When it comes to flying, there’s a big difference between being current and being proficient. Proficiency refers to the mastery of your craft. It’s similar to driving a car. You can pass a basic test to receive your license and be considered current, but proficiency can be seen in professional racecar drivers or those who have been driving for decades.

A proficient pilot patch can be earned to show fellow pilots and passengers that you have mastered the craft of flying, and are an expert of aviation safety.

The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program

The only way to earn a proficient pilot patch is by completing the Federal Aviation Administration’s WINGS – Pilot Proficiency Program. The goal of the program is to help pilots enjoy a safer, more enjoyable flight experience. The program seeks to bring awareness to many accident causal factors that result in aviation tragedies.  

Ultimately, the FAA hopes that a direct reduction of aviation accidents is seen thanks to participation in the WINGS program. The program helps pilots apply lessons in risk assessment and risk management to scenarios that frequently occur while flying.

If a pilot wishes to obtain their proficient pilot patch, they will have to show that they have mastered the art of aviation safety. The FAA specifies that the program is not a basic “Award” or certificate program, but rather a program that is intended to demonstrate true proficiency and improve their capabilities as a pilot.

The WINGS program is a great way to improve your flying skills while staying up-to-date with modern aviation topics and regulations. Additionally, many aviation insurance companies may be willing to reduce your rate upon completion of the program.

The WINGS program is different from the Wings Award Program previously hosted by the FAA. That program did not establish performance standards, and it was not based online. The current WINGS program is much more proficiency-based.

Eligibility for the WINGS Program

The WINGS program features different levels, which allows a wide range of pilots to work toward their proficient pilot patch. Not only are pilots who have already received their license eligible to participate, but the program also encourages participation from student pilots. Although they will need to register as non-airman, they can still work toward Level 1 WINGS certification.  

The FAA offers three levels of the WINGS program.

Basic WINGS

This level provides a recurrent training program for pilots who are looking for a deeper understanding of proficiency than that provided in a normal Flight Review. Completing the phase waives the requirements for flight review under 14 CFR part 61.56, as long as the pilot completes the review while acting pilot in command.

The requirements for Basic WINGS certification include completing three knowledge credits and demonstrating proficiency in the defined practical test standards (PTS). Additionally, pilots must complete three credits of flight activities.

Advanced WINGS

This level is more tailored to pilots who already have their license, or have a specific idea of what they’re looking to fly. Pilots can work with their instructors to craft a training program that is tailored toward their specific aviation needs.

Pilots obtaining this certification must complete all of the requirements for the Basic level. They must also complete three additional flight activity credits in the category and aviation class of their specification. Typically, this is done using Commercial PTS, although exceptions can be made after discussions with a flight instructor.

Master WINGS

This is a highly-specialized version of the WINGS program. This level features higher PTS standards. It also allows pilots to achieve certification in specific flight environment training scenarios while using specialized equipment.

Pilots seeking to obtain Master WINGS certification must complete all of the requirements for the Advanced level. They must also complete an additional three knowledge credits or three flight credits. These credits must be completed under Commercial or ATP PTS unless their designated class category and class of aircraft has an Instrument Rating PTS.

Master WINGS certification cannot be obtained using a light sports aircraft.

Earning Pilot Proficiency

To begin the program, a pilot will first register an account with FAASafety.gov. Pilots will then create an Airman Profile, at which point they indicate the certification they wish to receive. Certifications are based on aviation categories and different classes of aircrafts. When registering, your Airman Profile should connect with your information in the Airman Registry database.

The training program is specific to each category and class, as each has their own unique subjects and flight maneuvers. The program also stresses the importance of varying conditions when flying, and encourages pilots to fly throughout the year in different seasons. The WINGS program is an on-going program that allows pilots to fly with an authorized flight instructor on a consistent basis.

There is an additional WINGS program that offers a niche certification. Certification is available for those pilots who complete their test in a seaplane or amphibian plane. If a pilot completes their certification in a seaplane, the insurance discounts can be even greater than they are for standard completion of the program.

In addition to flight time, pilots will also need to complete written coursework to obtain their proficient pilot patch. Pilots must complete online courses, as well as participate in webinars and seminars.

The FAA offers a platform, QuickWINGS, which provides an overview of the pilot’s progress and remaining requirements. Unfortunately, QuickWINGS is only available for candidates in the Basic Phase of the program.

Once a pilot has completed all flight time and course requirements, they will be eligible for a flight review. Pilots must successfully pass this flight review before being granted proficient pilot certification. This flight review will satisfy the flight review requirements pilots need to meet every two years otherwise to stay current.

If you do not have a computer, you are still eligible for the program. Anyone with a computer can help enroll pilots who don’t have direct access to a computer. Pilots without computer access will be enrolled in a special account, and will still be allowed to complete the WINGS program for proficiency certification.  

The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program User’s Guide provides more extensive information about the program.

If your certification approaches its expiration date, the FAA should email you with a reminder to renew. Typically, renewal does not mean having to retake all requirements of the proficiency program. Instead, pilots who have already received their proficient pilot patch will simply have to take another WINGS course or complete another flight review.

Third Party WINGS Credit

There are many third-party activities available that meet the credit requirement for the WINGS program. Pilots should confirm beforehand whether an activity will offer credit. Often times, a representative from the FAA’s Safety Team will be onsite to certify that you completed the course and received credit.

An example of a third party offering wing credit can be seen on this page from the Society of Aviation and Flight Educators (SAFE). The site specifies that they offer credit for the WINGS Program and Starr Aviation’s Accident Forgiveness program.

SAFE offers regional weekend projects to help pilots maintain proficiency. They also host project forums featuring top aviation instructors. Their training program is based on the use of Redbird flight simulators.  

There are dozens of organizations like SAFE that are partnered with the WINGS program. Each has their own pros and cons. The third parties should clearly indicate whether they are affiliated with the WINGS program, as seen on this King Schools page. Your QuickWINGS portal will indicate how the programs relate to your specific course requirements.

Also, be mindful of the fact that many of these third parties offer their own pilot proficiency programs that are different than the FAA’s WINGS program. While brushing up on your knowledge and learning new safety techniques is never a bad idea for a pilot, these programs will not earn you a proficient pilot patch. The only way to earn that patch is by completing the WINGS program.

Wearing the Proficient Pilot Patch

If you take the time to complete the WINGS program, you should not be afraid to show off your accomplishment. Any member who completes any phase of the program is eligible to wear a Pilot Proficiency Patch on their airman clothing.

The aviation enthusiasts as the Civil Air Patrol Talk community have discussed where on the clothing the patch should be located.  

The patch itself used to be a yellow patch that said “FAA Proficient Pilot.” Recently, the FAA has begun replacing patches with pins. The pins come in gold, silver, and bronze, indicative of which level of the WINGS program was completed.  

Proficient pilot patches are badges of honor that should proudly be displayed by pilots when flying. It shows a dedication to your craft and a desire to improve your skills as an aviator. When seeing the WINGS patch, passengers can rest assured knowing that they are in good hands when flying with that pilot.

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