J. R. Lyons learned to fly in 1940 while attending the University of Michigan. He taught acrobatics and instrument programs, and was a test pilot on B24s at Willow Run.
Hired by American Airlines in late 1943, he was given company seniority on January 12, 1944. He received the Distinguished Service Award from AAL in March of 1945 which states "Radioed circumstances and then landed aircraft practically out of control after being damaged in a mid-air collision over Saline, Michigan - December 24, 1944."
He was elected senior copilot representative of the New York Domicile in 1945 and to the Negotiating Committee that same year. As a member of the Board of Directors of ALPA, he began a period of 35 years of continuous service on behalf of his fellow AAL pilots. He retained these positions until moving to San Francisco in 1952. There, either as senior copilot representative or as chairman of the San Francisco domicile, he was on ALPA's Board of Directors until APA was formed in 1963.
In 1956, he was elected Chairman of the Negotiating Committee, a position held until becoming the first elected vice president of APA in 1964 which he held for two terms. He served several terms as chairman of the SFO domicile prior to his election as president of APA in 1976.
Captain Lyons retired in October of 1980. He has consulted for APA and has attended all Board meetings since.