Major General William Lyon, founder of Lyon Air Museum, is a successful businessman, decorated military leader, philanthropist, and a true aviator at heart. Today we cherish and celebrate his beautiful 90 years of life!
William Lyon was born on March 9, 1923, the second son to Susie Mary and Al Lyon. Lyon’s introduction to the military got off to a rough start. In 1929, at the age of 6, he attended military school with his older brother, Leon. Leon attended military school for eight years, and William left after the first grade. “My brother received tons of awards and I had a perfect record of not receiving any,” jokes General Lyon. In high school Lyon was introduced to flying when his friend invited him to take a flying lesson with him. “That got him hooked,” his friend would later express.
After high school Lyon attended the University of Southern California (USC) and was a part of the Naval ROTC. He hoped to get into Naval Aviation, which required two years of college and 20 years of age. But a freshman in college and only eighteen years of age, Lyon wanted to work. So, he left USC to take a part-time job at North American Aviation, serving lunches and dinners to employees. While working at North American, on December 7, 1941 Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This attack caused the Navy to lower their age requirements to 18 years for enlistment. Lyon jumped at the opportunity. Lyon, among many other young men, waited in long lines to enlist. During his physical exam a doctor declined his enlistment because he had a deviated septum. Though disappointed, he did not give up. General Lyon expressed, “My whole being since I was 10 years old, was my interest in flying.” He convinced his parents to send him to flight school. He attended Dallas Aviation School in Texas and received his private license and a commercial rating.
Once licensed, he browsed the yellow pages and called the Civil Aviation Authority offices (Now the FAA). The CAA hired him as a civilian instructor to train military personnel in the Army Air Corps. There he earned his instructors license and was transferred to Tucson, Arizona ironically to train Naval Air Cadets. Then on October 9, 1943 Lyon enlisted in the Army Air Corps reserves. He hoped to become a flying cadet but was not called.
Still a civilian, he decided to enlist in the civil service and went through a program that included instrument training and twin engine training. He was sent to Nashville, Tennessee for officer training, graduated in May of 1944, and entered the military as a warrant officer. As a warrant officer he was assigned to deliver aircraft to the South Pacific and European theaters. His first assignment was to deliver aircraft to Australia. He flew a B-24 to Hawaii and then island hopped each day until he reached Australia. Over the next year Lyon would fly an array aircraft, including B-24 Liberators, A-20 Havocs, P-38 Lightnings, and C-47 Sky Trains. In 1945 he was sent to High Altitude training to fly the C-46 Commando.
After the war, he returned to USC and majored in Commercial Aviation. Yet he wanted to work and again he left the university to pursue his aviation career. Now a second lieutenant, he was assigned to the Air Force Reserve unit in Santa Monica, California. He flew AT-6 Texans and Twin Beeches. The following year he joined the 452nd Bomb Wing in Long Beach. Shortly thereafter in 1950 he was hired by Frontier Airlines.
In 1951 he was called to active duty, was promoted to Captain, and primarily flew C-47s in the Korean War. During active duty he completed 75 missions in 90 days. In doing so he was awarded the Distinguish Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters for his service behind enemy lines.
In 1953 he went to jet training where he flewT-33 Shooting Stars . In 1954 his interests and horizons expanded even further when he entered the home building business. This was the start of what is today William Lyon Homes. Lyon spent the next two decades growing and expanding his home building business.
Still a true aviator at heart, in 1974 he left California to serve as Chief of the Air Force Reserve in Washington, DC. During his service at the Pentagon, the General managed to reform and professionalize the Air Force Reserve. In 1979 he retired as a Major General. Again his passion for aviation did not keep him away from the industry for long. In 1981 he and a partner purchased AirCal Airlines. Several years later in 1987 he sold AirCal to American Airlines and was invited to serve on their Board.
His passion for aviation and motivation to educate the community about aviation, in particular The Greatest Generation in Aviation, brought General Lyon to build and open Lyon Air Museum in December 2009. Today, Lyon Air Museum is part of the Newport Mesa School District 6th grade curriculum. Over 2,000 6th grade students each school year visit Lyon Air Museum for “The Greatest Generation – A WWII Field Trip Experience.” Lyon Air Museum Salutes General Lyon and wishes him a Happy 90th Birthday!