Employee story - Robert Luthy, Florida Airline Academy Director

by L3 Commercial Aviation on 12/20/2018

To complete our ‘looking back’ blog series this month, we sat down with the Director of our U.S. Airline Academies, Robert Luthy, to learn a bit about his extensive history with aviation, and discover his journey to where he is today.

Can you provide an overview of your experience and what lead you to your role?

Sure! To start from the very beginning, in 1986 I joined the Navy with the hopes of flying fighter jets. After going on two cruises and gaining experience flying, I was provided the opportunity to attend TOPGUN. I was extended the incredible honor of being invited back as an instructor from 1993-1996.  The training I received from my initial squadron and the graduate training received from TOPGUN helped me to understand how to train people and be a good instructor for the rest of my life.  After that, I went on to become a Strike Fighter Weapons training Instructor, teaching air-to-ground and air-to-air, and was a department head in both maintenance and operations. Next, I moved to Nevada to take over the Air Wing Training program where we trained entire Air Wings how to work together to better accomplish large force execution.

In 2000, I left the active Navy and began a career at Delta Airlines. I also joined VFA-203 (a Strike Fighter Squadron of the Reserves) as their Operational Officer, flying FA-18s. Around this time, I was also working as a consultant on numerous military programs.

Come 2002, I went back into active duty - this time in the Air Force. As a Deputy Commander, I was in charge of managing over 330 officers and enlisted men and women, and later on as a Director of Operations of a large Replacement Training Unit (RTU), I managed the training of over 730 students. In 2006 I took over management of all Air Force flying regulations at the Air Force Flight Standards Agency.  Upon retiring from the military, I returned to Delta to fly commercially. In between airline trips, I worked at a small startup in Oil and Gas called Check 6 Inc., over the next seven years, we grew substantially and I ended up as the Chief Operating Officer (COO).  The company grew from the original six to almost 400 employees and consultants by 2015.  In 2015, I was hired by L3 as a Director of Business Development for the Air Force and Navy, and in 2017 I was offered a role as Director of U.S. Airline Academies, which brings us up to date.

Did you always know that you wanted to fly or join the military?

No, absolutely not. I was a senior in college working on a B.S. in Finance; I went on a second interview to a finance firm and I absolutely hated it. After realizing that was not the career for me I kind of freaked out, thinking “oh my god I just wasted 4 years of my life.”

In February of 1986 I went to a job fair at Virginia Tech and saw a “Fly Navy -See the World” type banner next to booth that had both Air Force and the Navy recruiters. That peaked my interest, so I thought about it for a little and said if I am going to fly, I want to fly something fast. Being the finance major I was, I went and asked both the Air Force and the Navy recruiters what percentage of aircraft they had that were fighters. As it turns out, the Air Force had more airplanes, but the Navy had a higher percentage of fighters. So I took a military entrance exam and the recruiter told me I had one of the highest scores they received that year and tried to hire me on the spot. Having never been in a plane before in my life I was obviously a little nervous.

Before agreeing to sign anything, I took some time and talked to my father who said he would have loved the opportunity. Being a veteran himself, he said he always wanted to fly but couldn’t his due to eye sight. For a second opinion, I called up my uncle, who was a WWII P38 pilot and flew for United. He basically told me that flying would be a great choice, since I would have a career if I stayed in the military or not; plus, if I could get into the fighter program I would have a lot of fun.

Do you remember your first flight?

Of course, it was in a T34 C Turbo Mentor in December of 1986 out of Whiting Field in Florida.  My start date for AOCS (Aviation Officer Candidate School) was July 4 and I finished in October and two months later I finally got to start my flight training.

What was your call sign?

Lex. As in “Lex Luthor”, the world’s greatest criminal mind from Superman.  The fact that I kept a call sign that was a play on my name meant I never screwed anything up bad enough to get another one.  That is a good thing!

Out of all of your experience, what would you say is the most memorable moment?

The most memorable moment, at least in the military side of things, is being selected as an instructor at TOPGUN. Very few instructors are selected to teach there every year, so it was an incredible honor to have the opportunity to instruct some of the best fighter pilots in the Country.

With all that time flying, I am sure you have plenty of great stories. Are there any lessons you learned that weren’t taught to you that stand out?

Yeah and I could tell you stories for hours about funny or interesting things that went on in the air and the lessons I’ve learned from them. I think one of the most important lessons I took away is: if/when you’re in an unfamiliar environment, always be cautious. One of the numerous times I learnt that lesson was in Fallon, Nevada, during the summer. Fallon is at a fairly high altitude, not at sea level like Navy pilots are used to being and it was very hot outside.  We were carrying a max load of bombs to the range. Ordinarily, in the F-14, there is so much thrust from afterburner that we can take off in a short distance with no problems. We had more than enough runway for a typical take off, we did it all the time with much less room, but the conditions this time were different. We were too high up, too heavy, and it was too hot out (high, hot and heavy). My RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) and I discussed the fact that we hadn’t really been in these conditions before and he double checked the planes performance chart. Funny enough, it ended up that we were falling into a very small hatch area of the chart that meant we had to take off at Military power with the flaps down to safely take off.  Without this last check, we would not have been able to generate enough lift to leave the runway safely.  Being that we were on the side of a mountain, in conditions we weren’t used to, we are very fortunate that we were extra cautious and went back to double check the charts.

Is there any other message you want to give to members of younger generations that may be interested in becoming a pilot?

The first thing I can say on this is that in any job you are considering, you need to look at three main factors; called a three-decision matrix. Job satisfaction, location, and compensation. So job satisfaction means will you be satisfied doing this job? Everyone wants something different out of a career, so you need to evaluate if this job will bring you satisfaction. Next, is the job in a desirable location? This will differ from person to person – some people want to be on the beach and some want to be close to family. Lastly, compensation is exactly that - will you be paid the amount needed to provide yourself with a comfortable or manageable lifestyle?

I wouldn’t do what I do if I didn’t firmly believe the airline industry has an amazing combination of all three of those things. Flying provides amazing job satisfaction, the pay in the industry is the highest it has ever been, and you can basically live wherever you want to when you work for an airline, so location can be where you want it to be.

The second thing I want to say is that if you really want to be a professional pilot and aim to have a career in the industry, attending a part 141 (full time flight training program) can provide a more efficient and standardized learning experience compared to other part time flight programs (part 61).

Lastly, and sorry here’s the sales piece, if you are considering becoming a pilot then you really should give our admissions team a call. We have, what I believe to be, the best people in the industry who can give some really great help and advice, so if you have questions or are looking to begin training, give them a call at +1800 YOUCANFLY.