- 2013 - October - 9th -

Workspace: Mark Willette, associate director of aeronautics, JU

  • Mark Willette in the Jacksonville University flight simulator, the Davis Aviation Center’s $500,000 state-of-the-art teaching tool that enables students to simulate flying for commercial airlines

  • Mark Willette, Jacksonville University’s associate director of aeronautics, in his Davis Aviation Center office, where he has a hodgepodge of mementos, model airplanes and tools of the trade.

  • The new gadget-filled JU flight simulator is a full replica of a Bombardier CRJ-700 airliner cockpit – the first training tool of its kind at a higher-education institution in Northeast Florida – complete with flashing buttons, realistic sounds and a wraparound screen.

  • Willette received this figurine of a captain (left) from his wife, Deirdra, when he became a commercial airline captain

  • Willette has used models of Navy planes as a motivational tool with students.

  • Willette uses this dry erase board in his office to keep him organized in his job of handling recruitment, retention and student aviation services at JU.

  • Willette keeps an airplane headset in his office. He says wearing headsets as a pilot is mandatory because they prevent hearing loss.

  • Before JU students begin training on the institution’s new flight training device, they spend time in this simulator practice area.

  • Willette’s office is peppered with maps, including this one that Willette uses to track his son’s career teaching English as a second language in Asia.

by Taylor Agnew, Contributing Writer

Mark Willette arrived at Jacksonville University two years ago after a career in the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he graduated from flight school and became an attack pilot.

He then went to work for Eastern Airlines, Trump Shuttle and, finally, US Airways.

While piloting for Trump Shuttle, Willette’s passengers included Donald Trump, former President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Sen. Ted Kennedy and John F. Kennedy Jr., among other notables.

Willette left the cockpit after 35 years of flying to become an academic adviser at JU. He has since settled into a fitting role in JU’s Aviation program, where he provides student support in the areas of advising, enrollment assistance and retention.

A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Willette and his wife, Deirdre, live in Fernandina Beach.

Step into Willette’s office in JU’s Davis College of Business and you’ll see maps – lots of them. Willette says he has maps on his wall because a pilot’s office is the cockpit. Next, you’ll see an airline captain figurine that his wife gave him when he was promoted to captain in the airline business. Finally, you’ll notice the model planes that Willette says helped him motivate his airline flight students.

Today, providing encouragement remains a big part of Willette’s job. He is JU’s primary contact for prospective students considering an education in aviation studies.

“I help steer them in the right direction,” he said.

He says his job involves “bringing young bright students to the university and helping them get what they want in a career.”

Both of Willette’s sons graduated from the aviation program. One flies around the world teaching English as a second language; the other is a Navy pilot. One of the many maps on Willette’s office wall helps him track the ever-changing location of his son in Asia.

When Willette worked for commercial airlines, he observed the Jacksonville University aviation graduates’ knowledge first-hand. “They were exceptionally good pilots,” he said.

Willette says a key component of JU’s aviation curriculum is training with a state-of-the-art flight simulator, which helps prepare future pilots in real-world aircraft knowledge and safety.

“The mission of the Jacksonville University Davis Aviation Center is to produce professional aviators and aviation managers possessing the leadership and professional skills necessary to sustain safety and profitability in global aviation,” he said. “The Davis Aviation Center achieves this mission with a world-class curriculum that sufficiently equips students to thrive professionally and financially as global aviation evolves.”

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