K-State Salina welcomes 17 new planes to its professional pilot program

By: - December 24, 2021 10:00 am

K-State Salina purchased five Cirrus Aircraft SR20 training planes, one of which was delivered Monday. (Cirrus Aircraft)

SALINA — A.J. Moretina decided he wanted to learn to fly planes after watching a TV show about plane crashes.

“My dad always used to watch ‘Aircraft Investigations,’ and I always watched with him,” he said.

It was ironic, he said, but he remembered thinking it was cool that objects as big as planes could fly.

“Then I was like — you know what? Maybe I’ll be a pilot,” Moretina said.

Moretina is a freshman in the professional pilot program at Kansas State University’s Salina Aerospace and Technology Campus and flies about three times a week. When he made his first solo flight, he thought he’d be nervous, but experience in the aircraft helped.

“It’s enough time to really be able to feel things out, be able to trust yourself,” he said. “But once you actually are going solo, I can kind of just fall back on that training.”

Students enrolled in the professional pilot program train for at least 190 hours for their bachelor’s degree. And with the new year, students will have new planes to train on. After receiving a donation, K-State Salina has purchased 17 new planes, five of which are Cirrus Aircraft SR20 training planes.

The Cirrus aircraft are “really nice planes too,” Moretina said. “Also, it’s going to be really nice to have the air conditioning instead of just having to pop open a window.”

One of the Cirrus planes arrived at K-State Salina’s campus Monday. The rest are slated to be delivered later in 2022. Venus Thanasouk, a sophomore in the professional pilot program at K-State Salina, said the Cirrus planes will provide students with more technology inside the cockpit. 

It “is important for students to train in technology that’s always advancing, and this will help further them in their career,” Thanasouk said. “Because if they’re always keeping up to date with current technology, especially inside the cockpit, then it would be an easy transition further on in their career because they’re already familiar with the new technology.”

The cockpit of a Cirrus Aircraft SR20 training plane shows some of the included technology. (Cirrus Aircraft)

John Razmus, director of Fleet Sales Americas at Cirrus Aircraft, said teaching more advanced skills earlier — a concept known as “downloading” — could benefit airlines, which are struggling with hiring.

“This however requires a training platform that (enables) the downloading concept,” Razmus said. “This is where the Cirrus aircraft really shine. With advanced aerodynamics, performance capabilities, advanced avionics and numerous safety features, the Cirrus aircraft provides the most robust path between a student’s first flight to the right seat as a first officer.” 

Adding the Cirrus aircraft will also allow K-State Salina to reduce the cost of training at their program, said Alysia Starkey, CEO of K-State Salina.

The Cirrus are low-wing aircraft, meaning students have to step onto their wings to get into them. In the past, K-State Salina only had high-wing aircraft, Starkey said.

“We spent a lot of time with the students and our faculty and staff trying to figure out what we wanted in a fleet refresh,” she said. “And the No. 1 thing that students came back with is they wanted a mix of experience in both high-wing and low-wing aircraft.”

K-State Salina also purchased 10 new Cessna 172 Skyhawks and two new Beechcraft Baron G58s. The Cessnas will be delivered sometime in 2022, but the Barons have already arrived.

“The 172s are just really reliable aircraft for primary training as students are starting to learn how to fly a plane — they can take a beating and keep on going,” Starkey said. “So they’re really great for primary trainers.”

The Barons, like the Cirrus aircraft, are low wing. They are used for more complex training. Complex aircraft time sets K-State Salina’s program apart, Starkey said.

“It’s just another element that we feel is strongly important in order to get our students prepared for the industry,” she said. “So we can reduce the time that the airlines or other corporate aviation partners have to spend … training pilots up for those more complex aircraft — we do it while they’re here, and it … helps them directly benefit the employers right as they enter into the market.”

Along with the physical aircraft, Thanasouk said K-State Salina has flight simulators that allow students to learn despite inclement weather. 

“Mainly that’s what’s important for me, is the training that I’m doing in the aircraft — will it help me in the future? Will I be familiar so that I don’t have to constantly learn new things?” Thanasouk said. “I want to be able to get down what I can now and then just perfect it later on in my career.”

Moretina said he wants to fly internationally for a major airline one day. Thanasouk wants to achieve 1000 flight hours and hopes to fly cargo in the future. 

“I want to eventually work up to FedEx or UPS,” Thanasouk said.

Workers for the aviation and the pilot industry are in high demand, Starkey said, and students can go wherever they want to go.

“Most of our students right now are choosing to go to the airlines just because of the partnership pathways and the reimbursement packages that they offer students,” Starkey said. “But there’s tremendous need not just in the airlines — in logistics, in cargo, in corporate aviation. They can really take their pick and do whatever it is they want to do.”

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Julie Freijat
Julie Freijat

Julie Freijat is a senior in journalism and mass communications at Kansas State University, where she focuses on science journalism. She is a former writer and managing editor for the Collegian and has worked in the communications office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.