WINGS, Part 1: Improving Your Flying Skills

  Steve WolfApr 9, 2016  

If you’re like me, you haven’t flown much over the past few months.  Time to shake off the rust and regain that flight proficiency.

The FAA WINGS program (documented in Advisory Circular (AC) 61-91J) can be used to get credit towards a WINGS stage while focusing on specific skills.  Wow, I can become a better pilot and get credit for it from the FAA.  My insurance company likes that, too.

If you haven’t used WINGS yet, simply create an account on the FAA Safety website,

Now log into your account. Hover over the Pilots tab near the top of the page and click My WINGS on the pulldown menu that appears. You’ll see your WINGS progress summary, consisting of three Knowledge Activities and three Flight Activities.  These have been pre-populated with topics that may or may not interest you.  That’s okay; you can choose something else.

I’m going to choose a Flight Activity for Flight Topic 2 (the middle one).  I click its Search link, and get a long list of Topic 2 activities.  Note that free ones are listed before activities that cost money.  I think I’ll choose a free one.

I find the one labeled Flight Activity A070405-08, “ASEL-Slow Flight, Stall, Basic Instruments (Pvt, Comm’l, ATP)”.  This looks like a good challenge.  I click its Select button which returns me to my My WINGS page.  My selected activity now populates Flight Topic 2.

I click on the activity’s title to see the details of what I’m  expected to do during this flight.  The activity page for A070405-08 lists specific tasks from sections of the Practical Test Standard.  They are:

  1. Area of Operation VIII, Task A: Maneuvering During Slow Flight
  2.  Area of Operation VIII, Task B: Power-Off Stalls
  3. Area of Operation VIII, Task C: Power-On Stalls
  4. Area of Operation IX, Task A: Basic Instrument Maneuvers, Straight-and-Level Flight
  5. Area of Operation IX, Task D: Basic Instrument Maneuvers, Turns to Headings
  6. Area of Operation IX, Task E: Recovery from Unusual Flight Attitudes

I need to demonstrate these six skills to an instructor in order to get credit for the activity.  I could do them in separate flights, but I opt to accomplish them in a single flight.  I review the tasks in the PTS and plan a flight that includes all of them, but in a different order that makes sense for me.  I write it all down:

  1. Depart from FNL and head northeast to the practice area.
  2. On the way to the practice area, put on my Foggles and demonstrate straight-and-level flight.  Altitude ±200ft; heading ±20°; airspeed ±10kts. (Operation IX, Task A)
  3. With the Foggles still on, demonstrate a left turn to a heading assigned by the instructor, and then a right turn to a heading assigned by the instructor.  Altitude ±200ft; standard-rate turns rolling out on the assigned heading ±10°; airspeed ±10kts. (Operation IX, Task D)
  4. With the Foggles still on, arrive at the practice area (just to get a few more minutes of simulated instrument time).
  5. With the Foggles still on, give aircraft control to the instructor and close my eyes.  Instructor will initiate an unusual attitude and then return control to me (at which point, of course, I open my eyes).  I will recover promptly to a stabilized level flight attitude using proper instrument cross-check and interpretation and smooth, coordinated control application in the correct sequence. (Operation IX, Task E)
  6. Remove the Foggles.  Slow the plane down to just above stall with the flap configuration assigned by the instructor.  Keeping the speed just above stall, demonstrate straight-and-level flight, turns, climbs, and descents.  Assigned altitudes ±100ft; assigned headings ±10°; airspeed +10/-0kts; assigned bank angle ±10°. (Operation VIII, Task A)
  7. Speed up just a bit to set up landing configuration (full flaps, prop high-RPM) and then demonstrate a power-off stall and recovery.  Maintain assigned heading ±10° in straight flight or assigned bank 20° ±10° if in turning flight.  After stalling, retract flaps to 10°, accelerate to 65kts while establishing a positive rate of climb, and retract remaining flaps.  Return to assigned heading and altitude.  (Operation VIII, Task B)
  8. Set up initial climb configuration (no flaps) and then demonstrate a power-on stall.  Maintain assigned heading ±10° in straight flight or assigned bank 20° ±10° if in turning flight.  After stalling, establish a positive rate of climb.  Return to assigned heading and altitude.  (Operation VIII, Task C).
  9. Wipe the sweat off my brow, and return to KFNL to complete the flight.

Now that I have a plan, I can choose an instructor from one of our flight schools, or check the training page of the FNL Pilots Association website for a recurrent training instructor.  I urge you to fly with an instructor that’s new to you; different instructors notice different things about your flying skills and habits.  I negotiate price, provide the instructor with my planned flight script, schedule the flight, and then execute it.

(Aside to our instructor members: if you’re not listed on the training page, we’ll add you after you fill out the form you’ll find there.)

Trust me, your flight instructor will be overjoyed that you tell them what you want to do with your plan of flight, instead of showing up and generically asking, “So…. what should we do?”

If I have trouble with any of the tasks, the person that can help me get better is sitting right next to me, and we can work on the skills.  It might take more than one flight if I’m really rusty.  That’s fine.  It’s making me a better pilot.

Once we’ve flown the all the tasks to the instructor’s (and my) satisfaction, I return to My WINGS and click When Complete Request Credit.  I fill in the date of the flight and who my flight instructor was, and click Submit for Validation.  My instructor will receive the request and acknowledge that I accomplished the required tasks.  The credit then appears on my My WINGS page.

I’ve demonstrated (or improved) my proficiency of a few flight tasks to the tolerances of the PTS, and I’m on my way to earning a WINGS phase.  Not a bad way to hone my skills.

Next month I’ll write about earning WINGS credit for taking an online safety course.