Surviving Wright Patterson and Your FC1 Physical

First of all, congratulations, you did it! Whether it was through ROTC, Active Duty, or the Guard/Reserves to fly fighters, heavies, or helos, you won the lottery and got selected during your board to attend Air Force Pilot Training. Inevitably, at some point after your well-earned celebration, you have the same thought that all of us have had at some point, “ohhh (insert favorite expletive), now I have to pass my medical.” If you’re like me and the select few others who have been lucky enough to have gotten orders to report to Building 840 at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, you’re feeling the same valid anxiety that all of us have felt at some point. I’d like to provide some assistance to help you navigate those unfamiliar waters, as well as give you some SA on what to expect to give you some extra confidence heading into this.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Wright Patterson?
  2. Day 1
  3. Day 2
  4. Lack of Control
  5. Don’t be a Douche
  6. Don’t Lie, but Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot
  7. Enjoy Your Time at Wright Patterson
  8. AF Medical Regulations for Reference
  9. Conclusion

What is Wright Patterson?

Wright Patterson Air Force Base (“Wright Patt” for short) is located in Dayton, Ohio and although there is a smaller flying mission on base, they are primarily focused on training, research, and medical functions, including conducting medical screenings for all pilot hopefuls. The Flying Class One, or more commonly known as FC1, is the first major landmark on your journey to wings.  Unless you decide to pursue the astronaut program down the road it will be the most thorough and invasive medical evaluation that you will experience during your time in service. 

Before my FC1, I had to complete MEPS (basic DoD medical screening).  Some units will do a quick pre-screening with their doctors for major things that could be an issue prior to their FC1 as well. 

I didn’t have to show up with any medical paperwork in hand.  They had already built up our medical charts from things we had submitted to MEPS and also from a multi-page medical questionnaire that was similar to the MEPS initial medical form but more in-depth.  If you know you have a medical condition that may require a waiver, however, you may want to bring any civilian medical documentation that describes what was fixed and even a letter from the doctor stating that they do not predict any medical barriers to successfully flying in the military for the next 10-20 years.

Initially, you will be scheduled and accommodated for five days at Wright Patterson, but most people will finish in two barring any issues or extra testing that needs to be done. Individuals will be separated into two groups and this will determine your schedule of testing as well as what tests you will begin with on your first day.  This starts at 0700 on the Monday of your assigned week. 

For convenience and brevity’s sake, I’ve outlined what my personal experience was with testing and the events of the two days I spent on base.

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Day 1

  • EKG: get hooked up to the machine with plenty of sticky pads and have some chest hair ripped out when they take them off (for those of us in the male variety), nothing major.
  • Medical History Overview: Sit down and discuss all of your disclosed medical history and try not to shoot yourself in the foot. (We’ll discuss that later below).
  • Anthropomorphic Measurements: Height, weight, and sitting height measurements, fairly straightforward.
  • Optical Vision Test: Basic testing of vision at near and far distances as well as depth perception. I knew I had weak depth perception coming in and that it was also one thing that many people get popped for, so I trained my eyes with a Brock String and a couple other online depth perception exercises for a few weeks at home before arriving. I would highly recommend that you Google these as well as the tricks to help on depth perception tests and do the same.
  • Eye Pressure Test: this one is really fun!  You get a nice blast of high-pressure air right into your eyeball, and I’m not entirely convinced that it’s used for anything other than the entertainment of the staff, but I’m not a doctor.
  • Red Lens Test: The test administrator will give you a pair of red lens eyeglasses and instruct you to cover up one eye.  A few different sets of glasses will be used during this test as well. After you’re set-up, the administrator will move a light around a grid on the wall and ask if you see double or single of the light. Fairly straight forward and no tricks to be had here.
  • Color Blindness Test: Here you’ll start by sitting down in a dark room and putting on an eye patch. You will be given a Play Station controller and instructed to indicate whether the letter “C” on the screen has the opening pointing up, down, left, or right, by pressing on the D-pad of the controller within a certain amount of time. As you progress through the test the letter will change colors and get progressively more washed out.
  • Lens Topography Measurement: This one was the roughest for me and involved staring into a painfully bright light and watching it change colors. Here they’re testing to see the thickness of different portions of your eye such as the lens and cornea and a few other things that I, again, am not smart enough to understand.
  • Eye Laser Measurement: I’m still not entirely sure what they’re measuring here, but this one consists of looking into a machine and focusing on a green star.  Shortly after you’re set, a pretty intense laser light show starts.  Sit back and enjoy!

    Expect to spend a lot of time having your eyes evaluated during your FC1. (U.S. Air Force photo by Christopher Ball)
  • Hearing Evaluation: Same thing that you did at MEPS, close your eyes and hit the button when you hear the beep.
  • Blood Pressure and Heart Rate: Again, the same as your MEPS evaluation, blood pressure cuff and stethoscope.  Take a breath and try to relax.
  • Dental Exam: X-Rays and evaluation by the dentist, very cool guy that likes to talk about golf, if you’re into that.
  • Psychological Evaluation and Computer Testing: Settle in and strap up because you now have four hours of computer-based testing to enjoy. This one varied from mental math, memory exercises, and psych questions asking if you believe yourself to be possessed by demons or enjoy anime. No calculators or writing allowed.

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Day 2

  • Lab Testing: Blood draw from both arms and urine tests. Wright Patterson is also a Phase-2 Tech School.  If you’re lucky you’ll get an 18-year-old trainee that’s good with needles and you won’t walk away with some serious bruises and track marks that make the lady sitting next to you on the flight home look at you with some side-eye.
  • Chest X-Ray: Take off your shirt and hug the machine while they take pictures.
  • Interview with the Flight Doc: This one takes place in another exam room with the Flight Doc. He’ll go over your test results and records from the past few days and make you aware of any issues that are present that may require waivers or if you’re good to go so far. He’ll also conduct a few other minor tests for reflexes and balance. Also enjoys talking about golf.
  • Optometrist Exam: This is generally the last round of testing that you’ll go through, but it’s also one of the more stringent rounds. First, you’ll look into a couple more machines similar to the laser light show you received on the previous day and run through a few more tests and charts in a dark room with the Optometrist. After you complete those the Optometrist will apply some eye drops to dilate your pupils and temporarily wreck your vision. After you wait anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half for your eyes to completely dilate, (bring sunglasses for this, the waiting room lights aren’t friendly to massive pupils) you’ll be brought back to the same room to run through the same tests again.
  • Done: Call and get your flight home set, pack up, check out, and go grab some airport beers on the way home. Also, enjoy navigating your way through the world as a temporarily blind person from still being dilated. If you don’t fly out until the next day, absolutely make it a point to stop into the Air Force Museum.  It’s free and incredible.

This was my personal experience; I didn’t need any waivers and I didn’t have any past major medical issues so your experience may vary. You’ll be given a break for lunch and breakfast when you aren’t required to fast for blood or urine testing, so bring cash or a card to buy food from the café upstairs. ROTC cadets will have all meals provided for them in boxed meals.

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Lack of Control

Next, why is the FC1 such a stressful and anxiety-inducing event? There are a multitude of reasons for this, but primarily, pilots and aspiring pilots in general love one thing above all else, and that is being in control. Wright Patterson and your FC1 physical is one of the most stressful parts of the early portion of the path to wings, and that’s mostly due to the fact that it’s the first point in the process where you no longer have control over whether you make it or not. 

Coming from the Guard/Reserve side, leading up to this point you’ve had ultimate control over your packet, your scores, the units you apply to, how you rush, and how you perform during the interview board. Unfortunately, now, that all goes out the window and you release every bit of control to the doctors and staff on base.  That understandably causes stress in every one of us.

Minimize your stress by controlling what you can.  Again, if you know you may need to address a previous medical issue, bring any supporting documentation.  If you’re unsure of what the medical regs are, check out the documents at the end of the article to get a better understanding of where you currently stack up.

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Don’t be a Douche

Chances are that if you’ve been involved in the hunt for a pilot slot for any amount of time you’ve heard someone refer to the Golden Rule or Rule Number One, “don’t be a douche.”  Without a doubt that applies to every interaction you will have at Wright Patterson.

It turns out a website called The Cheap Place has these for sale. They’ll fit perfectly on your frenemy’s flight suit pencil pocket velcro, in case you need to send a less-than-subtle message.

It may not seem like it initially, but every single doctor and individual on the medical staff that you interact with wants to see you succeed and get the green light for UPT. Nobody has any interest in seeing your dreams crushed and the end to your path.  They will do everything in their power to give you the good-to-go or help you with any waivers that you may need. 

However, if you walk into this event and are rude to the staff or show up with any sense of entitlement or anything other than sheer politeness and thankfulness towards the staff, you will not be doing yourself or your chances at passing any favors. The technicians administering the exams and tests are great people.  If you’re cool and friendly with them they will return the same courtesy if you happen to struggle on a portion of a test.

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Don’t Lie, but Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot

Long before I started down the path to my pilot slot, my uncle would often tell me the story of a guy in his Navy Officer Candidate School class. Everybody had formed up on line for an inspection, and even though his buddy’s boots looked pristine and polished he had forgotten to polish them the night before as he should have. 

When the Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant got around to him, he asked if he had shined his boots the night before, his response? An honest “no.” His reward? A thorough smoke session. After the Gunny got tired and let the poor guy recover, he leaned in and said to him, “Son, there’s a difference between being honest and being stupid, learn it.”

Nobody wears black leather boots anymore, but USMC Gunnery Sergeants still tend to have some great advice. Never pass up an opportunity to shut the hell up and listen to one.

I add that anecdote to say this: the number one principle you have to abide by in your new path as an Officer in the military is integrity before everything.  If you lie and it’s found out at any point you are in for an absolute world of pain, and you deserve it. Medical records are easy to find and if you have something significant in your medical history you need to be upfront and honest by disclosing that  The doctors at Wright Patterson are world-class and they will find it no matter how well you think you are hiding it. 

However, having said that, there’s no need to disclose any unnecessary information or non-major medical information that could be used against you, like that one time that you stood up too fast in 7th-grade algebra and passed out or that time when you thought you maybe had a migraine but it might have just been a bad headache. Answer honestly to the specific questions that are asked. Beyond that, STFU!

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Enjoy Your Time at Wright Patterson

It’s easy to say this now being on the other side, but as long as things go your way, your time at Wright Patterson will be something that you can look back on with fond memories. Make it a point to enjoy as much of your time at Wright Patterson as possible.  Talk with the other candidates and learn from them, visit the museum for God’s sake, and when you get the word that you passed, go and celebrate with your new-found friends or squadron buddies.

X-15, X-29, XB-70, several lifting bodies, and more. This is just one corner of one hangar at the National Museum of the USAF. It’s a treasure trove for any aviator. Take advantage of the opportunity to check it out!

Seriously though, if you only take one thing from this whole article, whether you pass or not please make it a point to go to the Air Force Museum, it’s free and an experience and collection of aircraft and pieces of history unlike anything in the world.  You’ll likely never make another trip back to Dayton, Ohio, so do it now!

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AF Medical Regulations for Reference

AFI 48-123: Medical Examinations and Standards
https://static.e-publishing.af.mil/production/1/af_sg/publication/afi48-123/afi48-123.pdf

Air Force Medical Standards Directory
https://afspecialwarfare.com/files/MSD%2027%20Feb%202020%20FINALV1.pdf

Air Force Aerospace Medicine Waiver Guide
https://afspecialwarfare.com/files/USAF-Waiver-Guide-191212.pdf

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Conclusion

Stress and anxiety are just part of this event, but if there’s one thing that I learned from my time at Wright Patterson, it’s that the majority of that stress and anxiety is self-induced. Most of us have dreamed of becoming an Air Force pilot from the first day that we saw the Thunderbirds rip through the sky, saw a picture of a relative hanging off the ladder on the side of their jet, or read one of the countless books telling the exploits of one of the many legends that have come from this community.  The possible end to that dream can stir up some powerful emotions. 

Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about that, but if you arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible before arriving, you’ll be in good shape to tame those feelings when they come up. Remember, even if things go bad and you get disqualified, there is a waiver for almost everything; it only requires that you fight for it. Good luck, take a breath, and you’ll do just fine.

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