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Sharpen Your Skills

Don’t Fly Past the Educational Benefits of Air Shows and Aviation Events

By Paul Cianciolo, FAA Safety Briefing Magazine Associate Editor

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Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Anywhere airplanes congregate is an opportunity to learn new skills. Whether you are visiting the aviation mecca at Oshkosh or flying somewhere just for free pancakes, take the time to meet other people, network, learn something new, and become a better pilot or mechanic. Air shows, fly-ins, and air races are more than a place to gawk at pretty planes — and everything else that flies. Let’s take a look at what else you can do.

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Gamify Your Learning

Attending an air show, especially one where you can fly in, provides many opportunities to learn. Our FAASTeam mantra is “safer skies through education.”

You have most likely heard of WINGS. If not, it’s the FAA Safety Team’s (FAASTeam) pilot proficiency program, which operates on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience. Who wouldn’t want that, right? WINGS credits for attending educational courses, seminars, and webinars are the currency of aviation safety. To learn more about getting started with WINGS, go to bit.ly/WINGSPPP.

When you see a seminar at an air show or other aviation event that says WINGS credit offered (or #WINGScredit on social media), you know that you will get FAA-vetted safety knowledge. However, that doesn’t mean the FAA conducts all of those presentations. Many of our training providers and partners are other names you know and trust — like the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI), General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Civil Air Patrol (CAP), Helicopter Association International (HAI), Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Soaring Society of America (SSA), Balloon Federation of America (BFA), Sporty’s Pilot Shop, and Leidos Flight Service, to name a few.

The largest concentration of aviation knowledge happens at EAA AirVenture every summer. We are back this year after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. With an average of 36 seminars at the FAA Safety Center and Seaplane Base, and more than 200 presentations elsewhere providing WINGS credit from various experts around the aviation community, everyone has an opportunity to sharpen their aeronautical skills.

The FAASTeam attends aviation events to assist with questions on the WINGS program and FAASafety.gov.

Even though earning knowledge credits is only half the WINGS game, that doesn’t mean you can’t level up your play and be the world’s safest pilot superstar. Have some fun and gamify those credits! If you are part of a flying club or chapter of an aviation organization, start a competition to see who can earn the most WINGS credits at an air show or during a certain period of time. Maybe that superstar earns a prize like full tanks of avgas or an extra hour of flight time.

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We want to hear from you if you have a fun way to gamify WINGS credits. Drop us an email at safetybriefing@faa.gov.

Swipe Right for Safe Flight

There’s an app for that. A new partnership with SocialFlight — the free web and mobile app for finding events, airport restaurants, and exciting places to fly — now offers WINGS credits as part of a new FAASTeam learning system. There is a library of educational videos that stop and ask questions throughout the video and often include links to additional reference materials. The content is expanding every day.

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Look for the menu item labeled “FAAST FAA Credits” to explore. In order to get WINGS credit linked to your FAASafety.gov account, the email address you used to log into both accounts must match.

The SocialFlight app is best known for showing you all the aviation events near you, including any online webinars for those who fly in cyberspace. Local events range from fly-ins to open houses, pancake breakfasts, plane washes, air shows, and whatever else interests our community.

Get Your Hands Dirty

Many big air shows, like AirVenture or Sun ‘n Fun, also have an app that helps you navigate the grounds. Use them to help you find presentations, forums, and workshops that anyone can attend throughout the day. Some air show apps can even be customized to alert you to a particular event.

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Some air shows offer opportunities to learn new skills like welding.

Opportunity knocks at many larger air shows to get hands-on experience with skills needed to build or maintain an airplane. At AirVenture, the daily training is patterned after the EAA’s SportAir Workshops. The experience covers a range of tasks, including sheet metal construction and riveting, fabric covering, building wood truss wing ribs, welding, and composite lay-up. Skilled volunteers and industry experts lead you step-by-step through hands-on lessons, giving you the necessary skills and info to get started or take the next step in your home-building aircraft project.

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Learning skills like riveting can give you a chance to test whether you might want to build your own aircraft.

After all that hard work, stop by the FAA Safety Center’s exhibit area at AirVenture and Sun’n Fun. There, you can ask questions directly to the FAA subject matter experts in many fields, like Aerospace Medicine, Runway Safety, or Flight Standards. You can even check the latest local weather and pick up a free copy of this magazine. You can also learn some new skills.

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A Flight Standards booth at an airshow where pilots can ask questions and discuss issues with the FAA.

Want to test your flying skills in the WILD? You can do that too in the FAA exhibit area by taking a virtual flight in the Weather Information Latency Demonstrator (WILD), where you can navigate hazardous weather in the safety of a simulator. Weather experts are there to answer questions as well.

Another rare opportunity for general aviation pilots is to take a turn inside the FAA’s Portable Reduced Oxygen Training Enclosure (PROTE). Hypoxia presents a real danger, especially when it creeps up unexpectedly. The PROTE provides a safe, controlled setting to train how to recognize and cope with low oxygen situations such as hypoxia, night vision deficiency, and rapid decompression. If you don’t know your personal signs of hypoxia, this one is a must.

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FAA’s Portable Reduced Oxygen Training Enclosure (PROTE).

The Latest and Greatest Tech

Air shows are also a great place to stay up to speed with the latest in aviation technology. You can play with and test out new gadgets and maybe grab some good deals with an air show discount. I bet you didn’t think you wanted that angle of attack indicator with the heads-up display. Do you need to ask an industry rep how to make your new multi-function display work just the right way? Or maybe you need to get a set of earmuffs for your dog, which ensures your fur baby is comfortable and won’t disturb you in flight. (Yes, they really do work). Something as simple as reducing distractions during a critical phase of flight can save your life.

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Airshows can be a great place to check out the latest tech and practice some maneuvers.

Buzz the Career Deck

Are you thinking of a career change or a new job? Many companies conduct interviews and do on-the-spot hiring at significant events like air shows. If you are starting out flying, you can talk to several schools and universities that offer flight training and beyond. You can talk to real people and get first-hand knowledge to choose the right path for you. The opportunity to ask questions and get answers is there for the taking.

Another fun thing to do is explore all the STEM activities available at air shows. These exhibits and hands-on projects are a great place to bring your younger self and encourage others to consider aviation as their future path.

Enjoy Yourself

The most important part of every air show is, simply, to enjoy yourself. Flying is fun, and there’s no better way to celebrate the joy and diversity of aviation than attending an air show or aviation event with family, friends, or fellow aviation enthusiasts. But be sure not to overlook the many unique educational opportunities these events provide, which can sharpen your flying skills and help make you a safer pilot. Hop in those simulators, test out the latest tech, get out of the hot sun and join the FAA in air-conditioned bliss during a safety seminar, network with fellow pilots, talk to the experts, level up your WINGS game, and come say hi to us — we are the FAA, and we are here to help.

We will see you out there. If you want to chat or get our attention, send us a message on Twitter @FAASafetyBrief.

Paul Cianciolo is an associate editor and the social media lead for FAA Safety Briefing. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran and an auxiliary airman with Civil Air Patrol.
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This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine. https://www.faa.gov/newsroom/faa-safety-briefing-magazine
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FAA Safety Briefing

FAA Safety Briefing

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. Part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).