Once a year for a week in late July, the Pilot Proficiency Center at AirVenture Oshkosh hosts hundreds of pilots with one thought in mind: help them be more proficient. But in recent years, the driving force behind the Center, Joe Brown, who happens to be president of Hartzell, has been asking one question aloud. How does the PPC spread its mission of improving pilot proficiency across the calendar year instead of boxing it into one week at Oshkosh? It’s not an easy question to answer. Do you recreate the PPC in portable form and take it around the country on a nonstop tour? It sounds ambitious, but that idea got some serious consideration for a time, but everyone agreed that it could have been a logistical nightmare, not to mention really expensive and still pretty limited in its reach.
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The hard part was, there really weren’t any better answers to the question…until EAA took ownership of the PPC q few years ago. EAA has great resources, but none are anywhere near as impressive as its members, and the local EAA chapters around the country that already have a great reach. The idea is a proven winner. EAA has worked with its chapters to make Young Eagles the huge success that it is—more than 2 million youngsters flown and counting—and its mentorship programs for new builders and pilots of homebuilt aircraft have very likely helped substantially drive down the accident rate for homebuilt aircraft over the past several years.
EAA’s new proficiency program, known as Proficiency 365 (for the number of days in a non-leap year) is just getting started, but if it’s half as big a success as the organization’s other high-profile initiatives, it could make a real impact on the overall GA safety record. Exactly how EAA chapters will be involved in the program remains to be worked out, but if history is a guide, we’re excited by the prospects.
Back to the beginning: Seven years ago, the Proficiency Center got its start when Joe Brown gave it a space in a tent near the flight line that Hartzell leased. Brown teamed up with Radek Wyrzykowski, who founded the popular IMC Club, which devotes itself to helping pilots stay on top of their IFR knowledge. That first year at OSH for the movement was mostly a series of IMC Club meetings, and they were well attended. I’d been a big fan of the IMC Club since I’d heard about it a few years prior, and I’d written several stories that shared the club’s mission with a lot of pilots. I participated in that first year’s Pre-Proficiency Center presentations, and I was one of a small crew of folks who thought that it could be a big deal. Way bigger. Brown got together with friends and fellow pilots at Jeppesen and Redbird Flight Simulations, along with a number of instructors from CFI member groups SAFE and NAFI, and started building.
Within a few years, the affair had grown into the Pilot Proficiency Center, continuing to host IMC Club meetings but adding lots of other opportunities for pilots, including the sexiest part of the Center, two banks of Redbird Flight Simulations sims loaded with scenarios (both IFR and VFR ones) that challenge pilots to face big risk in flight so they can learn what to do (and often, what not to do) without bending any metal. As part of the deal—it’s all free to participants—pilots also get their own private instructor (from one of the two aforementioned CFI organizations), live ATC and a pre- and post-brief session.
Another big, and hugely popular, component to the PPC are the Jeppesen forums presented there, which are all standing-room-only events. Jepp’s experts talk about everything from charts (the company’s core expertise, right?) to strategies for staying safe when the weather turns nasty.
Over the years, the PPC has hosted more than 10,000 pilots, all of whom left the big top tent with greater proficiency than when they walked in an hour before.
And when EAA officially adopted the PPC a couple of years ago and put its commitment behind it, the trajectory was sky high.
One big change to the PPC this year is the incorporation of FAA Wings Program course credit for just about every facet of the program, and every Wings credit recipient is automatically entered in the My Wings Initiative (mywingsinitiative.org) and is eligible for a $10,000 prize.
And the fun won’t stop after AirVenture is over. All PPC scenarios will be available after AirVenture and year round from EAA, and Tech Talks will be recorded and available for online viewing, as well.
It’s all part of EAA’s nascent Proficiency 365 program, which seeks to find a great answer to that difficult problem of how to make the goodness of the PPC last all year long.
Look for a future article in Plane & Pilot that will focus on Proficiency 365 and how you can take part, even if you can’t make it to OSH this year.
For more information about the EAA PPC, visit EAA.org.