OSU announces $1 million gift to aviation, breaks ground on new flight center

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OSU broke ground on its new flight center Saturday. Construction will begin this summer and should finish in summer 2021.

Oklahoma State University announced a $1 million naming gift for its new flight training center at its groundbreaking ceremony and fly-in Saturday.

Linda Booker donated to OSU’s aviation program in honor of her late husband, Ray, who was a long-time OSU supporter and aviation enthusiast. After a visit to the current flight center before Ray’s death, the couple knew they wanted to help the program in any way they could.

“We came and met the students and could instantly see how enthused they were and how much they all loved to fly,” Booker said. “I think anyone who goes into aviation has a passion for it. It takes a lot of hard work, skill, time and energy to pursue it. We already knew the demand for pilots was there, and we could see the enthusiasm in these students, so it was a natural fit for both of us.”

OSU aviation’s new home will be roughly 11,900 square feet, over three times larger than the current center. Actual construction on the building will begin during summer 2020 and will continue throughout the year. Completion of the property is expected within summer 2021.

The building will be less than a mile south of the current flight center, next to the retired M-80 airliner off North Airport Industrial Access Road.

The current flight center will not be repurposed by Oklahoma State aviation as it does not belong to the program, and the City of Stillwater will decide all further actions with the building.

The College of Education and Human Sciences administration began discussing ideas for a larger flight center in 2015, but official planning and work on blueprints did not begin until mid-2017.

Lance Fortney, program manager for the OSU flight center, said the program has been “growing like crazy,” and the building will have some much needed commodities.

“(There will be) more office space, area for multiple flight simulators, and much more briefing area for students and instructors,” Fortney said.

Unexpected high-enrollment numbers for the aviation program began in Fall 2018 when the school received an incoming freshman class of over 100 students compared to the usual 45 to 50 students. This was largely because of a new policy implemented amongst major airlines that forced pilots over the age of 65 to retire. With a lack of commercial pilots in the workforce, aviation schools across the country saw a dramatic increase in enrollment from students hoping to find a job right out of college.

With the influx of new students, OSU aviation has switched to competitive enrollment for 2019 and all following semesters, allowing up to 75 students into the professional pilot major.

Talk of the new flight center has created quite a buzz amongst students and faculty involved with Oklahoma State aviation, including pro-pilot major Elijah Siebersma.

“I think the flight center is just another step forward in perfecting the program,” Siebersma said. “As a student, it’s exciting to see your program growing, and being a part of something that is becoming bigger is not something you get to be a part of everyday.”

Aidan Adams, a freshman pro-pilot major shared some of this enthusiasm.

“I’m really excited, and I can’t wait to step inside when (the flight center) is finished,” Adams said. “I think the program is already pretty popular, and I think it’s only going to keep growing.”

OSU ranks in the top 15% of flight training schools across the country as accredited by the Aviation Accreditation Board International, and that number seemingly looks like it will rise over the coming years. The new flight center will help.

“Over the last several years, we’ve been continuously working on upgrades to our facilities, fleet and equipment so our students have a high-quality learning experience,” Fortney said. “This new flight center plays a major role in ensuring Oklahoma State continues to attract and retain the highest caliber of students.”