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From The Logbook: The 'WINGS' Program And Its Importance To Aviation

' Jim Trusty 2006

I decided to revisit this article yesterday after talking with a Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) Safety Program Manager (SPM) in Seattle, Washington. As one of those involved in teaching safety to the aviation enthusiasts of this great nation, it always makes me happy when someone comes up with an innovation that makes the programs better and more functional. What Scott Gardiner, SPM, decided to try was having the Instructors fly one (1) hour with a pilot instead of doing the entire three (3) hours required by regulation. This way they can fly with more pilots and the others will have a reason to come back to our next outing and hopefully learn more from flying with a different instructor and attending different seminars. (More food also!)

Trying to get a higher ratio of instructors to come out to meet the growing number of those needing to satisfy the requirements of Advisory Circular 61-91H and a flight review and wishing to stay current and learn new things has been a flaw in the plan from the beginning. This innovation will be a big help toward that end. I intend to use the same method at our next 'WINGS' Program scheduled for 25 June 2005 at Smyrna, Tennessee (MQY). Of course, if someone wishes to try and complete the entire three hours I one day and they have a willing Instructor and aircraft, they can. Thanks, Scott, and if anyone else has something new they would like to add to the programs, just let your FAA Safety Program Manager or your personal Aviation Safety Counselor know about it and they will give it a closer look. We can't rest on our laurels forever. Things must change and improve!

After being involved in the 'WINGS' Program for several years, I now know that it is the backbone of any serious safety program. It is the program to build all other safety meetings around, and this is how we learned to use it.

The 'WINGS' Program is one of the best safety programs ever offered because it turns out to be beneficial to all participants. And, IT'S FREE!

In the late 1980s when I first became involved with the FAA as an Accident Prevention Counselor, we traveled the state and put on meetings at FBOs that attracted 8-15 people. We did our very best to entertain them with some conversation, showed an old video, and then moved on. We had 10 to 15 meetings like this each year and felt we were doing what was expected of us as Counselors.

I knew from my background in education that what we were doing required a lot more thinking and tremendous planning on the part of those presenting the information. I started seeking outside help as early as 1990 by visiting adjoining states when they held various fly-in programs. The one that caught my eye as the easiest to start and expand on in my state was the 'WINGS' Program. It allowed the most latitude, and would also involve the most people in aviation, and would still remain forever as a Federal Aviation Administration project.

I visited outside our state for two years in a row flying for other programs, working every position, and gathering information and paperwork for the future. The Accident Prevention Program Manager knew exactly why I was there, and he worked me like a dog for two days the first year and three days the second year.  I can still call this guy when I perceive a problem about to rear its ugly head, and he solves it immediately. I won't use his name or mention the state of Kentucky, because if the FAA finds out he is doing a great job, they might transfer him or promote him out of the program.

Finally in 1995 I was given the chance to do something on my own after our local program manager took ill, leaving our office manager and me to take over. I told the office manager what I wanted to do and we got started. We made arrangements to hold the first ever Tennessee 'WINGS' Weekend at the Staggerwing Beech Museum in Tullahoma, Tennessee. We arranged with several units of the Civil Air Patrol to handle parking and traffic, and food was furnished 'for sale' by a local church group. We received full cooperation from the local Fixed Base Operator and news coverage from the several local newspapers. The manager and I designed a great mail-out with postage courtesy of the FAA.

It was a three-day event with speakers (all volunteers, also) from every facet of aviation. We ended up with six of them from the military, the FAA, the NTSB, and added some local speakers for flavor. The 22 instructors were, for the most part, friends of mine who made the trip by personal request. Before we finished, we ended up with over 300 people taking part in the program - tired, satisfied, and pretty happy after three very long days.

Beginning the next year, I got a new Aviation Safety Program Manager and we were of a like mind - if it benefits aviation, it will benefit the FAA Safety Program. Great thought! We moved the program closer to Nashville to Smyrna, Tennessee, and cut it down to two days since we would be near all the people I knew and would eventually ask to help.

This year went even more smoothly than the year before. We invited another Civil Air Patrol unit to do our parking and traffic control, and we had tower personnel from BNA assist our local tower getting all the airplanes in and out. The ladies from the local FSDO agreed to work at this one because it required no long distance driving and no overnights. The local FBO gave us the use of their BIG hangar at no cost, and a local college fraternity provided the food 'for sale.' We attracted more and different speakers. We also set up some booths for vendors at no cost. Cessna Finance came and four or five more companies that provide aviation or pilot related products.

As usual, we called AOPA and Sporty's and received a lot of handouts that pilots seem to love. Without the support of these alphabet groups, even at this level, aviation would be in a lot of trouble. What a smooth program this turned out to be with more instructors, more pilots, more airplanes, and more speakers to make it even better than the year before. So, if it worked so well, why change it?

Well, in 1997 we did change it again by breaking it up into three separate and distinct fly-ins at three separate locations in order to make the program and ourselves available to as many pilots and 'wannabes' as possible. We scattered the programs out over the state on different dates with different instructors and visitors, different seminars, and cut them down to one-day programs. (Thank goodness.)

The 'WINGS' Program is one of the best safety programs ever offered because it turns out to be beneficial to all participants. The FAA gets the word out about safety and that they care about general aviation enough to give their time. The FBOs sell a little fuel and introduce themselves to a new pilot or two. The general pilot population gets to meet a lot of people they had previously only heard of and to 'get current' without having to pay an instructor. The instructors get to fly airplanes they don't normally see and with pilots that really need their services. Corporate sponsors furnish refreshments and door prizes and for this they get to advertise their products and services. The pilots get a set of Wings, a wall certificate and a FREE Flight Review. The instructors get the same Wings and certificate, and they may also qualify to get their flight instructor tickets renewed with no hassle from the FAA. The speakers meet new people to communicate with, the tower gets the traffic count, the Civil Air Patrol gets to show people what they do so well for the kids, and a very small group of us called Aviation Safety Counselors now get to show our love for and devotion to aviation and the safety program.

Talk about a win, win, win, win, win, win situation - it's the 'WINGS' Program. The beauty of this entire program is that every single thing that goes on from start to finish is donated or given freely by the participants. We look forward to growing this particular program in our area even larger and more widespread in the future.

In the 17 years I have been with the program, we have grown from a meager beginning to several meetings a year statewide, which include 'WINGS' meetings, a Poker Run, PACE and safety seminars complete with speakers, refreshments, and door prizes at each. Where we used to meet a few on a yearly basis, we now get to reach hundreds.

I am personally very proud of be one of the almost 5,000 volunteers who call ourselves FAA Aviation Safety Counselors and who make it possible for over 1,000,000 aviation enthusiasts nationwide to attend a safety program of their choice somewhere in America every week. Whatever benefits aviation safety benefits everyone in aviation.

If you have a sagging Safety Program in your area and are serious about getting it up and going, think 'WINGS' . . . it really works! If I can be of any service to you, no matter where you are located, I am as near as your telephone. Call 615-758-8434 or write me at 103 Highland Drive, Old Hickory, TN 37138 or e-mail (Lrn2fly@bellsouth.net). Suggestions on how to improve an existing program, Wings or??? Just let me know.

I'll see you at the airport!  Always remember 'Accidents Are Caused And Therefore Preventable.'

Permission required to reprint this copyrighted article. (2006)

Jim Trusty, ATP/CFI, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year for 1995 & 2005.  He still works full-time as a Corporate 135 Pilot/ 'Gold Seal' Flight & Ground Instructor/ FAA Aviation Safety Counselor/ National Aviation Magazine Writer.  You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide.  He welcomes your comments and e-mail works best (Lrn2Fly@bellsouth.net).

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