MANSFIELD — 17-year-old Kyle Matern was preparing to graduate from Madison High School when one fateful trip to the Air Force Museum in Dayton cemented his future.
Now, six years later, Kyle is fulfilling his teenage dream as a dedicated crew chief on the F-16 Viper Demo Team, an air show team based out of South Carolina.
“I picked the Air Force just because I liked the options and the interaction I had with that recruiter,” Kyle said. “Then once I stepped foot in the museum, I saw my first space shuttle, I sat in my first cockpit, I just fell in love with aviation.”
Way before Kyle committed to the Air Force, his mom, Nita Matern, said her “spitfire” of a son loved the excitement of speed – dirt bikes, planes, anything that went fast.
Nita said both of her boys, Kyle and his older brother Cody, were born ambitious and hardworking. Almost never at home, Kyle and Cody kept busy working and playing a variety of sports.
Kyle grew up learning Jiu Jitsu from the age of 3, played baseball, and later wrestled and played golf in high school.
Nita said Kyle’s decision to play golf came on a bit of a whim, but like everything else, he succeeded at it.
“He had never played,” Nita said. “We had to borrow clubs, but he just taught himself to golf, and then he got most improved golfer at Madison. He went from being the worst golfer to the most improved golfer in no time.”
When Kyle joined the Air Force in 2016, Nita and her husband Greg admitted to being a little nervous — but looking back, said they could not be prouder of the path Kyle took.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Kyle began Basic Military Training in San Antonio, and was then deployed to Kuwait as a crew chief for nine months. That deployment resulted in Kyle being named Airman of the Year in 2019.
During that deployment that Kyle began college online through Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
This past April, Kyle graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in aeronautics and double minors in corporate management and aviation management. In addition to completing the program in three and a half years, Kyle made Dean’s list every semester.
When Kyle came back from deployment, he heard slots were available for the demo team, and decided to pursue a position. After a rigorous series of interviews, Kyle landed a position in the eight-person team as the dedicated crew chief.
“Being on a demo team, especially for the Air Force, is extremely special and very rare,” Kyle said.
“There were seven people who interviewed for two slots available, and I was thankful to get one of those slots, which was awesome,” he continued. “I’ve been on the team since the end of 2019, and it has provided some of the best opportunities I’ve ever had in my life.”
The team’s F-16C Fighting Falcon, affectionately known as the “Viper,” is a single-seat, easily maneuvered aircraft used to demonstrate the capabilities of one of the Air Force’s premier multi-role fighters.
As a dedicated crew chief, Kyle’s main job is to service and oversee maintenance done on the aircraft.
“The last thing Rebel (the pilot) needs, pulling nine G’s (nine times the normal gravitational force) at 500 feet, going 500 miles an hour, is to worry about what her aircraft is doing,” Kyle said.
“So my job is to worry about the aircraft itself and to make sure she’s safe and ready to go.”
Kyle said that one of the purposes behind air shows is recruiting, but also showing people what “their taxpayer dollars are supporting,” as some people might not understand the role of the Air Force and fighter mission.
Kyle said his favorite part of the job, besides working on the jet and spending time with the other members of the demo team, is the chance to interact with people at the air shows.
“When we’re in the tent in our uniforms, and we’re talking to little kids, handing them stickers, we get to show them a piece of the Air Force,” he said. “We show them different routes they could go if they wanted to join the Air Force, what Air Force life is like, and get to interact with them on a personal level.”
Although Kyle’s time with the demo team just started a couple years ago, it will come to an end in November with his last show in Stuart, Florida.
Demo team members usually have a limit of two years on the team, but Kyle was lucky enough to have three as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kyle said it will be a bittersweet ending to such an amazing opportunity, but he’s excited to have recently been selected for Officer Training School and will be awaiting a commission in 2023.
No matter his next steps, Kyle said he is grateful to know that he’ll always have the support of his family.
Way back in high school, Kyle met his now-wife Brooke through a mutual friend. The two were married in 2017 when they were both 18, and have two sons, 2-year-old Kane and 10-month-old Grayson.
“It’s unbelievable to have somebody behind me that not only supports my every decision, but I can sit down and I can talk to her about everything,” Kyle said.
“It’s just a feeling that you don’t often get, so to have that with my family and with her, it’s amazing … I’ve been so lucky to have her.”
Brooke said Kyle’s crazy schedule has never gotten in the way of family. Kyle calls every day to check on his family, and when he is home, drops everything to spend time with them
“I’m so proud of him,” Brooke said. “He has sacrificed so much for our family, and he just continues to amaze me all the time. He’s an awesome dad and loves what he does.
“He’s getting ready to go onto bigger, better things, and I just couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Kyle’s parents feel the same way. Kyle’s dad, Greg, said it has been rewarding to see his son become such a great father, and is excited to see him become an officer.
Kyle and the demo team have been busy traveling all over the country, but are getting ready to make a couple stops in the Buckeye state. The team will be in Dayton this weekend, July 30 and 31, and will then make their way to Cleveland for the first weekend in September.
Along with Kyle, one of the team’s safety observers is also from Ohio, so Kyle said the two of them are ready to show off their home state.
“We both brag about Ohio with the ‘O-H’ ‘I-O’ and ‘Go Bucks,’ so we’re excited to get there and show everybody what Ohio is like,” Kyle said.
The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.