In the more than quarter century I’ve been a Certificated Flight Instructor, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve had people ask about the FAA WINGS program. My take-away from all those conversations is this: Most of us don’t really understand what the WINGS program is.
That stinging rebuke applies to me at times, too. Just in case you were wondering.In a nutshell, and I’m speaking for myself here, not the FAA, the WINGS program is a bridge that spans the gap between being legal to fly and being proficient at flying. Those are two entirely different things. Sometimes we forget that.
The WINGS program is there to not only remind us, but to help us find our way to proficiency, which is a far better destination that merely languishing in the land of the legal.
To quote from the FAASTeam’s own website, “The program encourages an on-going training program that provides you an opportunity to fly on a regular basis with an authorized flight instructor.”
Now that’s a laudable goal. But I know from hard-earned experience that a huge percentage of pilots will go well out of their way to avoid flying with a CFI unless they absolutely have to. And even then, they’ll do their best to skip through any actual demonstration of their skills or knowledge, if at all possible.
As is the case with most flight instructors, I’ve been approached by people over the years who have asked me to conduct a flight review, with a twist. “We’ve known each other a long time,” they’ll say. “We can just go around the pattern once or twice and you can sign me off.”
Uh, no. That’s not the way the flight review works. I’ll go even further and say that if you ever find a CFI who is willing to sign you off after a quick up and down flight, you should probably avoid using their services in the future.
There’s a reason the flight review is mandated to include a minimum of one hour of ground instruction and one hour of flight.
We all have weaknesses. We all have areas of ignorance, or misunderstanding, or just plain bull-headedness that’s going to get us in trouble someday. The flight review is designed to ferret out those areas of weakness, address them, and allow you to walk away as a better, more proficient, more aware pilot.
That’s as true of the Ercoupe driver as it is of the wide-body captain. None of us is immune to developing gaps in our knowledge base, and none of us is so good we don’t need to brush up on the basics now and then.
This is where the WINGS program for pilots really shines. It not only addresses areas where we may be weak, it also consciously drills down into areas that are known to be primary causes of accidents.
Think about that for a second. The FAA promotes and provides training opportunities specifically designed to keep pilots like you and me out of trouble.
Better yet, the vast majority of WINGS credit courses are free. Yes, free. They cost you absolutely nothing. In some cases you may actually find yourself on the receiving end of not just a great educational opportunity, but perhaps a free donut and a cup of coffee, too.
How cool is that?
Now the deal works like this. You log onto the FAASTeam site and register. From that point on you’ll get emails alerting you to safety seminars being held in your area.
Attend three of those seminars, or take three of the online courses offered on the site. That completes the ground portion of the WINGS program.
During that same time period, you are encouraged to complete three instructional flights covering specific tasks. You can find out what’s in your future by clicking on the My WINGS link under the Pilots tab. If you’re a glider pilot, you’ll see glider flight assignments. If you’re a seaplane pilot, you’ll see seaplane activities.
I’ve completed my classroom and online work for this year, but I haven’t completed the flights yet. Because I’ve got an Air Cam coming out of the shop shortly, I’m looking forward to three multi-engine airplane flights to work on tasks like airport operations, in flight maneuvers, and pattern work. Fair enough. I’m gonna do it.
And when I’m all done, I’ll get a set of wings that are suitable for display. I’m thinking they will look great on my flight bag. When I complete that Basic Level, I can choose to go on to the Advanced Level, and then the Master Level WINGS if I choose to do so.
That’s a lot of bling we could be sporting down the road.
Of course the safety of flight isn’t all about pilots. There is a maintenance arm of the WINGS program too. It’s known as the Aviation Maintenance Technician Awards Program. So whether you’re holding a yoke in your hands, or a torque wrench, there is a program designed specifically to help you assure aviation and you are as safe and proficient as possible.
The FAA’s WINGS program may be one of the great overlooked opportunities in general aviation. Go check it out. See if there’s not something there that lights your fire. It’s sure working for me.