Face of Defense: Former Maintainer Recalls Journey to Pilot
By Senior Airman Jaimi Upthegrove
482nd Fighter Wing
HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla., July 16, 2013 "I remember the first time I climbed into an F-16 [Fighting Falcon] and the canopy closed," Air Force Maj. Robin Lytle recalled. "I had my mask on, and it was so quiet. I was amazed at how quiet and peaceful it was. At that moment, I knew the cockpit was where I was meant to be."
Air Force Maj. Robin Lytle, a reservist and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot and chief of scheduling with the 93rd Fighter Squadron at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, began his career as a weapons loader in 1989 at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jaimi Upthegrove
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
To get into that cockpit, Lytle had to navigate a long path.
Lytle, a reservist and an F-16 pilot with the 93rd Fighter Squadron here, was born in Laredo, Texas, and spent the better part of his youth moving around with his military family. His father was a pilot, but initially Lytle had no intention of becoming a pilot.
However, he did have a calling to follow in his family's long line of military service, which goes back three generations to his great grandfather. Lytle joined the Air Force Reserve as a weapons loader at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas, after he graduated high school in 1989.
"I spent a day shadowing the weapons loaders at Bergstrom and I knew it was the job for me," Lytle said. "I just liked watching them load the bombs and move the missiles around. I knew it was a vital job in the Air Force, and I wanted to be a part of it."
Lytle worked on the flightline at Bergstrom AFB while attending college. For four years he developed his skills.
"I loved taking something that needed repair, fixing it and being able to deliver a finished product to serve the mission," Lytle said. "I received a great amount of satisfaction from the job."
In college, Lytle majored in aeronautics, and during his career in the reserve he aspired to become a maintenance officer. He said he earned a name for himself as a dedicated airman.
"I learned early-on to let my work ethic speak for me," Lytle said. "The most important thing I learned from my time on the [flightline] is that a good work ethic is essential to earning the respect of others."
In 1995, Lytle graduated with his bachelor's degree from the University of Oklahoma. One day during military duty, Lytle’s director of operations asked him what he intended to do with his degree. Lytle told him he wanted to become a maintenance officer.
Later on the flightline, Lytle's career trajectory took a turn.
"One morning I was sitting on an F-16 fixing a gun issue that had been giving us trouble for a few days," Lytle said. "I watched the pilots walk out, get into their jets and take off. As I sat there, knee deep in a gun belt, I thought to myself that I wanted to do that."
Lytle went back to his director of operations and let him know he wanted to apply for pilot training. Lytle then started building his package to submit to the selection board.
"I was sweating waiting for an answer," he said. "There was a lot on the line. I really wanted it."
While waiting to hear from the board, Lytle was offered a weapons loader position as an Air Reserve Technician at Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla. It was an opportunity, he said, that he couldn't pass up.
Shortly after moving to Homestead, Lytle received word he'd been accepted into pilot training.
"I was so excited when I found out I had been accepted into pilot training," he said. "Then the gravity of it all hit me, and I knew I couldn't mess up."
Before starting pilot training, Lytle had to find a base that needed a new fighter pilot. He was planning on filling a pilot slot back at Bergstrom AFB, but the base was on the verge of closing so he had to search for a new place to begin his life in the skies.
"I remember calling around to every fighter base, but I couldn't find a base that would take me," Lytle said. "The director of operations at my base spoke with the commander about my situation."
As luck would have it, the commander at his previous base was about to become the new wing commander at Homestead. Because of Lytle's good reputation, the commander said he'd ensure Lytle would have a spot.
"I was meant to be at Homestead," Lytle said.
Pilot training was “the most intense thing I have ever been through because they're throwing so much information at you all at once,” Lytle said.
“All my free time went to studying,” he added. “Being a pilot is hard work, but it's highly rewarding knowing you're keeping the guys on the ground safe."
Due to his experiences, Lytle truly understands what the maintainers go through, which gives him a unique perspective as a pilot, said Air Force Lt. Col. Timothy Rusch, the 93rd FS director of operations.
"My heart is on the [flightline]," Lytle said. "I really enjoy the chief of scheduling role because I get to interact with the maintainers and it brings me one step closer to the [flightline]."
During a recent operational readiness inspection, Lytle was a key component in the 93rd FS's communications with maintenance, Rusch said.
"He efficiently and effectively gets the job done and considers his people while he does it," Rusch said.
Lytle said he still loves being out on the flightline and finds every possible opportunity to get out there. He considers his time as a weapons loader as a vital asset in his career.
"I know about the long hours that are involved in keeping this jet armed and mission ready," Lytle said. "This experience helps me be a better pilot because when there's an issue, I have unique insight as to what might have gone wrong. I've definitely been involved in situations where I drew from knowledge I acquired as a weapons loader."