AOPA’s Rusty Pilots Seminars

by Bob Worthington
© Copyright 2022. All rights reserved!
Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine August/September 2022 Digital Issue

As the U.S. pilot population slipped a decade into the 21st century, the leaders of the Aircraft Owners Pilots Association (AOPA) decided to counter that trend, and initiate programs to get more people into flying. By 2013, AOPA began to invest resources to bring more people into aviation. Programs for flying clubs, high school STEM classes, flight training, and seminars to entice “inactive” pilots to return to the left seat were established. Long-time AOPA member and advocate, Hal Shevers, founder of Sporty’s Pilot Shop, joined the initiative by becoming a sponsor of AOPA’s efforts called “You Can Fly.”

Inactive refers to the fact that an FAA certificate never expires. To legally execute the privileges of the certificate, however, a pilot must be medically qualified to fly and current (as validated by a certified flight instructor and FAA regulations). The “Rusty Pilots Seminar” is for pilots who quit flying due to career, family, finances, or just life, so they may become active again. Today, over 42,000 pilots have attended Rusty Pilots Seminars with almost 25% (over 10,000) becoming active aviators again.

Part of this effort to get pilots back flying, is a three-hour audio-visual tutorial designed to acquaint former pilots with what it takes to return to the cockpit. In June, I attended a local seminar hosted by the Las Cruces Aviators Flying Club at Las Cruces International Airport (KLRU) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. While the seminar was created to lure lapsed pilots back, it is an excellent review for any pilot. The charge was $79 but it’s free to all AOPA members! The presentation had almost two dozen attendees.

Rusty Pilots Seminar presenters are aviation experts and excellent presenters. I know two personally (both aviation writers). One presenter is Yasmina Platt, a fellow columnist for Midwest Flyer Magazine.

The instructor for my seminar, William Dubois, was prepared, informal, and a superb speaker. The presentation was easy to follow and understand. The handouts were great and the visuals informative.

I must point out, I am not a Rusty Pilots Seminar candidate. Agent Orange (Vietnam War) has destroyed my heart such that if I placed my butt in the left seat again, solo, and started the engine, I would be violating at least eight Federal Aviation Regulations. Rather, I attended the course for two reasons: Research for my next book (working title: “Forty Years in the Sky: A Pilot’s Guide to General Aviation”), and to check out the seminar for this column.

What is the Rusty Pilots Seminar?

This seminar was first presented in 2014 to provide “inactive” pilots with all the information necessary to get current again. This tutorial also qualifies as the one-hour ground school portion required of the “Flight Review.”

When the FAA originally mandated this requirement in 1997, it was referred to as a “Biennial Flight Review,” or “BFR.” It was changed to simply “Flight Review” because the word “biennial” suggested that pilots only needed a review of their skills and currency, once every two years. Safety training should be an ongoing occurrence, not just a one-time experience every 24 months, so the word “biennial” was deleted.

For details on the Flight Review, see FAA Advisory Circular 61-98D. By the way, this seminar qualifies as 3 hours of ground instruction for the Flight Review, and you can receive FAA WINGS credit.

The Rusty Pilots Seminar consists of three components. First is the instructor. Second are the audio-visual displays of text, charts, maps, and other illustrations of what the instructor is covering. The third are the handouts provided.

One handout is a two-page checklist of everything a pilot must accomplish to get back in the cockpit. It details the process needed to become current and proficient.

Next are the scenario handouts, a single book of 14 pages depicting charts, graphs, logbook examples, weather information, radar pictures of weather – everything that was shown on the screen during the seminar. This allows the attendee to have the important details at hand, even if the data on the screen passed. More information to assist the memory. The last handout is the “Resource Guide.” This 42-page booklet covers regulatory requirements, flight planning, airport operations, radio operations, airspace and charts, and provides a list as to where to get additional information. This list covers a variety of organizations and vendors catering to pilot needs. And all of this is “free” to AOPA members.

What the course covers.

The instructor covers the information required to get back in the left seat. One needs a medical clearance to fly. Depending on what kind of flying one does, that dictates what medical proof is needed.

A Sport Pilot only needs a current state driver’s license. Private Pilots can fly using “Basic Med” (requiring only your personal or family physician examining you and filling out forms), or the FAA Class III Medical Certificate, which requires an examination by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). One must also be current in the plane intended to fly. Depending on the length of time the pilot has not flown, a regular Flight Review flight may suffice or time with a flight instructor and spending some time reviewing regulations, etc., will get an inactive pilot back flying. It is recommended that the Rusty Pilot take a flight with a flight instructor to assess current knowledge and pilot skills, then proceed from there. The rest of the seminar covers current rules, regulations, and flight planning preparation.

Throughout the seminar I attended, the instructor constantly referred to what we may have learned way back when, and how that has changed to what is required today. Some attendees learned to fly when cross-country navigation was from VOR to VOR. Others used LORAN. Today, it is GPS. Often our presenter explained these changes, and how and why, so we could better understand (or appreciate) the new or current systems.

Most of us trained and flew with steam gauges (analogue systems), but the modern cockpit, today, is “digital.” Confounding this is the fact that most general aviation aircraft today are still of the analogue era with cockpits in front of the pilot festooned with round dials and moving needles, providing the information needed to fly the plane. Yet planes used for instrument flying or cross-country flights will most likely have some form of digital equipment in the center portion of the instrument panel. It may be an older GPS navigator system or a larger multi-function screen with even more data displayed. Our instructor addressed all of this, allowing us students to recognize how the technical world of aviation and flying might have changed during our absence.

The Rusty Pilots Seminar is presented in three formats. First is the in-person seminar I attended. This same seminar is always available via the AOPA website as an online course. Additionally, once a quarter, AOPA also conducts this seminar as a live webinar. As an AOPA member, you can participate in all three, free of charge!

If this information becomes overwhelming to the Rusty Pilot, he or she can go online and return to the Internet connected seminar and review it as often as needed. AOPA has also created “flash cards” covering every aspect of a plane’s performance specifications and procedures to follow during emergencies. But the actual performance specs are blank. You can download the cards, and using your Pilot’s Operating Handbook, enter the correct data for your airplane.

The value of this seminar.

How valuable this seminar is to return to flying really depends on your level of experience when you quit, and how long you did not fly. If, for example, you had 500 hours and quit a couple years ago, this seminar, spending some time reviewing what the seminar covered, and a few hours flying with an instructor, plus getting a current medical, may be all you need to get current and be safe. But if you had 100 hours and have not flown in a decade, you will need much more than this seminar. Still, this seminar will show you what you don’t know, and the handouts can map your course to return to flying.

Even if you are a current pilot, this seminar is an excellent review of aviation rules and regulations and the system we must fly in today. Rusty Pilots Seminars are available continually around the nation. The AOPA website provides information on where and when these seminars are being provided.

I have always been an advocate of aviation safety and often participated in safety training. In fact, my constant training saved my life and that of my passenger, more than once. The Rusty Pilots Seminar can become another arrow in your quiver of aviation safety. Checkout the AOPA website, and if a seminar is near you, sign up. You will not regret it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pilot, Viet Nam veteran and former university professor, Bob Worthington of Las Cruces, New Mexico, is the author of “Under Fire with ARVN Infantry” (https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/Under-Fire-with-ARVN-Infantry/), and producer of the 2019 film “Combat Advisor in Vietnam” (www.borderlandsmedia.com). Facebook: Bob Worthington Writer. Website: www.BobWorthingtonWriter.com. Bob Worthington has placed excerpts about combat flying in Vietnam (from his books) on his website. Here is a direct link to those excerpts: www.BobWorthingtonWriter.com/combat-flying-in-vietnam/. Every couple of months, he adds another excerpt.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only. Readers are urged to seek the advice of others, including their personal flight instructor. Neither the author, Midwest Flyer Magazine, Flyer Publications, Inc., or their staffs, employees or advertisers assume any liability for the accuracy or content of this column or any other column or article in this publication.

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