Willard Gathings Plentl, Jr. (Lt. Col. Retired AirForce)

August 3, 1945March 23, 2019
Play Tribute Movie

On Saturday, March 23, 2019, at the early age of 73, Will decided it was time to go flying with the eagles. He was born to the late Lt. Colonel Willard G. Plentl, Sr. and Gloria Belle Plentl in Houston, Texas. His brother John Patrick Plentl preceded him in death.

Will had a distinguished military career serving in the Air Force, North Carolina National Guard and the Reserves. He was a pilot and a Professional Engineer earning a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the Virginia Military Institute in 1967. His love of aviation came from his father, former Aviation Director for Virginia. Both were Aviation Directors and Past President of NASAO - the only father/son to accomplish this achievement.

He began his aviation career as an Air Force Supervising Engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where he supported construction, research and development and worked on Air Force operations under system command, airfield selection and contingencies and supervised engineering and construction regarding Boeing and McDonnell Douglas. After Wright-Patterson AFB, he served as an aviation engineer for Florida's Department of Transportation which prepared him for his next role as the Aviation Director for the State of North Carolina.

He developed flight services; pioneered state construction standards for NC and the Southeast. Throughout his years with the NCDOT-Aviation, he developed and honed managerial expertise navigating the state and federal bureaucracies for aviation transportation systems, block grants and addressed business and tourism needs. He then became the Airport Director for the New Hanover International Airport in Wilmington, NC, where he increased hub options and brought one-stop connecting services to 141 domestic and 22 international markets. His next opportunity became the Deputy Director at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport where he lead them to both a world top five and top 10 ranking for operations. He also managed employee, customer, vendor and carrier interests and programs. To add to his accomplishments he developed the CLT Center for multiple airport operations and the establishment of a USO center at the airport. After retiring, he began working as an aviation consultant with Parrish and Partners.

All through his career, Will was actively involved in the First Flight Foundation beginning in the early 1990's. He served on the First Flight Centennial December 17, 2003. He was a life member and past president of the First Flight Society and then President of the First Flight Foundation. During his career, he received numerous awards and was a two-time recipient of the North Carolina 's highest honor - the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, awarded by Governor Martin in 1992 and by Governor Hunt in 1997.

Will was a wonderful husband, father, Papa and brother. He is survived by his high school sweetheart and loving wife, Ann, of 51 years; by two amazing sons: Willard G. Plentl, III (Maria) and Jeffrey S. Plentl (Sarah); four grandchildren: Morgan, Tanner, Cooper and Wynn; by a special great-niece: Jennifer; by his sister: Joy Plentl Hensley (Mike); mother-in-law: Ruth Flowers; and by many nieces, nephews and other family and friends.

Visitations will be held on Thursday evening, April 11th from 6-8 pm at Mitchell Funeral Home (7209 Glenwood Avenue in Raleigh) and on Friday, April 12th from 12 noon until 12:45 pm. Funeral Services will be held on Friday, April 12th at 1 pm in the funeral home chapel, with burial and Military Honors to follow at Raleigh Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to your favorite charity in memory of Will.


  • Will Plentl III
  • Jeff Plentl
  • Vic Rackley
  • Bobby Walston
  • Gil Johnson
  • Troy Parrott


  • Visitation

    Thursday, April 11, 2019

  • Visitation

    Friday, April 12, 2019

  • Funeral Service

    Friday, April 12, 2019

  • Burial, with Military Honors

    Friday, April 12, 2019


Willard Gathings Plentl, Jr. (Lt. Col. Retired AirForce)

have a memory or condolence to add?

First Flight Foundation

April 9, 2019

Our mutual interest in aviation drew us together and enabled us to have a strong working relationship.
I have known and worked closely with Will since the mid ‘90’s, primarily on First Flight Centennial Commission/Foundation activities.

To me, Will was, “ingenious”, cleverly inventive and resourceful . Will knew so many people across aviation and other paths of life. He earned trust, was an original thinker and got things done. His broad experience facilitated his ability to apply common sense to complex challenges and deduct effective solutions. He excelled in all leadership positions, quietly demanding, expectant of good results, but always wrapped in a good sense of humor.

Close family ties, so many friends, so many important accomplishments. We’ll miss you Will…..!
~L. Ferg Norton, (RADM, USN)

Will was so very thoughtful when it came to all aviation concerns for his beloved North Carolina, and from a Wright family perspective, his pride in and reverence for the 12 seconds that changed the world was always evident. We will miss his steady consideration and easy, easy smile. Godspeed.
Amanda Wright Lane (Ohio)

Ann, the love of his life. The "kids". Family. VMI. Aviation. North Carolina. Will was not shy about his passion. Working for Will was less of a job and more of mentoring, with real gut intuition balanced against data, bureaucracy, politics, organizational dynamics and relationships but always with humor. I learned so much from Will, not withstanding the "Will-isms". Phone calls-any time, any day. So many things about Will to miss; so many things to remember.
Karen Warlitner, Executive Director

Ann Brown

April 6, 2019

You will be sorely missed Will. You and Ann have been such wonderful friends for many years, always generous and kind, and your silence now will be noted. Rest in peace. You deserve the rest, and the honors bestowed on you.

Ann Plentl

April 3, 2019

To the love of my life...I will always love you and miss you until we are reunited. You loved all aspects of aviation and so proud to have served your country. But most of all you loved our family and made us your priority everyday. I love you so much! Your loving wife, Ann

Shelly Simi

March 28, 2019

Will Plentl was an admired leader in the aviation community, serving as the Director of Aviation in North Carolina for numerous years and our President in 1983. NASAO mourns the loss of our friend, leader and advocate for aviation. Our thoughts are with Will's family and friends during this time.

Shelly Simi
President & CEO
National Association of State Aviation Officials (NASAO)

Terri Pope

March 28, 2019

My prayers and deepest condolences to the Plentyl family. I had the privilege of working with Will for 15+ years at CDIA. Will’s impact on the CLT airport community will always be remembered and honored. He was quite the character, something we grew to really appreciate in our high stress environment.
Rest In Peace my friend.

Leila Lahbabi

March 28, 2019

Rachid and I enjoyed and appreciated Will's sense of humor, kind heart, and zest for life. I can't quite believe he is gone but his legacy and spirit live on. With deepest sympathies to Will's wonderful family, please accept our condolences.

Neil Schlussel

March 27, 2019

There are too many memories of VMI to share. It always a great loss when someone passes. Remember the good times and the love all shared. My deepest sympathies to you and your family

Brenda Grady

March 27, 2019

Sending my deepest condolences to the Plentl family. I had the privilege of working with Will at NCDOT for several years and thought very highly of him. He was always pleasant and humorous and highly regarded as head of the Aviation Division. We are so blessed with fond memories of our years at DOT.

Eugene Murray

March 26, 2019

It was my pleasure to know Will through the NC Airports Association and through his service on the NC AirTAP Steering Committee. His considerable experience, wise guidance, entertaining stories and genuine friendship will be greatly missed. May God bless his family through this time of loss and remembrance.

Tracy Montross

March 26, 2019

I am so sorry to hear of Will's passing. He has been such a special friend and mentor to me over these last five years. Please know that his family (especially wife and granddaughter) are in my thoughts and prayers. The aviation community has lost an advocate and North Carolina has lost an ambassador and caretaker of its First in Flight legacy. Rest in Peace, Will.


Learn more about the Plentl, Jr. name