Spread Your “Wings”

Printed in AircraftOwner.com - September 2014

What do good golfers, musicians, lawyers and doctors all have in common?  They practice their profession every day, and they keep learning all they can about their passion.  And of course I should have added “good pilots” to that list as well.

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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:

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The first three blocks allow us to find information regarding additional training, both on-line (the first two blocks) and in on-site seminars (the third block). The fourth block allows us to sign in to our account if we have one, or to create a free account. 

Note that there is no requirement to sign in to the website to take advantage of the training suggested by the first three blocks.  It is available to anyone.  But there are two reasons why signing up for an account is a good idea.  First, it does allow enrollment in the Wings program.  But even more important, it allows us to get updates from the FAA on all seminars that might interest us.

There are four more blocks in the second row:

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The first block details the Aviation Maintenance Technician program.  Do you have a maintenance guy (or gal) that you think is outstanding?  Check out this way of sending some recognition their way.  Then, there is an easy means to learn more about the Wings program and to see your own status within the program. 

And then a box that a lot of instructors do not know about.  The Wings program mandates both flight training and ground training.  And while there are some requirements for putting together ground training, any CFI can conduct the flight training.  There is no requirement for the CFI to register for the Wings program.  He or she can acknowledge flight training through the Instructor Portal. 

And finally, there is the means for each of us to see how we stack up against our fellow pilots.

he next line allows us to obtain information about the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).  This is a group of volunteers, mostly certified flight instructors, who have a passion for aviation safety and aviation training.  But just as important as the individual FAASTeam members, there are a number of companies and organizations that are also FAASTeam members.

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But as the ads say, “But wait! There’s more!”  This fourth line provides a ton of links to just about any FAA topic a pilot can think of.

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So, now you are saying, “OK, OK.  Just tell me how I put together a personalized training program for myself.”  Start in the upper right-hand corner and “Create an Account”.  (One change in the first line of blocks, after you create an account, is that a list of upcoming seminars is displayed, based on your preferences.)  And within this upper right corner box is the link that allows you to set up your training program, based on your aircraft interests and location.

When you set up your training preferences, you will come to this:

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While all of the info is necessary, “Wings Profile” is part you care about as you set up your training profile.  Enter the category and class you want to train in, as well as your ratings.
The training program that will be prepared for you will consist of three credits of knowledge activities and three credits of flight activities.

At the Basic level, which is where all pilots start, the activities are geared to the Private (or Sport or Recreation) level.  Once a pilot has completed the Basic level, he can move to the Advanced or Master levels, which allows him to perform at the Commercial level, and then at Airline Transport Pilot level.

Although suggestions are made for three activities in both the knowledge and flight activities categories, pilots can use the “search” feature to select from a wide range of other choices.

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Initially, pilots will enter the date of their most recent flight review.  However, as they go through the Wings program, this date will change to the date that the pilot completes the requirements of each phase of training.  All activities are “remembered”, but this is a rolling record.  In order to complete a phase of training, all of the training for any phase must be completed within a twelve-month period.

More questions?  Check out Aviation Circular AC No: AC 61-91J for the official explanation of the program. Or just surf over to www.faasafety.gov to get started.

Don’t Practice Until You Get It Right - Practice Until You Don’t Get It Wrong