USF Curiosities: A faculty airplane?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

How do you normally get to campus? 

A car, a bicycle, a bus, or walk… 

What about an airplane? 


Well, that’s just what USF faculty members did in the early 1980s. While the Tampa campus had permanent faculty members, its sister campus at Ft. Myers did not. Initially, Tampa campus faculty members would make a 24 to 48 hour round trip in a car just to teach a three hour class. But this model was unsustainable, as Dr. James Heck determined. Dr. Heck, who came to USF in 1978 as a dean of Regional Campus Affairs, chartered a small airplane to take faculty to and from the Ft. Myers campus every day. 

Learn more about “Heck Airlines” by reading Dr. Heck’s recollections below: 

“We had some interesting times about Fort Myers. One of the first things I found, when I came down here, was that faculty were for the most part—we didn’t have any permanent faculty down there, so everybody was traveling. And, a faculty member would have to get in their car by—oh, probably eleven o’clock, maybe ten o’clock in the morning—drive five or six hours to get to Fort Myers, because we didn’t have 75 [Interstate 75] at that time. They would teach their class—a three hour class, in the evening, then they’d go to a hotel or a motel and they’d stay overnight, they’d get in their car and drive home again. And so, essentially to teach one three hour class, was taking a faculty member anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, in addition to the expense of overnight, and meals, and all the rest of that.  

USF Digital Collections. “Faculty taking airplane to Ft. Myers campus” (U10-00143, USF Photograph Collection, photo from “Inside USF” staff newsletter, 1981.

So, one of the early things that I did, was to say, “That don’t make any sense.” And so, we established what became known as Heck Airlines. We leased a small nine passenger airplane, that everyday flew out of the airport down here at Tampa International, but from the civilian, you know, the general aviation side. And faculty then, could go down there, park their cars, get on the airplane at about three o’clock, they’d be in Fort Myers by four—four-fifteen. The campus would pick them up in a van, they would teach their––they’d have a meal, teach their class, get back on the airplane, they’d be home by eleven o’clock in the evening. So, while the actual cost appeared to be substantial, that cost was about $100,000 a year to run that airline, but when you added up all of the other things, and faculty time involved, it was a substantial savings for the university. 

So, that was an interesting little byproduct of being quite so far away, that’s about a hundred and—about a 150, to 160 miles, from the Tampa campus down to the Fort Myers operation. So, that was one of the things we did, and we did that until 75 [Interstate 75] opened. And then they started using a very nicely appointed, large transport minibus, that carried faculty down. It was comfortable chairs and places where they could work while they were traveling back and forth. And, the timing was about the same, because instead of having to drive all the way to the airport and get on the airplane and all that, the bus met them right here in front of the library. And they would climb on the bus at three o’clock, they’d be down there by four-forty-five, they’d have supper, teach their class, get back on the bus at nine, and be back home at eleven, so it worked very nicely.”

USF 50th (2006) Anniversary Oral History Project, “James Heck,” (U23-00062) p. 7-8,  


Uncover more about USF’s early history and the fun, and sometimes curious, events that occurred here by listening to the USF 50th Anniversary Oral History Project, housed in Digital Collections. 


Want more USF Curiosities? Check out the posts in this series: 


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