Mark Daniels, a forward-thinking entrepreneur with "Big Picture" continues leadership with defense contractor AeroGroup in providing unique aerospace services.
Online PR News – 06-January-2015 – Fort Lauderdale, Florida – Mark Daniels, grew up with the sound of military jets flying overhead at Carswell Air Force Base, Fort Worth Texas. His family had a history in the aviation industry, his father worked at General Dynamics on the B-58, F-111 and F-16 programs. His grandfather, a WWII and Korean War veteran, flying B-17, B-29, B-36 and was the first transition crew of the formidable B-47 and B-52 Bombers at Strategic Air Command. In fact, a movie was made starring Jimmy Stewart in 1955, “Strategic Air Command”, that was in part about the B-47 and B-52 transition, Mark’s grandfather was one of the actual flight crew flying in the movie.
With aviation engrained in his DNA, Mark Daniels was destined to pursue a career in aviation. He took his first flight lesson at the age of 10, however did not pursue his dreams in the aviation industry until later in his 20’s. Since then, he has had quite a journey and been involved in some very interesting projects over the past 20 years.
Daniels began in the government contracting industry supporting various investigative agencies and oversaw programs based out of Washington DC with the Department of Transportation. In 1996, through his extensive contacts in DC, Daniels was sourced for his expertise with import-export licenses and thereon was his first introduction to the defense arena. His involvement began with Pepsi Co., for the purchase and importation of a Harrier Jump Jet aircraft regarding the “Buy Pepsi, Get Stuff" campaign. Daniels stated, “When I got the call I thought it was a joke, but soon realized it was serious.” Daniels was contracted with his friend Victor Miller to acquire all the necessary licenses through the BATF and U.S. Department of State-Defense Trade Controls. Ultimately, a law suit and settlement was the result of the Pepsi campaign. “The Harrier Jump Jet was the beginning of what was to become the spring-board that set me at the front door for special programs at various offices of the Pentagon,” Daniels says. At the end of the saga, Daniels and Miller got paid by Pepsi and were told they could keep the Harrier aircraft, ultimately selling it to Microsoft founder and Billionaire, Paul Allen. Daniels added, “After the Harrier deal, I was getting calls from some very important people at the Pentagon and I became the “Mikey” (referring to the Chex Cereal commercial of the 70’s) in acquiring and providing special tactical aircraft to U.S. agencies for training purposes.”
Over the years, Daniels developed several ground-breaking companies that performed services under contract to the U.S. Government. Mark was one of a select few civilian contractors to operate and provide tactical fighter jet aircraft ( Hawker Hunter and MiG-21 fighters ) to the U.S. Navy’s elite fighter pilot training program “Top Gun” and was the first civilian to be christened with the call sign “Wheeler” by the Head Adversary Officer for the Navy and Marine Corps, Maj. Michael “Ratso” Cariello. Years later, Cariello would retire from Top Gun and was recruited by Daniels to work for AeroGroup.
Another unique program that Daniels oversaw from 2001 to 2003 was a Weather Modification project using a high-altitude B-57 Bomber to seed clouds with a special bio-degradable chemical to break up or slow down hurricanes. Daniels stated, “The program was highly successful, but was politically shut down by NOAA as it impacted their funding for research.” In 2002, Daniels was involved with the implementation of STI Aviation, becoming the aviation division as Presidential Airways of the infamous government contractor Blackwater, operating aircraft in Afghanistan and Iraq for Special Forces.
In 2003, Daniels looked for the next opportunity and found it with the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Mark had seen the deficiencies with the U.S. Government supporting F-16 pilot training and deployments for our NATO allies, namely the Dutch. He had the vision and also saw the opportunity to pursue the purchase of F-16 aircraft and lease them back to the government for training as a 4th generation fighter. This was another first for a civilian to engage the purchase of F-16 aircraft. Ultimately, Daniels lead AeroGroup to achieve success in getting contracts to support F-16 pilot training for the Dutch, Belgian and Italian Air Forces. Daniels stated, “It was amazing to see fifteen F-16 fighters on my ramp, it was a dream realized that everyone said could not be done. I gladly accepted the challenge and proved the nay-sayers wrong. Aside from my grandfather getting to see me at an airshow with my fighter before he passed away in 2002, my first ride in an F-16 performing tactical maneuvers were certainly highlights in my life in aviation!”
Mark “Wheeler” Daniels has also flown some of his fighter aircraft at airshows on occasion throughout the years, including a TA-4J Skyhawk, MiG-21, Strikemaster MK5, T-7 Hunter and F-5D Fighter. He also has another passion and became an owner of an AFL professional football team in Las Vegas with his pals, former professional NFL quarterback Bob Hewko and Vince Neil, lead singer of Motley Crue, one of the most successful rock bands in music history. The expansion team "Las Vegas Outlaws" begins playing in 2015.
More recently, Daniels is looking to the future for AeroGroup and it is certainly in supporting the same defense programs he has been working for years, but says, “The future is in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and systems , we are working some research and development operations with surrogate UAV (RPA) aircraft to support the warfighter.” Daniels was quoted saying, “I like the challenge of doing what no one else is doing and what people say can’t be done. I want to continue to pursue programs that are unique that position AeroGroup at the forefront of tactical aviation!”