When Walton was given the go-ahead on Montana State’s aviation program, he initially considered the new-generation Cessna Skyhawk for his primary trainer. “That was the conventional choice,” Walton comments, “and we already had a post-1997 Skyhawk on the line that was fairly popular. Someone suggested that I check out the Diamonds, so I flew over to Seattle to look at one. I was very impressed. The C1 is a good-looking airplane, it’s very comfortable inside and it uses a conventional center stick rather than a side stick or a yoke. Diamond has also designed the airplane with a nonsteerable nosewheel. This allows for excellent maneuverability on the ground. It can reverse direction in practically its own wingspan, and I knew that would be popular with students.
“The airplane’s climb and cruise performance were actually better than the Skyhawk’s, and the economics made a lot more sense,” says Walton. “The four-place Skyhawk was about $50,000 more costly than the Diamond, and the C1 was much less expensive to operate. For pure flight training, there was just no need to haul around an extra 700 pounds and two additional seats. On top of that, reduced instructional power settings can lower fuel burn to 4 gph, and with today’s escalating avgas prices, that’s an important advantage.”
Though MSU’s aviation program has only been in place for three semesters, it’s already attracted 30 full-time students, some of whom fly as often as five times a day. To feed such demand, Summit currently operates three Diamond C1s, a pair of Diamond Stars and a Piper Seminole for commercial and multi-engine training. Collectively, those three models can take a student all the way to commercial, multi and instrument ratings. The Summit staff includes nine full-time instructors to handle both the college students and private flight-training candidates.
Walton feels the Bozeman area is almost ideal for flight training. “While we are surrounded by mountains, the Bozeman area is in the wide Gallatin Valley, a beautiful part of southwest Montana with a great climate and four ski resorts nearby. Bozeman Airport is a large, tower-equipped field, and we’re scheduled to get radar service in March. It’s a true winter playground and a great place to fly all year round.”
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that Bozeman resides at an elevation of almost 4,500 feet, not necessarily the best environment for low-powered flight trainers. “Our lone Cessna 150 is a little weak in the summer, as performance isn’t exactly stellar in high-density altitudes,” Walton explains. “On a hot summer day, we may see only about 300 fpm in the 150. Even a modest summer temperature of 80 degree F generates a density altitude of 7,000 feet.
“The Diamond C1 has no problem with the altitude,” Walton continues. “Normal climb out of Bozeman on a standard day is still 700 fpm, and even when it’s warm, the C1s usually score 500 to 600 fpm going uphill. On top of that, the students love the C1. It’s obviously a 21st-century airplane in contrast to the older Pipers and Cessnas on the field.”
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