Fly Well

Visit me in Camelot

June 1, 2011

Sackier“The highest level attainable” is one definition of the word “summit.” For pilots, Summit is the pinnacle of aviation information, a concise and collegial meeting, to be held in Hartford, Connecticut, September 22 through 24 (see “New England Charmer”). In Mark Twain’s 1899 classic story, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, character Hank Morgan suffers a blow to the head and is inexplicably transported to medieval England, the land of my birth, to Camelot. In September, hopefully without brain trauma, the reverse will happen and this native Brit will come to the new Camelot, AOPA Summit, to participate in awe-inspiring events.

At Summit 2010 I was privileged to host three “Fly Well” sessions and because, I am sure, of the high caliber of the faculty, these were well attended and received. Please come to Summit 2011 and participate in the Fly Well forums and, indeed, all that the event has to offer.

Once again, we have three Fly Well panels, and there is something here for everyone. Most AOPA members are male and, although we need to encourage more women to fly, we should also note that women are more health conscious than men. Face it, fellas, how often do guys sit around over a drink comparing how understanding their doctor was when performing the annual hernia exam? Cough, please! Because many blokes resist health considerations until absolutely necessary, preparation for flight physicals with our aviation medical examiner (AME) often is absent. And this leads into our first Summit session, “10 Stupid Things Pilots Do to Sabotage their Aviation Medical.” That slip of paper, our aviation medical, allows us to exercise the privileges of the piece of plastic, our pilot certificate. Yet, avoidable mistakes can lead to needless deferral and many earthbound months. Two colleagues will play the roles of an AME and an unsuspecting, unprepared pilot in various scenarios. A panel of wise sages will enthrall the audience with methodologies to ensure you do not have similar experiences.

The second session, “Me Doctor, You Pilot. You Pilot, Me Doctor” pays homage to that doyen of aviation, Monty Python, and his Flying Circus. Pilots face health issues in their personal and aviation lives, and this seminar will address medical emergencies during and prior to flight. Some really compelling data on hypoxia and aviation bends will change the way you define “altitude.”

Moving from classic British humor to American sci-fi brings us to Star Trek and that eternal line: “I’m Just a Doctor, Jim,” the title of our third event. Dr. McCoy had several cool devices to treat the USS Enterprise crew, and while we do not have a Tricorder yet, marvelous technology abounds. This panel will make recommendations about the tests pilots should employ for their own health screening.

With such great panelists, my role as moderator is ridiculously simple and we have an all-star team. For instance, Dr. Rich Williams, chief medical officer for NASA, Lancair pilot, and AME; Dr. Paul Buza, who has developed a hypobaric chamber specifically to train pilots—his videos and presentation will stun you; Dr. Fred Tilton, Federal Air Surgeon; and Dr. Warren Silberman of the FAA are the foremost authorities on medical matters for pilots. Gary Crump is director of medical certification services at AOPA and handles tens of thousands of questions a year—if there is a medical issue that plagues pilots, Crump knows what to do.

At the first Fly Well forum at Summit 2010, I asked each panelist to name a disease that might affect flight. Stroke, heart attack, and aneurysm were mentioned, and then AOPA Foundation President Bruce Landsberg jumped in with “stupidity!” For his pithy observations and knowledge of real-world situations, we have implored Landsberg to participate. Similarly, Dr. Ian Fries, a CFI, AME, and member of the AOPA Board of Medical Advisors, will grace us with his wisdom. We also have “The Duke of Sleep,” Duke Naipohn—a paratrooper, pilot, and expert at prospective evaluation of sleep disorders—who is already helping truck drivers and other at-risk groups.

If you called central casting and asked for a guy who typifies “Summit” you will get Scott Parazynski. Summiting Everest is impressive enough, but Parazynski is also an emergency room doc, 2,500-hour pilot, scuba diver, photographer, and all-around nice guy. Oh, and he has flown five space shuttle missions as a specialist, including space walks and working with Sen. John Glenn on his most recent sojourn in space. Typical underachiever! And he will be at Summit for you.

Other speakers are being confirmed, and we are exploring the potential for a health fair—if this appeals to you, please let me know. Additionally, we are considering developing stand-alone Fly Well retreats where pilots can learn about health, obtain screening tests, and possibly complete their medical certification at pleasant fly-in locations around the United States. If this is an attractive proposition, please get in touch with me.

You can conclude that I am passionate about this topic and hope I have imbued my readers with the enthusiasm to fire up the engine and get on down to Mark Twain’s hometown for Summit 2011. Or should I say, get on up?

Jonathan M. Sackier is an instrument-rated private pilot. Email the author at jonathan.sackier@aopa.org.