Want to build your Skills and maintain Proficiency? Join the FAA WINGS program!

Flight Instructors have the challenging role to lead student pilots along a path to proficiency.   We ensure their safety along that path and strive to teach them what they’ll need to know to pursue a safe and rewarding lifetime of flying.  Hopefully, they have taught their students that the path to proficiency doesn’t end with their check-ride, but rather continues throughout their flying careers.   I remember my Examiner from the FAA telling me in 1984 after my PPL check-ride that my new Private certificate was only a “license to learn.”   Many professions require specified Continuing Education (“CE”) credits to maintain the privileges of their licenses.  These include CPAs, teachers, doctors, dentists, and nurses, so why shouldn’t the same be expected of aviators? Technology, procedures, and rules change from year to year and all of us who share airspace need to be aware of pertinent changes. Actually, as you may know, CFIs must re-validate their CFI certificate every two-years, and even Aviation Maintenance Technicians (AMTs) with their Inspection Authorization must re-validate their IA with specific activities each year.  A pilot’s skills are indeed perishable, and therefore continuing education through Proficiency Training is essential to keeping pilot’s on top of their game. Professional Pilots place a very high value on the instructive criticism and critique they receive during their simulator training.  It’s important to remember that “True Professionals are always Learning”!   The WINGS – Pilot Proficiency Program is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.

We know that professional golfers hit hundreds of balls on a driving range finding their perfect swing, as do baseball player hitting balls in a batting cage. Professional pilots often practice repetitive CAT-III approaches or V1-Cuts in a simulator. We know that pilots who participate in Pilot Proficiency Training Programs fly with more confidence.  They enjoy flying more, and both they and their passengers are more comfortable. Proficiency training can expand our horizons by exploring the operational capabilities of our present aircraft or even introducing us to more complex and capable aircraft, and thus turn into a Professional Development Plan.   Most importantly – proficiency training keeps us safe.  We invite you to visit the Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team’s  website.  FAASafety.gov offers a wide array of aviation safety information and training tools including the WINGS – Pilot Proficiency Program and the AMT Awards Program. FAASafety.gov is dedicated to helping pilots and mechanics maintain proficiency.  The FAASTeam focuses on improving the Nation’s aviation safety record by conveying safety principals and practices through training, outreach, and education while establishing partnerships and encouraging the continual growth of a positive safety culture within the aviation community. FAASafety.gov is your single source for aviation safety information.  It has a section for both Pilots, and a “Maintenance Hangar” section for AMT (Mechanics). All pilots regardless of certificate should register and participate in the WINGS program.  Earning your WINGS and maintain any phase of WINGS will keep your flight review current.  Again, pilots who earn a WINGS phase also qualify for a flight review.

Believe me, as a CFI, the last thing you want to see is a pilot’s logbook that is seeking a Flight Review is that the last time he actually flew an aircraft was his last Flight Review!   Folks need to fly regularly to be safe.  Proficiency Training works best if it’s NOT done all at once, but rather spaced-out over regular intervals.  The WINGS “Topic of the Quarter” program consists if eight activities pursued over the course of a year.  There are two (2) components to each phase of WINGS:

  1. “Knowledge Topics”, and
  2. “Flight Activities” with a CFI.

The self-paced, on-line, “Knowledge Topics” can be done when perhaps the weather, or one’s finances, prevents a person from actually flying.  So they are a good way to stay-engaged when we can’t actually fly. Reviewing and refreshing your knowledge is just as important as actual flying.  The “Knowledge Topic” for Spring 2020 is Aeronautical Decision Making.  This on-line course acquaints learners with the elements of risk-based decision making and it’s foundational to understanding and practicing safety risk management.

Sound risk-based Aeronautical Decision making is so important that we require WINGS pilots to take an ADM (Aeronautical Decision Making) course each year.   I can personally testify that it wasn’t the stick and rudder skills that almost killed me early in my career, but it was poor Aeronautical Decision Making that caused me the closest calls, which I later promised myself to never repeat.  (Remember:  Good Intentions + Lack of Knowledge = Fatal Consequences)   ADM encourages our use of the IMSAFE checklist and establishment of our own Personal Minimums with a focus on Threat and Error Management.

The second component of each WINGS phase is the “Flight Activity” with a CFI.  WINGS program participants fly with a CFI to complete a WINGS “Flight Activity” at least once each quarter.  The program encourages an on-going training program that provides you with an opportunity to fly on a regular basis with an authorized flight instructor.  The program is most effective if the training is accomplished regularly throughout the year, thus affording you the opportunity to fly in different seasons and in different flight conditions. Let’s take a closer look at the “Flight Activities” for the Spring quarter.

Spring is a great time to practice takeoffs, landings, go-arounds, and forced-landing emergencies.  Remember the old Spring-time saying………“March Winds, bring April Showers, which, bring May Flowers.”   The strong Spring winds in many parts of the Country add to the challenge.  Far better it is for a pilot to gain the competence and proficiency in takeoff and landings in gusty-crosswinds with an experience and qualified instructor than by himself for the first time!   Nobody wants to discover that the winds are a lot stronger at landing than they were when s/he departed and s/he now has to try being a test-pilot!   At the end of this WINGS flight activity pilots will be aware of their aircraft’s performance capabilities and they’ll have the confidence that comes from practice and expert coaching from their CFI. There are plenty of great teaching points and topics to be discussed during any of these sessions.

These might include:

Sterile Cockpit Procedures – A disciplined and focused cockpit should be maintained from engine start to top of climb, and from top of descent to engine shutdown. This is especially true while taxing.

Diligent use of Airport Diagram/Taxi Charts while taxiing.  Keep this chart up and ready for immediate reference on your cockpit display or iPad while taxing.

Request Progressive Taxi whenever in doubt.  Contrary to believe by some, this doesn’t apply only to student pilot’s…..I’ve requested Progressive Taxi many times when in doubt even while operating jets.

Stabilized Approach criteria (As defined by the Flight Safety Foundation an approach is stabilized when the aircraft is fully-configured, on-speed, with all checklist complete, and only small corrections are necessary, and it is recommended to have this condition fully establish by 1000-ft in IMC or 500-ft in VMC.  Remember, un-stabilized approaches are the leading factors in runway excursions…..poor approaches result in poor landings, whereas stable approach result in good landings.  Go-Arounds should always be non-punitive and encouraged in the interest of safety, and of course, practiced often.

The FAA has made quite a few changes to the WINGS program lately and even those of us who have been active in the program as instructors or student can occasionally use some help. If you need help getting started with WINGS, please reach out to a WINGS Pro in your area.   Mr. Scott Allen, our Honolulu FAASTeam Program Manager, as well as Gert de Couet and myself as FAASteam Representatives, are more the happy to assist you with the different aspects of the WINGS program.

There’s another reason to choose WINGS…… because participation in WINGS also means chances to win cash!   The WINGS Industry Advisory Committee is a coalition of FAASTeam Industry Partners, associations and devoted individuals committed to increasing awareness in the WINGS Program.  And they believe in WINGS enough to offer chances to win cash prices for completion of a WINGS phase by a pilot, or validation of a WINGS phase by an instructor!

The annual WINGS sweepstakes is generously funded by Paul Burger, a long-time advocate for general aviation safety and a retired aviator who believes participation in this program saves lives. Even Captain Sullenberger highly endorses the WINGS-program and it’s benefits toward safety.

After you’ve completed a phase of WINGS, you and your flight instructor can each enter the sweepstakes by clicking on “Claim Rewards” in the “WINGS – at a glance” section of your MyWINGS page and select “WINGS Sweepstakes”.   Or you can go directly to the www.mywingsinitiative.org website.  (It is interesting to note that unlike most sweepstakes, the cash prizes here have more of the higher valued prizes of $1500 rather than the lower $500 prizes.)

If your not enrolled in the WINGS program or you are not a WINGS instructor, we heartily recommend that you become one.  It’s a great way to build a risk management culture:

  • There’s nothing like the feeling you get when you know you’re playing you’re A-game, and in order to do that, you need a good coach.
  • So fly regularly with a CFI who will challenge you to review what you know, explore new horizons, and to always do your best. Of course, you’ll have to dedicate time and money to your proficiency program but it’s well worth it for the peace of mind that comes with confidence.
  • Vince Lombardi, the famous football coach said, ‘Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”  For pilot’s that means flying with precision.  On course, on altitude, on speed, every time, all the time.
  • And be sure to document your achievement in the WINGS Proficiency Program. It’s a great way to stay on top of your game and keep your flight review current.
  • One more quote from Vince Lombardi, that I really like: “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it, But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Jo Giles

Jo Giles is one of several FAASTeam Representatives in the Hawaiian Islands (WP-13) and a regular presenter at the FAA sponsored safety meetings. He is Aviation Director and Chief Pilot for Sky-River, a Private Part 91 Corporate Flight Department at PHNL. A +13,000 hour ATP with type ratings in 12 different aircraft from Learjets to Falcon, Gulfstream to the B-737 he holds FAA CFII-MEI, A&P/IA and Dispatcher certificates and was recently name Master Aviator in the Dassault Falcon-7X by FlightSafety. He can be reached by email corpcowboyjet@gmail.com or phone at 808-722-7524.

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