John Coperthwaite Tyler was born in Brooklyn, New York on May 25, 1893. He studied at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Preparatory School, graduating in 1911. He then entered Williams College. During his time at Williams he was on the Football team for three years, joined the Honor System Committee and the Psi Upsilon Fraternity. Upon graduating from Williams in 1915, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from which he graduated in 1917 with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.
Tyler then enlisted in the Aviation Section, United States Signal Corps and entered the Ground School of Military Aeronautics on June 1917. Along with nine other honor students from his class, he was sent overseas to France in August 1917. He received his flying training in Tours, Issoudun, and Clermont-Ferrand and achieved his brevet or pilot's license in December.
On January 11, 1918, Tyler was commissioned First Lieutenant. He continued his training until July, where for two months he served as bombing pilot with the French Escadrille, Breguet 129, Secteur Postal 25. On July 16, his first day over enemy lines, he received the Croix de Guerre. He then participated in two more offensives with the French Escadrille.
Around September 1, 1918, Tyler was transferred as Flight Commander to the 11th Aero Squadron of the United States Army. On September 18, while returning with other aviators after bombing a railroad center, Tyler's plane was shot down in combat with the Richthofen Circus at Labrysur-Conflans. Both Tyler and his observer were killed. At first, it was reported that he was "missing in action". However, after the Armistice, his grave was discovered by an army chaplain who was on his way to Germany with the American Army of Occupation.
Tyler's memorial service was held in Brooklyn, New York at the Church of the Pilgrims on March 2, 1919.