By Rachelle Hughes
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY–Southern Utah University introduced its new fleet of 17 red and white aircraft to the Southern Utah community on Saturday at the Red Sky Rally, located at SUU’s three newly acquired hangars at the Cedar City Airport.
The 10 new Cirrus SR20 fixed wing planes and seven Robinson R44 four-seat light helicopters are owned by SUU and round out the overall fleet of 25 aircraft used in SUU’s aviation program. These additions to the fleet brought the community out to celebrate the growth of SUU’s aviation program that is on track to be fully owned and operated by SUU. In the past, the program was run in conjunction with the private contractor Upper Limit Aviation. While some of the original aircraft are still leased to SUU, they will be replaced in the future with additional Cirrus aircraft.
As part of the Red Sky Rally event, members were able to get up close and personal with the aircraft on display in front of the hangars. An SR20 played host to curious onlookers as they climbed into the pilot’s seat for a look at the cockpit. Pilots and aviation instructors and crew were spread throughout the hangars doling out information on how to read an avionic weather code, the flight paths of the SUU aircraft, safety procedures, women in aviation opportunities and the flight program. In addition, balsa wood planes were given away along with other prizes throughout the night. The event was finished off with the band VanLadyLove giving a concert in the hangar.
A ribbon cutting celebrating the opening of the new hangar and the new aircraft brought Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson, SUU President Scott L. Wyatt, Executive Director of the SUU Aviation Department Mike Mower and Cirrus representative Matthew Carrigan to the stage for a few minutes to launch this new era in SUU’s aviation program.
“There is a big pilot shortage happening, not just domestically in the United States but internationally, and places like SUU that are collegiate and have an aviation program are set up for success right away to fill that pilot shortage,” said Carrington.
President Wyatt emphasized SUU’s reason for their commitment to this program as answering the global need for pilots. “This program is evidence we care about the economy,” Wyatt said. “We are becoming more global as a university.”
The fleet growth and addition of what Carrington refers to as “the best-selling single piston aircraft in the world for the past 14 years,” meets several criteria for SUU’s aviation program.
Mower pointed out three key factors important to the program; safety, quality of instructors and training in a relevant aircraft.
“These aircraft are the safest most sophisticated trainers in the world right now,” said Carrington. Each airplane is built around the rocket propelled parachute that deploys from the back of the plane when something catastrophic happens. The plane then floats down to safety. Carrington also mentioned additional safety features that have made the 150 knot Cirrus SR20 the chosen trainer plane for flight training programs across the country including the Air Force Academy and airlines.
“The plane itself is built from composite material opposed to traditional metals so that makes it much stronger and much lighter. There is a roll cage built in much like racing cars have to absorb any kind of impact. The seats are rated up to 26 G-force. They also have built in airbags,” Carrington said. “We are trying to take a lot of the safety features you have in your everyday automobile and put them into aircraft such as this, especially when it is an environment where someone is 17 or 18 years old and coming into a collegiate environment and flying the aircraft.”
“At the end of the day we want everybody to come home safe and aviation has inherent risks and we want to mitigate them as much as possible. That is why we went with the Cirrus. That is why we went with the type of helicopter that we did.” Mower said.
Mower explained that the large addition of new aircraft creates a lower student to aircraft ratio. “So our student per aircraft ratio is smaller. That means more airtime, more potential. So, if they are working, going to school it opens up more availability with the fleet.
As for the mission to provide a high quality of instructors Mower said, “Our instructors are not paid hourly they are paid salary. Their sole focus is to give any one on one instruction to the student that is needed at no additional cost.”
Despite the large number of aircraft in the fleet Mower says SUU is sensitive to the community,
“We have very specific flight paths and we have some designated noise sensitive areas that we avoid.” SUU’s flight training happens all over the entire state each day in order to keep a minimum of planes in the air in each area.