Headlines across the media have recently focused on the shortage of regional airline pilots. One of the reasons cited for this shortage is the exorbitant cost of getting an aviation education paired with earning the required ratings to step into a professional cockpit. While that’s true of many of the well-known aviation academies, Kansas State University in Salina, Kan. (“K-State”),offers several aviation degree programs that undercut these others by a wide margin. In fact, K-State offers one of the most affordable and respected aviation programs in the country.
If that weren’t enough, K-State was one of the first two academic institutions in the country to offer an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program and is one of the few to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in unmanned aircraft systems. K-State Salina’s proximity to accessible restricted airspace creates an ideal setting for students to learn to fly unmanned aircraft. It’s also one of only a few universities with authorization to fly UAVs in the National Airspace System. The university has been on the forefront of UAVs and has established operational guidelines, policies and training procedures to operate unmanned aerial systems in the skies above Kansas.
Heather Wagoner, Marketing and Communications Director for K-State Salina, tells us that the school’s UAV program has created a keen interest in its graduates. “Lots of companies are coming to us to do UAV research,” she says. “And it is a constantly growing piece of our aviation program.” Wagoner added that while most universities conduct operator and sensor training via simulation, K-State takes the hands-on approach.
|Kansas State was one of the first academic institutions in the U.S. to offer an unmanned aerial vehicle program. Students can pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in unmanned aircraft systems.|
Students begin with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) simulation and manned flight training. By the third semester, students are in the field gaining practical experience flying both vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAS and primary UAV trainers. Students assume various team roles as UAS crew members, and in launch and recovery operations. By their junior and senior years, students have acquired numerous hours of actual UAS flight time and begin operating larger-scale/longer-duration UAVs such as the Aerosonde and Penguin. During their senior year, students apply their experience to live UAS flights in the protected airspace of the Smoky Hill aerial weapons range and Fort Riley.
If manned aviation is your interest, K-State Salina also offers a rich variety of aviation majors and career tracks. Avionics, Airport Management, Maintenance and a Professional Pilot track are just a few of the many aviation programs at K-State. The university boasts three instrument runways adjacent to campus (one is 12,300 feet), a state-of-the-art Canadair Regional Jet simulator, an operational dispatch center, an aviation maintenance training hangar, and modern classrooms and labs. K-State student pilots have the unique opportunity to fly right seat in the school’s turboprop King Air C-90 as part of a jet-prop transition course and the university’s transportation program.
In October 2013, Kansas State University Salina received authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to certify graduates who are eligible to apply for a restricted Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. This means K-State aviation major graduates who complete at least 60 hours of aviation coursework only need 1,000 hours of flight time to be hired by a regional carrier (as opposed to the 1,500-hour standard requirement). Since most K-State graduates also instruct at the school after graduation to build hours, this certification means graduates can apply to regional airlines sooner, giving them a higher seniority number and culminating in a higher earning capacity over the span of their career.
“A lot of regional airlines actively recruit our students,” said Wagoner. “In fact, our aviation program is usually full.” K-State boasts a 97% post-graduation job placement rate for the last five years and offers a full complement of financial aid options including extensive veteran’s benefits, grants and scholarships. K-State Salina graduates have been placed with American Airlines, American Eagle, America West, Continental Express, Southwest, United and Vanguard, and the school has partnerships with American Airlines, ASA, Mesaba Airlines, Sea Port Airlines, Hawker Beechcraft, Cessna and Bombardier Learjet. “We have a pathway program with Express Jets that’s a little over a year old, and they have hired 14 of our graduates so far,” added Wagoner.
From an affordability aspect, Kansas State University’s aviation program is tough to beat. For example, a student pursuing the Professional Pilot bachelor’s degree can expect to pay $33,226 total in-state tuition for all four years of school plus fixed-wing flight costs of about $42,017 for all ratings through CFII. Adding in extra fees and miscellaneous items, a four-year aviation degree with all the ratings necessary to get a job as a professional pilot will cost a K-State student about $81,683. Another K-State advantage is the small and personalized feel of the school’s aviation program, with only about 250 students enrolled at a time.
K-State believes in getting aviation students into the sky as soon as possible. Wagoner tells us that new students begin flying within two weeks of the start of semester. K-State also offers unique add-ons like tailwheel and upset training, mountain flying and a glider rating. A rotary wing program is also available for those interested in helicopters.
A big differentiator among aviation universities is K-State’s diverse fleet of training aircraft. In addition to the requisite 20 Cessna 172s (many G1000 equipped), K-State has two twin-engine Beechcraft Barons, six Beechcraft Bonanzas and a King Air C-90. From a fun-to-fly perspective, you can’t get much better than the Beechcrafts. For convenience, the campus and dorms are adjacent to the airport, so students can walk home from their aircraft. With a small class size and 1.2 million square feet of ramp area, crowding is never a problem.
Though learning to fly will never be inexpensive, institutions like Kansas State are a rare find in that they combine affordability with quality training. Anyone pursuing a path in the cockpit should give K-State Salina a close look. At a fraction of the price of more expensive options, students can click their heels and be glad that they’re in Kansas, after all.