Spartan Days: Failed Flight Training
I was a student at Spartan School of Aeronautics (their new name is Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology) back in 1990. At the time Spartan had a boom of pilots coming through with dreams of airline cockpits in their heads.
First, I want to say that Spartan is a great school steeped in tradition dating back to 1928 when the school opened in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They continue to turn out a lot of great aviators. My experience was a bit ‘sketchy’, which I mostly blame on myself.
I was not the typical student going through the part 141 curriculum. I had my private license and 200 hours of flight time before I showed up – I thought I was Steve Canyon!
This attitude shows up as a theme throughout my short nine months there.
There were 3 fundamental issues with my experience;
1) This was my first time living on my own
2) I was with a bunch of like-minded, partying, wild-men
3) Spartan was a slow-moving institution, inflexible to my current stage of life
I lived with two close high school friends who were also Spartan students and to say that we were a bad influence on each other was an understatement. We certainly knew how to have a good time. We were from a small town so big city life provided plenty to do.
Since I was using student loans to fund school and part-time jobs for life support. I was in a hurry to get on with my training, but Spartan had different ideas. Like any large school, they had strict policies and procedures that were likely derived through hard knocks. I wasn’t accustomed to being told I couldn’t fly in marginal conditions – remember what I said about Steve Canyon?
And due to the influx of students we often sat standby for airplanes and instructors if we weren’t grounded for weather. It was frustrating.
I grew more and more restless and the rebel in me started to emerge. This reached a crescendo on my long commercial cross-country (which was a redo since I had already done it under part 61, they made me repeat it under their part 141 program).
One if my roommates was scheduled to do his long cross-country on the same day. A plan was hatched to rendezvous in the air and fly his intended route in formation. Spartan had specific rules prohibiting formation flying. You couldn’t even go to the same destinations, if flying crops-country, and they kept departure times staggered to discourage noncompliance. This didn’t stop me. I would just loiter at a predetermined landmark and we’d fly together, Spartan rules be damned.
One of our stops was in Ardmore where our primary instructor now lived. He flew a jet for an oil company and agreed to meet us for lunch.
Everything went according to plan, or so we thought. We had a great time catching up with Larry at Ardmore. Maybe too good of a time as we were starting to run late.
On departure out of Ardmore, we briefed a “high performance” formation takeoff. Well, high performance is relative for C-152s…
We landed back at Tulsa with the appropriate separation and went inside with our clipboards, both of our instructors were there and neither looked happy. My instructor asked me where I had been and I spouted off the airports in my original plan. He then asked for my fuel receipts showing the wrong airports – uh oh!
Apparently the airport manager at Ardmore didn’t appreciate our ‘aerobatics on takeoff’. And with the black cat and number 13 emblazoned on our tails, it didn’t take much for him to figure out who to call.
We had a meeting first thing in the morning with the Director of Operations. If you have seen the movie Top Gun, think of scene where the Airboss is chewing out Viper (Tom Skerritt) for Maverick and Goose’s flyby of the tower and you are close. There was lots of spitting, sputtering and threatening going on – all of it deserved.
The outcome: we were grounded for 3 weeks and had to do 40 hours of community service; very humane in retrospect. Community service consisted of sweeping floors and washing airplanes.
Since I was grounded my nightlight really picked up steam. With all this going on my parents provided the appropriate remedy – an ultimatum!
I could stay with my friends and party my brains out and probably drop out (or get expelled) or I could move out West to a new school that would provide the needed focus. This new school had plenty of airplanes and instructors along with year round VFR. I would live and breathe flying, leaving little time for shenanigans.
Ironically, I ended up finishing my community service and then leaving for fresh start out West. I’m sure glad I did!
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