RB “Doc” Hecker

FAA HIMS/IMS Senior AME 20969


 Paul Celio & Doc Hecker who maintain their 1942 Boeing A75-N1 PT-17 USAAF 41-25606 N422DE Based at (1T8) Bulverde, TX


One of the most compelling ways to judge aviation safety is to look at accidents statistics, especially when they are looked at longitudinally, such as over a ten year period.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) set a the General Aviation (GA) target for the reduction of the fatal accident rate per 100,000 flight hours by 10 percent for the period of 2009-2018.  The fiscal year (FY14) fatal accident number target for 2014 was set at 251, and the actual preliminary figure was reported in September of this year at 250 / 100,000 flight hours – one less than the not-to-exceed target for 2014.  Although the goal appears to have been met, we should be doing better at this. 

The good news is that the number of civil aviation accidents fell approximately 16 percent from 1,539 in 2012 to 1,297 in 2013.  As far as statistics for GA went, there was a decrease in all measurable parameters with the total number of GA accidents decreased by 249 in 2013, but GA was still tagged with 1,222 of the reported 1,297 total accidents – an unfortunate but still high 94 percent.  As a hopeful measure of continued decline in the accident rate, the number of fatal accidents was 221 with 387 total fatalities in 2013.  The accident rate of 5.85 / 100,000 flight hours was also a small decline from the previous year.

As this information has been heavily borrowed from published sources, you are encouraged to review the 2013 statistical tables showing accidents, fatalities and accident rates for the major sectors of U.S. Civil Aviation at:

Another way to measure aviation safety is through medical programs.  The Federal Air Surgeon (FAS) was tasked by Congress to run the FAA drug testing program for FAA employees and many aviation professions working under the rules of 14 CFR parts 121 and 135.  It is interesting to note that the FAS reported that on average, an astonishing ~ 2,000 airman per year failed a random (DOT drug test) substance screening examination.  Since GA pilots operating under 14 CFR part 91 are not required to undergo DOT drug test screening, we do not have hard statistics for them, but as such, this program acts as a loose surrogate for monitoring alcohol and drug usage amongst the aviation community as a whole.

As a corollary, the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) division of the FAA conducts forensic toxicology screening after fatal accidents that show a similar use pattern of alcohol and drug usage amongst pilots.   Per the FAS November/December 2014 Aeromedical Advisory, the CAMI reported on 3,756 GA fatal accidents during the period of 2000 and 2013 and found that 976 (26 percent) were positive for either disqualifying medications, drugs of abuse, alcohol or some combination of the above.  Specifically, drug abuse was noted in 202 accidents and the presence of alcohol was noted in 115 accidents.   Data provided to the NTSB by the CAMI for the period 1990-2012 that focused on over-the-counter (OTC), prescription and illicit drugs found that of the 6,677 pilot who died in aircraft accidents, the percentage of those testing positive for potentially impairing medications had doubled from 11 percent to 23 percent.  It is obvious that flying while using alcohol, medications or illicit substances remains a real problem for the GA community. 

So…how do we stay safe, especially with minor illness or recent social alcohol activities?  If we are under a physician’s care with medications, we should either not fly or consult with our AME for advice.  Many prescribed or OTC medications are potentially sedating, or may have uncommon but real side effects that may impair our ability to safely operate aircraft.  The concept of half-life of these medications should be reviewed.  The half-life of a drug is the time it takes for a medication to have 50% of its activity removed by the body.  It is commonly held that 5 half-lives is a safe time period as only 3 percent of the drug should remain.  Of course, waiting 7 half-lives would ideal as less than 1 percent of the drug would remain.   All of us have been taught that “bottle-to-throttle” should be at least 8 hours.    Any vestige of a “Hang Over” should be recognized as alcohol impairment.  In my opinion, it would be far better to wait 24 hours to be sure.

Safety is our individual responsibility.  Medical education is our shared responsibility.  Your AME is there to assist you with aeromedical questions and advice.  I much prefer a telephone call or e-mail conversation to reading about another statistic.  Besides, I always enjoy speaking with another pilot!

Just remember the 4“P”s for a safe landing– Pitch, Power, Patience and Prayer!


December 21, 2014


RB “Doc” Hecker (SRA 5171) is a FAA Senior HIMS/IMS AME (20969) who retired from the US Army Medical Department in 1997 after 26 years of service.  He holds certificates for CFI Single Engine Land & Sea, Commercial Pilot ASEL, ASES, AMEL, AMES, Glider, B-17 SIC and Instrument Airplane along with an A&P Mechanic Certificate.  He has logged over 2,500 hours and prefers small, intimate airparks.  He has restored a 1965 Cessna C210E (N4904U), a 1946 Taylorcraft BC12-D (NC43306),a 1946 Aeronca 7AC (NC2241E), refurbished a 1943 Aeronca O-58B / L-3B (NC47185), 1945 Stinson L-5CVW Sentinel (N178) and a 1947 Taylorcraft BC12-D (N43928).  He is currently refurbishing a, and assisting the restoration of a 1947 Aeronca 7BCM / L-16 (N119TX).  His other projects include maintaining a 1942 Boeing A75-N1.  He has previously owned a Cessna C-172 (N61785), a Grumman AA-5B (N74447) and a Mooney M20C (N10AD).  In his free time, Doc practices medicine in San Antonio, TX.  He is a member of EAA Chapter 35 of San Antonio, TX, EAA Chapter 92 of Orange, CA, and is an EAA Technical Counselor and Flight Advisor.  In addition, he is a Life Member of the Commemorative Air Force and affiliates with the Houston Wing (Houston, TX), Centex Wing (San Marcos, TX), and is an active member of the Gulf Coast Wing (Houston, TX) where he crews as a Co-Pilot, Flight Engineer and member of the maintenance team doing sheet metal and fabric repair work on that magnificent 1945 B17-G war bird “Texas Raiders” (N7227C).