Why I like the Wings Pilot Proficiency Program

I’ve been giving seminars on the new WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program and have been asked to objectively evaluate my enthusiasm for it. Why is it better than the old Wings program?

  • First, and foremost, the new WINGS program puts each pilot in control of his or her own training program.
  • Second, it is fully adaptable to each pilot’s current level of flying and can be changed at any time.
  • Third, the level of proficiency required is easily attainable at any level for which you are rated.
  • Finally, the system is user friendly and automatically keeps track of your accomplishments.

What are the benefits? Bottom line, you are a safer pilot! Let me put that another way – you, and your passengers, will feel a lot more comfortable about flying and you will be a better member of the aviation community. As an incidental, you could also save some money on your insurance rates.

The WINGS website gives you the nuts and bolts of how to use the WINGS program, so my justification for each of the points just offered will be general, rather than specific, instructions on how to use it.

Many general aviation pilots don’t have the background or resources to develop a comprehensive and continuous training program and those that do probably don’t have the time. We do the best we can to maintain and improve our skills, but it’s likely with no outline or organized plan. Now, in step the folks who developed the new WINGS program. They have an extensive training background and a wealth of resources they used to create an interactive website where you can be your own training manager with tools and options you quickly organize and administer. You develop a plan you want and run it at a pace that is comfortable for you and your wallet.

The adaptability of the new program is the matrix of training activities available based on the level of proficiency you select. You do that when you sign up for the program but you can change it at any time. When you register, the system asks you what ratings you have so it can develop a set of tasks commensurate with your qualifications. The trick is, you don’t have to tell any more than you want. For example, what if you are a 747 captain who flies a single engine, six-place airplane for family trips. You get all your heavy training from your employer so all you have to select when you sign up for WINGS as Private Pilot, single-engine land with an instrument rating. Then your WINGS flight and ground training event selections will be tailored to your personal flying. You will be able to quickly and easily accomplish your annual WINGS training events and perhaps even enjoy a lower insurance premium if your underwriter recognizes the WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program. By the way, all you have to do to meet the requirements for your flight review is maintain your WINGS at the Basic level.

While the old Wings program had 20 repetitive phases, there are just three levels – Basic, Advanced, and Master – in the new WINGS program. Once you enter your aircraft category and class and pilot certificate, the program will give you a different set of requirements at each of the three levels.

Unlike the old Wings program where all you had to do was walk away from the landings after your required three hours of dual with a CFI, the new WINGS program actually has criteria for successful accomplishment of the tasks. However, there is no minimum time required. The yardstick for your CFI to sign you off is the FAA practical test standards (PTS) for the required tasks at the appropriate level. The good point about this is that you can usually accomplish ALL the required tasks in less than three hours of dual. You can also accomplish all the rquired tasks on a single flight rather than having to do three separate flights. And, if it does happen to take as much as three hours, you’ll likely feel a lot better about your flying skills when you’re done. It is these performance criteria that insurance companies will recognize and reward.

Finally, once you’ve completed a flight training event, you enter the information into your WINGS webpage and the system will record the event when your CFI, or other qualified person, verifies the training. That means that if the CFI you like and are comfortable with still doesn’t own a computer, you can show the logbook entry to another instructor who has on-line access and he or she can verify your training, as can any FAA Safety Team Representative or Program Manager. The system will show you a rolling 12-month look back of your recent training but it will also keep a permanent record of all your WINGS related flight and ground training. You can, at your discretion, share your training record with your insurance company or your flying club or FBO at any time. Or, you can simply print a copy of the page with your training events and give it to the person who needs it.

Because of the automated recordkeeping, it’s much easier to spread your training out over an entire 12 month cycle rather than lumping it together once every 12 months. That actually enhances your proficiency by doing a little training more often rather than a lot of training less frequently. And, again, because of its design, it’s easier on your budget.

So there it is. A recurring and continuous flight proficiency program you can develop and administer tailored to your specific parameters. For individual aircraft owners, insurance companies are already starting to offer incentives to participate in WINGS. In the future, I can see flying clubs and FBOs requiring pilots to maintain the WINGS Basic level of proficiency in order for pilots to rent aircraft and keep the organization’s insurance rates lower. Many flying clubs I am familiar with already mandate an annual flight review instead of the FAA’s 24-month requirement.

You can check out the WINGS program in more detail, with no obligation, by going to the FAA safety website at FAASafety.gov . Then you can make a decision to register and participate. If you wish, you can just sign up to be alerted to safety events in your local area without signing up to participate in the WINGS program. But, I encourage you to take full advantage of this new powerful training management tool that the FAA is providing for free because they want to make general aviation safer for everyone.


About Rich Martindell

Instrument flight instructor (CFII), rated airline transport pilot (ATP), former military instructor pilot in F-4s and F-15s. Aircraft accident investigator and flight safety consultant. FAA Safety Team Lead Representative.
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