Through Airmen's Eyes: Airman reflects on journey from load toad to viper pilot

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jaimi Upthegrove
  • 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
"I remember the first time I climbed into an F-16 and the canopy closed. 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."

To get into that cockpit, Maj. Robin Lytle had to navigate a long path.

Lytle, an F-16 pilot with the 93rd Fighter Squadron here, was born in Laredo, Texas. He spent the better part of his youth moving around with his family in true military fashion. His father was a pilot, but Lytle had no intentions of becoming a pilot in the beginning.

But he did have a calling to follow in his family's long line of military service, going 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.

Life on the flightline

"I spent a day shadowing the weapons loaders at Bergstrom and I knew it was the job for me," said Lytle. "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 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," said Lytle. "I received a great amount of satisfaction from the job."

In college, Lytle was majoring in aeronautics and, in his Reserve career, he ultimately aspired to become a maintenance officer. He earned a name for himself as a dedicated Airman.

"I learned early on to let my work ethic speak for me," said Lytle. "The most important thing I learned from my time on the line is that a good work ethic is essential to earning the respect of others."

Lytle graduate with his bachelor's degree in 1995 from the University of Oklahoma.

One day, his director of operations came to him and asked what he intended to do with the degree he was pursuing. Lytle told him he wanted to become a maintenance officer. But one day, on the flightline, Lytle's career trajectory took a turn.

Transition to the cockpit

"One morning I was sitting on an F-16 fixing a gun issue that had been giving us trouble for a few days," remembered Lytle. "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. He started building his package to submit to the board while maintaining maximum performance levels as a weapons loader.

"I was sweating, waiting for an answer," said Lytle. "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 ARB. It was an opportunity that, at the time, he couldn't pass up. He accepted and began moving.

Shortly after moving to Homestead, Fla., 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," said Lytle. "Then the gravity of it all hit me, and I knew I couldn't mess up."

But before pilot training, Lytle had to first find a base that needed a new fighter pilot. He was planning on filling a pilot slot back at Bergstrom, 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," said Lytle. "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 at Bergstrom was about to become the new wing commander at Homestead ARB. Because of Lytle's reputation for his dedication and work ethic, the commander said he'd make sure Lytle would have a spot at Homestead ARB.

"I was meant to be at Homestead," said Lytle.

Life in the cockpit

"I kid you not, pilot training was the most intense thing I have ever been through because they're throwing so much information at you all at once," said Lytle. "All my free time went to studying. Being a pilot is hard work, but it's highly rewarding knowing you're keeping the guys on the ground safe."

According to Lt. Col. Timothy Rusch, 93rd FS director of operations, due to his diverse experience, Lytle truly understands what the maintainers go through, which gives him a unique perspective as a pilot.

"My heart is on the line," said Lytle. "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 line."

During a recent operational readiness inspection, Lytle was key in the 93rd FS's communications with maintenance, said Rusch.

"He efficiently and effectively gets the job done and considers his people while he does it," said Rusch.

Lytle still loves being out on the flightline and finds every possible opportunity to get out there. He still looks back on his time as a weapons loader as a vital asset in his career experience.

"I know about the long hours that are involved in keeping this jet armed and mission ready," he 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."

Lytle's career to date consists of five years as a weapons loader and 16 as a pilot. He has no exit strategy at this point and looks forward to many more rewarding years in the sky.