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History of South Dakota State University Aviation Program

If you’re interested in learning to fly or putting yourself on a new, exciting career path in the world of aviation, attending the right school is the first step. The aviation department at South Dakota State University is a popular college in the midwest offering a number of degrees in the aviation field. So, if you’re considering applying to SDSU’s aviation school, here is some information that will help you understand whether it’s the right choice for you. Let’s take a look.

History of Aviation at SDSU

Founded back when South Dakota was still a territory, SDSU opened as Dakota Agriculture College in 1881. Throughout its early years, courses focused on growing and harvesting crops and livestock in the fertile midwest. With local legislatures understanding the importance of a college educated population, they funded and expanded the school throughout the last half of the 1800s and into the 20th century. In 1904, the school changed its name to South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts to promote its expansion of educational opportunities. SDSU continued to offer more and more courses, and by 1923, the school was split into five divisions: agriculture, engineering, general science, home economics and pharmacy. They added a nursing program and a graduate school just a few decades later. With this evolution, the school formally announced another name change to South Dakota State University in 1964, more representative of their wide-ranging offering of degrees. The school continued to grow, adding general studies and teaching divisions in the mid-1970s. By the time the 90s rolled around, SDSU had grown enough to become the largest college in South Dakota. 1999 saw the implementation of an honors college along with another campus expansion in the early 2000s.

SDSU Aviation School Today 

As the oldest and largest college in South Dakota, you’ll find a worthy institution offering associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees across 175 fields of study. The aviation program offers a four-year curriculum that will prepare students for an exciting career in aviation. Students can expect to graduate with a bachelor of science in aviation, and choose between two specializations — Aviation Education and Aircraft Maintenance.

What to Expect Attending South Dakota State Aviation School


The campus at SDSU is large enough to accommodate the student population. With three campuses, Main, West and East, there’s more than enough to explore. Students will enjoy many campus amenities like the recently constructed 73,000-square-foot SDSU Wellness Center,  Daschle Research Library dedicated to former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and two free art museums. 


As a student enrolled in the South Dakota State University aviation program, you’ll undergo flight training lessons out of Brookings Regional Airport. Their fleet includes 14 aircraft, a mix of Cessna and Piper airplanes.


The total student count for fall 2020 at SDSU was nearly 11,500. The aviation program is staffed with 28 certified flight instructors (CFIs). 

Mission Statement

“The Aviation Education Program is committed to preparing safe, innovative, professional aviation educators who enhance human potential through transdisciplinary, learner-centered education in South Dakota and beyond. We assure this by forming multi-engine commercial pilots and instructors who are able to apply their core educational experience to the aviation profession.”


There are two main programs offered through SDSU Aviation: 


  • Aviation Education: Become a CFI or other type of professional pilot. Seven FAA certificates are available — Private Pilot, Instrument, Commercial Single and Multiengine, CFI, CFII and MEI)
  • Aviation Maintenance: Become an aircraft mechanic and/or aviation engineer.

Tuition Cost

At SDSU, you can expect to pay around $164,000 for a bachelor of science in aviation. 50 percent of your tuition goes to room, board, books and other common college expenses, and the other half goes toward related expenses of learning to fly, e.g. plane rental, testing, fuel, etc.


Learn more about SDSU’s aviation program.



Are you interested in becoming a pilot?

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If you’re interested in learning more about Inflight training programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.