Here is my writeup of the OCVT and MFT, both of which I completed in the past month. I am trying to give as much information as I can, so it will be quite lengthy.
For those of you who do not know, pilots who cannot pass the standard Ishihara plates (book with dots that you read numbers embedded within the dots) receive a restriction reading “Not valid for night flying or by color signal control” on their medical (which in effect prevents one from getting hired as a commercial pilot of any type) and have two options. The first is to try alternate tests, such as the Farnsworth Lantern, Dvorine Plates, and several others. Some people are able to pass these even if they fail the Ishiharas. The pro of this is that you do not have to take a one-shot pass or fail test with the FAA, and the con is that you will have to find the alternate test that you are able to pass each time you go for a renewal of your medical. This can be particularly difficult with the Farnsworth Lantern, as they have been out of production for several decades.
The other option is to pursue a permanent removal of the restriction with the FAA. This consists of two parts, an OCVT and an MFT. Applicants for a third class medical only need to take the OCVT, while second and first class applicants must take both. The OCVT (Operational Color Vision Test) consists of a sectional chart reading and light gun test, and the MFT (Medical Flight Test) is an actual flight with a FAA inspector from the FSDO to examine your operational capabilities in regards to color.
After visiting Dr. Bruce Chien (Senior AME) near Chicago, who specializes in helping people with complex medical certification issues, I struggled with all the alternate tests and decided I would pursue the permanent option with the FAA. In the past month I passed both tests and am now waiting to receive a new medical certificate without the restriction as well as a letter of evidence (LOE) that I will keep forever and will prevent me from ever having to take a color vision test at my exams with AMEs in the future, as the letter says that I meet the FAA standards for color vision permanently.
Now on to a writeup of each test.
Preparation for OCVT
I requested the approval to take both tests from the FAA Medical Office in Oklahoma City on October 10 and received it in the mail on November 8.
To prepare, I visited 3 towers in my local area, including the one next to the FSDO. I found that two towers had old halogen light guns (one bulb, with a red filter and green filter that are moved in front of the bulb with a handle to create the correct color) and one tower had a very nice, quite new LED light gun (these have separate diodes for each color.) As you might expect, the LED guns were far easier to see and much brighter. Even for a color-normal person who was helping me practice, they had trouble seeing the difference between the whites and greens of the halogen guns at times.
Thankfully, the FSDO agreed to meet me at the tower with the new LED gun in town, so I practiced there a few times in the weeks leading up to the test. The tower was very helpful, and I would just call and ask if they were busy and if not they were very helpful with practice signals.
For the chart reading portion, I tried to study every single color on the sectional chart. Sometimes at the higher elevations it can be difficult to make out the magenta on MOAs from the blue on Restricted areas. These are the types of things to practice, and obviously make sure to look for visual clues, like the actual label of the area (MOA vs R-xxx).
Here’s a list of some of the items and what color they are, https://www.reddit.com/r/flying/comments/k7j9x3/sectional_chart_colors/geswxnl?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3
Now for the test itself.
I met the examiners at a building near the tower and we filled out some forms before getting started. There were two examiners there, which makes it a bit more nerve-racking, but I have heard of some people taking the test with up to 5 examiners, so I was expecting to be watched by multiple people. The sectional chart test took about 5 to 10 minutes. I was asked to identify the color of a VOR (blue) and an NDB (magenta), several towered and untowered airports based on color, cities (yellow area), MOAs and Restricted Areas, bodies of water, grey IR routes, blue airways, and a blue national monument area. He also ran his finger across the chart and asked me to tell him each time the color of the background changed based on elevation. Finally, he asked me to show him what text in the legend on the left side of the chart was blue and what was magenta. Because I identified all of these correctly and without significant hesitation, he stated that I passed that portion and we went outside.
Upon reaching a point 1,500 feet away from the tower (pre-determined with Google Earth,) one of the examiners called the tower and asked for a test signal to check aim. Seeing a well-aimed, steady, bright light, I said I was ready to proceed. *Note: if the light is not aimed at you correctly, you will not see the full “starburst” of light. Tell the examiner if you do not think it is aimed correctly! They want to give you the opportunity to succeed.The tower and examiner pre-coordinated a sequence of 10 lights. The regs require that the sequence include 4 signals of one color, and three of the two other colors. I stated the color I saw on each of the ten lights. The light is shone for five seconds and you have 5 seconds after that to give your response, but can respond while the light is shining. DO NOT rush into giving a wrong answer! Between each signal, you can take up to a minute before proceeding to allow your eyes to adjust. I did not take the full time, I usually waited about 5 - 10 seconds. I recommend that you look away from the gun as soon as you have given an answer, as it will create burn in if you look for too long.
They do not tell you if you are getting the signals right or wrong during the test, but he checked my responses with the sequence immediately after and informed me that I passed (you must get all 10 correctly).
The entire process took about 45 minutes.
Now for the MFT.
The FAA explicitly lists out what the examiner can test you on during the flight test in the regs (see link at bottom of this posts,) so I went up with a color-normal person a week before the test to practice as much as I could. The FAA wants to make sure you can pick out emergency landing spots, objects in fields that are obstacles, power lines, airport signage, and airport lighting. I tried to practice as much of this as I could.
See links at the bottom for some videos I watched to review.
This test is typically with just one examiner. I rented a Cessna 172 from the school where I got my PPL and made sure to bring all of the inspection records, as the examiner is required to review the airworthiness of the aircraft.
I met the examiner and we spent about 45 minutes filling out paperwork and discussing how the test would go on the ground. The one thing he tested me on that did not involve the airplane was a weather radar. He showed me an image of a weather display from a Citation Mustang on his iPad and asked me to show where I would want to fly to avoid the worst of the storm on the screen (checking to make sure I can see the green, yellow, and red areas). Then we went out to the airplane.
The examiner informed me that as Pilot In Command he expected me to prioritize flying safely over identifying what he asked me to at all times, and to let him know if he should pause for a moment for me to complete flying tasks. As we started up, he asked me to identify the different colors on the airspeed indicator and point out a few colors on the Garmin GNS430, like the blue waypoint triangles and the white text above them.
We taxied out, took off, and headed toward a nearby Air Force Base with a Class D airspace. We requested to transition their Class D and fly over midfield at 2000 feet to look at the lights. They had no traffic, so they turned on all of the approach and runway lighting at full intensity (ALSF-1 approach lights). I identified the white sequence flashers, the green runway threshold lights, the red lights just in front of the greens at the threshold, the PAPIs (all white since we were well above glidepath and overflying the field), and the white runway edge lights. We then turned and headed back towards the starting airport. On the way back I identified some plowed vs. unplowed fields, ridges in fields, waterways, powerlines in fields, good emergency landing spots, and brown vs. green fields. We then entered the downwind and intentionally started a bit high on final in order for me to identify as each light on the PAPIs changed from white to red until I had two and two (on glidepath) we landed and he informed me that I passed. After a short taxi back, he congratulated me and left. From takeoff to touchdown was exactly 20 minutes.
I am incredibly relieved to have these tests completed as I can now pursue a career as a commercial pilot and never have to worry about color vision again. I hope this post helps others who are in the same situation as I was. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!
FAA regulations on OCVT/MFT procedures: FSIMS Document Viewer
^^^^Look at 5-1523J, 5-1526,E,6, and 5-1527