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Deaf People as Pilots:

Mike Arakelian
Dec 10, 2010

Commanding the Wild Blue Yonder:
The Road to Becoming a Deaf Airman

The passion for aviation can move anybody at any age, and for some it can seduce with the strength of the sirens (who ironically were ‘bird-women') in the story of Homers' Odyssey. The desire to break the bounds of the earth and travel anywhere at anytime understandably captivates many people. The area of general aviation is open for those who decide that they're serious about answering the challenge of becoming an aviator including those aviators who may be Deaf. How does one become a pilot if they [are] Deaf? By asking this question one has taken the first step on their journey to flight.

The Road to earning one's ‘wings' while being Deaf is only a little bit different than those who are ‘hearies' and can in most circumstances exercise the privileges of modern aviation [including] being a commercial pilot, or pilot for hire. The decision process begins with choosing what category of aircraft one will fly because with respect to classification of airmen there are now seven categories; airplane, rotorcraft, glider, and lighter than air, powered-lift, powered parachute, [and] weight-shift-control. Each category can be broken down into classes, and these classes are further classified [according] to types of aircraft, under FAR 61.5.b. (FAA2010)

The Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) oversees all regulatory aspects of flight and they govern the process by which an aviator will receive a Private Pilot License. A student pilot may start training at a fixed based operator (FBO) generally located at most airports. The FBO will put an aspiring aviator through ground school and prep the student to complete the FAA written exam. This work is completed concurrently while developing flying experience, and will eventually pave the way to a solo flight. For a Deaf pilot arrangements can be made with the airport to use the light signal procedures that are the same for ‘hearies' in radio communication failure as this effort must be done alone while flying. To demonstrate how this procedure works a student will rock the wings as a component to communicate with the tower, and the tower will either hold steady or flash a red, white, or green light. Each combination will mean different commands to the pilot from the tower. (IDPA 2010)

Within the timeframe of approaching one's solo, a medical certificate is needed. Once a pilot's license is earned it is good for life, but to act as pilot in command to exercise these privileges a current medical certificate must be issued from an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). The times these certificates are good for vary depending on if it's a first, second, or third class certificate. For practical purposes [only] a third class medical [certificate] is necessary, and current regulations dictate these certificates are valid for up to 5 years, depending on the age of the pilot. (AOPA2008)

For a Deaf pilot the difference between these procedures varies slightly than that for ‘hearies.' The AME will send Deaf student pilot's application to Oklahoma's Certification Branch. In about a month's time a letter referring a pilot to a special medical flight test with another FAA flight examiner to demonstrate, "…recognition of imminent stalls and engine failure. If you pass this test, which is not a difficult test to pass, you will receive a ‘S.O.D.A.' or Statement of Demonstrated Ability." (IDPA2010)

After these requirements are demonstrated a Deaf student pilot can then take a regular private pilot flight examination. After a Private Pilot Certificate is earned the SODA test flight is no longer required, as only a new medical certificate is required when it expires to continue flying privileges.(IDPA2010) More information on medical procedures can be found in chapter 27 of the General Aviation Operations Inspectors Handbook.(Aviationwise2010) After becoming a licensed aviator, a deaf pilot will be able to fly only under the limitation, "Not Valid for Flights Requiring the Use of Radio" per 14 CFR section 61.13 (Aviationwise2010) this should not be discouraging as,
"… less than 5 percent of all airports in the U.S. are towered, and since the vast majority of airspace is not controlled, there are plenty of places to go flying where radio use is not required…at last count, there were about 200 pilots in the United States who had hearing loss that required the radio--use limitation." (Brown2009)

To become a commercial pilot, this limitation will allow Deaf pilots to seek flying careers such as banner-towing and crop dusting, as flying below controlled airspace is allowed where communications with a radar facility is not required. To illustrate how far a Deaf pilot can succeed in aviation Stephen Hopson is a model aviator whose ability to overcome challenges is quickly gaining popularity in the Deaf aviation community. Stephen who has been deaf since birth has been the first Deaf plot to receive his interment rating. This is accomplished with a co-pilot who listens and communicates with the tower as Hopson is Pilot in Command, or P.I.C. Hopson is lobbing the FAA to enable Datalink technology that's used in Europe to assist general aviation. This technology would allow the Deaf community to fly instrument flight rules, or IFR by themselves. (Grady2006)

As within the Deaf Community there is a tremendous amount of support for aspiring aviators who wish to pursue this endeavor. The International Deaf Pilots Association or I.D.P.A. has an active website where a tremendous amount of assistance for Deaf pilots can be found. Some of the services offered are a list of FBO's who have flight instructors that can assist Deaf pilots, activity in the Deaf community, and offer frequent fly-ins. (IDPA2010.) The Aircraft Owners Pilot Association, also known as the A.O.P.A. is another community who is aiding the Deaf pilot community by assisting FBO's without signing instructors by printing circulars to help cater to aspiring aviators. The AOPA also successfully lobbied the FAA to influence the maintain the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) part 61.13, where the provision of operating without the use of radio was under scrutiny and about to be removed in 1995. (AOPA1999)

As of today the sky is still open to Deaf pilots, and continues to call all those who will accept the challenge to earn their wings. With a tremendous support network, resources, and quickly promising technology the supposed barrier for deaf pilots to be a part of general aviation is quickly becoming transparent with the passing of this opportunity to be aloft. The procedures to be an air born aren't that dissimilar from conventional training but the enjoyment offered for traveling closer to the heavens will forever continue to be equal among the fraternity of airmen.

~ "For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return." -Leonardo da Vinci ~

Works Cited:

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association "Online International Deaf Pilots Association stages fly-in to AOPA Headquarters" 1999 Accessed Dec 12, 2010

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association "Good News: FAA Extends First, Third Class Medicals" July 23 2008
Accessed 12 10, 2010 <>

Aviationwise Pilot Ground Schools "Deaf Student Pilot Flight Standard Service Certification Faq's"2010
Accessed Dec.12,2010<>

Brown, Sara. "Flying Without Sound" March 5 2009 Accessed Dec 12,2010 <>

Federal Aviation Administration "FAA Regulations" June 11,2010
Accessed Dec 122010 <>

Grady, Mary. "Deaf Pilot Earns Instrument Rating" AvWeb 2006
Dec 12, 2010 <>

International Deaf Pilots Association "What Is The Process Of Getting a Medical Certificate If You Are Deaf?"2010
accessed Dec 12 2010<>


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