I know pilots can substitute WINGS phases for the Flight Review otherwise required every two years. How do I do this? Do I have to attend a class to meet all the equivalency requirements?
The FAA Safety Team's WINGS program allows pilots to bypass the traditional FAR 61.56 flight review by completing a "phase" of the WINGS program. The program and requirements are detailed in FAA Advisory Circular 61-91 (currently 61-91J).
The short version is that a "phase" of WINGS consists of three credits of "flight activities" and three credits of "knowledge activities", which must be earned with a 12 calendar month period.
Flight credits are earned by flying with an instructor and demonstrating safe & proficient flying skills in specific areas of operation.
For example, one "Basic WINGS" flight activity (worth 1 credit) is demonstrating basic air work - forward slips, steep turns, rectangular course, S-turns, and turns around a point - to Private Pilot practical test standards.
When you have successfully completed a flight activity your instructor can log in to the FAA Safety / WINGS site and give you credit for completing the activity.
Knowledge credits are earned by attending seminars and classes - these can be in-person seminars set up by the FAA Safety Team, or on-line webinars. Many of the AOPA Air Safety Institute online courses qualify for WINGS credit.
When you complete a phase of wings your flight review clock resets, and your flight review becomes due 24 calendar months from the date you completed that phase.
Ultimately participating in the WINGS program probably means you will be spending more than the "bare minimum" 1 hour of ground time and 1 hour of flight time that FAR 61.56 requires. While you can often complete flight activities in an hour (or much less if you're proficient) the knowledge topics often take longer: the webinars are typically 30-40 minutes each, and in-person seminars can easily last an hour or more.
The major benefit to the WINGS program is increased safety through building your knowledge and proficiency - the seminars are actually informative (and the in-person ones can even be fun, depending on who is running them), and the flight activities are pretty easy (though there are certainly challenging ones available if you want to push yourself and really sharpen your skills). Resetting the flight review is an enticement to encourage all of us to participate.