Cirrus Aircraft has inked a deal to sell 23 planes to the French military, a move that expands the Duluth-based company's push into the global market for flight training.

In July 2011, Cirrus sold a fleet of 25 trainers to the U.S. Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs, Colo., for $6.1 million. It followed up in November with a 20-aircraft deal with the Chinese Civil Aviation Flight University, the largest flight university in the world.

"We're seeing more and more flight schools or governments -- or both -- showing a preference for Cirrus," said Todd Simmons, executive vice president of sales and marketing. "That's going to be a stronger business going forward."

The French Air Force training center in Salon-de-Provence, in southern France, will receive 13 Cirrus SR20 planes and seven of the higher-performance Cirrus SR22s. The naval air academy in Lanvéoc Poulmic, in the northwestern part of the country, will receive three of the SR20 planes.

At list price, an order like this would be valued at more than $10.5 million, according to Cirrus.

Cirrus manufactures the world's top selling single-engine, four-seat aircraft. It has a long history of doing business in France, but this is its first contract with the military, Simmons said.

The Cirrus planes "are the most appropriate aircraft to meet the current needs of the French Air Force and also the most versatile for the future," Laurent Blattner, the CEO of the company handling the transaction for the French government, Cassidian Aviation Training Services, said in a statement.

The aircraft headed to France are not measurably different from those sold on the retail market, Simmons said. They are popular because of their sophistication and simplicity.

"They make a terrific training airplane, from my perspective," said Tim Barzen, a retired Navy and Northwest Airlines pilot who flies his personal SR22 for the charity group Wings of Mercy.

"When I was flying DC-10s, I often thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice to have some of the avionic features of the Cirrus?' because they were so advanced at the time," Barzen said.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335