includes Student Pilots pursuing a Recreational or Private certificate, Recreational and Private pilots, and most Flight Instructors.

For operations as a Student, Recreational, or Private Pilot, all classes of medical certificates are valid for 60 calendar months if you obtained the certificate prior to your 40th birthday.  If you obtained the medical on or after your 40th birthday, the certificate is valid for only 24 calendar months.

More detailed information about FAA Medical Certificate expirations can be found in the table below from the FAA via 14 CFR Part 61:

If you hold And on the date of examination for your most recent medical certificate you were And you are conducting an operation requiring Then your medical certificate expires, for that operation, at the end of the last day of the
(1) A first-class medical certificate (i) Under age 40 an airline transport pilot certificate 12th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(ii) Age 40 or older an airline transport pilot certificate 6th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(iii) Any age a commercial pilot certificate or an air traffic control tower operator certificate 12th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(iv) Under age 40 a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 60th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(v) Age 40 or older a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 24th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(2) A second-class medical certificate (i) Any age a commercial pilot certificate or an air traffic control tower operator certificate 12th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(ii) Under age 40 a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 60th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(iii) Age 40 or older a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 24th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(3) A third-class medical certificate (i) Under age 40 a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 60th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.
(ii) Age 40 or older a recreational pilot certificate, a private pilot certificate, a flight instructor certificate (when acting as pilot in command or a required pilot flight crewmember in operations other than glider or balloon), a student pilot certificate, or a sport pilot certificate (when not using a U.S. driver’s license as medical qualification) 24th month after the month of the date of examination shown on the medical certificate.