MANKATO — Students in Minnesota State University's burgeoning flight school will soon be able to take to the skies with some of the same technology as new airliners.

North Star Aviation, the exclusive flight training partner of MSU, is buying two new twin-engine Piper Seminoles equipped with state of the art Garmin 1000 flat panel technology. Each of the aircraft will feature fully coupled auto-pilots, flight directors and Jeppview navigation and approach overlays.

The Seminoles will be delivered later this month and two new Piper Warriors will come in February.

"These will be the first coupled with auto-pilot," said Mark Smith, President of Northstar, which is based at the Mankato airport. He said the advanced navigation and approach overlays in the planes give pilots a much better situational view of where they are at as the plane comes in on auto pilot.

"If you're on instrument approach it shows vertical and horizontal positions on approach so you have no doubt where you're at. It's comparable to what the new airline cockpits look like. Fifteen years ago you could never have imagined that they could have these kinds of things in the lighter aircraft."

Northstar has long done the flight training for students while they're getting their classroom training at the university. There are about 180 students in the program with about 100 actively flying, most at least weekly.

"This will be the busiest flight year I've had in 24 years. These (plane) purchases are solely to support the MSU program."

He said demand for pilots continues to be strong and is expected to grow in coming years as more pilots retire. "We had an orientation recently and there were five airlines that showed up to recruit graduates. I've never seen that before."

Smith declined to reveal the cost of the planes other than to say, "They're very expensive," but he suggested a Google search would probably give a person a ballpark idea. (A two year old Piper Seminole, without the newest technology in the cockpit, was being offered in one advertisement for $625,000.)

The new planes, all four-seaters, will also have real-time weather to give pilots up to date radar and a full complement of weather conditions throughout North America.

The addition of the four aircraft will increase the flight training fleet to (11) Warriors, (3) Seminoles and (1) Cessna 152.

Jean Haar, dean of the college of education at MSU said, “The addition of these aircraft increases our ability to fully prepare students to become highly skilled, qualified professional pilots. It also demonstrates the commitment North Star Aviation has made to meeting the needs of our students and our aviation program.”

Follow Tim Krohn on Twitter @TimKrohn

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