General Lester L. Lyles entered the United States Air Force in 1968 as a distinguished graduate of the Air Force ROTC program. His first assignments included special assistant and aide-de-camp to the commander of Air Force Systems Command and avionics division chief in the F-16 Systems Program Office. He then served as program director of the Medium-Launch Vehicles Program and Space-Launch Systems offices during the recovery from the Challenger Space Shuttle accident.
Lyles served as commander of Ogden Air Logistics Center, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, then commanded the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base. Lyles then became the director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. He was assigned as vice chief of staff at U.S. Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C. He became the commander of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He retired in October 2003.
Lyles has received many awards and decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, and the Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster. He was named Astronautics Engineer of the Year by the National Space Club and received the Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award for outstanding contributions to military equal opportunity policies and programs from the NAACP. He was named Black Engineer of the Year/Lifetime Achievement and received the General Thomas D. White Award for distinguished service in national security from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Lyles serves on the board of directors for KBR Corp. He is a former director of General Dynamics Corp., Battelle Labs and USAA, where he also served as chair.
Lyles has chaired or served on councils related to the U.S. space program, including the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group, the NASA Advisory Council, and the Augustine Space Committee. He has served as an advisor on national security and intelligence issues as a member of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board, the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and the Defense Science Board. Lyles is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and chaired its Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board.
Lyles received his B.S. in mechanical engineering from Howard University and his M.S. in mechanical/nuclear engineering from New Mexico State University. He also received Honorary Doctorate of Laws degrees from New Mexico State University and Urbana University. He is a graduate of the Defense Systems Management College, the Armed Forces Staff College, the National War College, and the National and International Security Management Course at Harvard University.