When I started flying, when dinosaurs roamed the Midwest, there were no requirements for retraining of any kind. Oh, we still needed to execute three takeoffs and landings if we wanted to carry passengers, and if we wanted to be legal to fly in instrument conditions we needed to fly six hours in the weather or under the hood, and we needed to fly six instrument approaches every six months. But if we wanted to fly by ourselves, there was no requirement for any recurrent training. Step out of the airplane for five years? Just step right back in.
But as we moved into the 1970’s, the winds began to shift for many professions. Lawyers, architects, real estate agents, just to name a few, started seeing requirements from their state licensing boards for a prescribed amount of recurrent training in order to keep practicing their professions. And at about the same time, the FAA began to look at recurrent training for pilots as well.
I don’t know what the FAA’s early thoughts were. I suspect that they included a lot of mandatory training. But, since the FAA was dealing with the private pilot population and not the professional world, cooler heads prevailed and the resulting regulation, FAR 61.56 was pretty benign - a review flight with a certified flight instructor every two years. (Contrast that with the requirement for flight instructors – recurrent training every two years or loss of license.)
So a generation of pilots has grown up with this requirement. But the FAA, wisely I think, began a program to go beyond one hour of flight training every two years - a voluntary program for pilots to help them put together a program of recurrent training on an on-going basis. And thus was born the FAA Wings program.
The Wings program has undergone continuing improvement since its beginning. The early program consisted of pilots getting a paper card signed off by a CFI that they had received some ground instruction on the topic of the CFI’s choice. But as the computer age has evolved, so has the program. First, there are a lot of on-line training opportunities available that were not available in the past. And second, the computer has allowed a much better means of specifying and tracking our training
So how does the program work? Start with the website, www.faasafety.gov . There is a lot of info on the opening page, almost too much. Start with the top row: