Prepared for Takeoff
Jack Mill, ’80 | Vice President of Engineering, Piper Aircraft Inc.
By Angie Lewis, ’03
Jack Mill, ’80, fell in love with airplanes as a teenager. Lucky for him, his dreams of flying and designing aircraft became a reality when he landed a job with Piper Aircraft Inc. more than 30 years ago. He began as a design engineer and ascended his way up to his current position of vice president of engineering. Piper is headquartered in Vero Beach, FL, and is considered one of the “big three” in the field of general aviation manufacturing.
Jack earned his B.S. in engineering at UCF, is a licensed professional engineer in Florida, an FAA engineering authorized representative, a certified flight instructor and a commercial pilot with instrument rating in single and multi-engine aircraft.
We caught up with Jack while he was attending simulation training in Orlando. Here’s what he shared with us…
Q. How did you get started with Piper Aircraft?
A. In 1972, Piper donated an airplane to Vero Beach High School where I was enrolled in an aeronautics class. Since the donated airplane had been used extensively for structural testing, it could not be sold and we used it to learn about all of the parts and how to perform a pre-flight inspection as if we were going to actually fly it. This was my first exposure to Piper, plus involvement in a Boy Scouts Explorer club that Piper sponsored. Years later, in 1985, I had the opportunity to join Piper as a design engineer.
Q. Why do you do what you do?
A. I love flying airplanes and participating in the design process of creating a product that fulfills the dreams of our customers. Seeing an airplane that I have had a part in the design of and talking to customers that love our products fills me with pride for the Piper team that cannot be described.
Q. What motivated you to learn how to fly?
A. My first airplane ride in a Piper Cub at a Vero Beach airport open house sparked my interest. We slowly flew low over the Indian River and across the island to the beach at only a few hundred feet and saw fisherman, boaters and golfers, and everyone was looking up at us and waving. Looking at the world from above provides an amazing perspective that hooks you.
Q. Describe your best day as a pilot…
A. This is a tough question as I have enjoyed so many flights varying from personal trips, experimental flight tests, giving flight instruction, traveling for Piper and many challenging flights to different places. Several very memorable flights include opportunities to fly the Piper Cub, Piper Cheyenne, Piper Malibu/Mirage, Ford Tri-motor, Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air, to name a few. Flying the Piper Meridian last week was my most recent “best day” flying!
Q. What’s your favorite thing about your job?
A. Leading the engineering team at Piper allows me to work side by side every day with some of the most dedicated and talented people in the general aviation business. The passion for making the best airplanes in the world is what drives the Piper team and I’m so very proud to be a part of it.
Q. What’s your least favorite thing about your job?
A. The administrative portion of the position consumes so much of my time that it’s a challenge to stay focused on the important tasks that need to get addressed both tactically and strategically.
Q. Describe a typical day at work…
A. I usually ride my bicycle to work (it’s only 4.5 miles) in time to change and start into emails and review my schedule for the day around 7 a.m. or so. Normal days are comprised of project and design reviews, developing and/or reviewing presentations for financial reviews, board of directors meetings, staff meetings and working with various teams setting priorities for resources as necessary to accomplish the corporate goals. I see my position as more of a coach and mentor, providing the tools and resources the team needs to accomplish the work that needs to get done. I use lunch time and late in the afternoon to catch up on emails and correspondence to industry associations, employees, the FAA and various customers. I usually change and ride my bicycle to Charles Park around 6:15 p.m. to meet my wife and friends for a few miles of running and walking, then home for dinner. Often times, I use the evenings after dinner to further catch up on emails and reading journal articles or providing feedback and direction.
Q. What’s your most memorable experience on the job?
A. The day the Piperjet proof of concept vehicle first flew. This was our first jet design that we built and flew to prove the concept of a single engine turbofan powered airplane. Watching the airplane fly for the first time brought tears to my eyes.
Q. Why did you choose to attend UCF?
A. Because it was a local university with a reputation for excellence in the engineering program.
Q. What’s your favorite UCF memory?
Q. What song(s) would make up the soundtrack of your life?
A. Pink Floyd, Beetles, Dave Grusin, Debusy, Boston, Jimmy Buffet, Big & Rich, generally a variety of anything but rap…
Q. Do you have any hidden talents?
A. I learned to juggle a few years ago! I want to learn piano.
Q. What magazine do you look for when you’re stuck in a waiting room?
A. Flying, Field & Stream, Boating, Water Ski
Q. If you could watch only one TV show, what would it be and why?
A. I only get to watch what my wife has on and it’s usually HGTV!
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. Flying, scuba diving, free-diving, hunting lionfish and lobster, golfing, waterskiing, boating, traveling with my wife, Dawn (Miller) Mill, ’77, and visiting with my daughters Katy and Angela
Q. A giant meteor is hurling through the atmosphere toward Earth, and life as we know it will cease to exist by this time tomorrow. How will you spend your last 24 hours?
A. With my wife and children
Q. If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
A. “What a ride!”
Q. What or who inspires you?
A. My wife, my mother and father (God rest his soul), my faith, many of my coworkers and associates over the years
Q. How do you manage stress?
A. Sometimes taking a walk or getting away to a quiet place for a few minutes does wonders, and sometimes an intensive workout.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
A. Be true to yourself.
Q. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
A. I admire my wife Dawn’s artistic ability and profession so much that I would love to be able to draw or paint.