Colonel Christopher J. Sopko: 2021 Hall of Fame Alumni

Christopher Sopko, Class of 1997, is working at the Pentagon after being promoted to colonel in the Air Force and has also been promoted to captain with United Airlines. Chris has logged over 13,000 total hours of flight time in general aviation, the military and the airlines.

His work at the Pentagon involves determining strategy with the Air Force’s Air Staff, also referred to as Air Force Futures, which is designated A5/7. Its mission is ensuring that the Air Force meets the needs of today’s warfighter to fly, fight and win as well as developing the future warfighter.

As a command pilot with over 6,000 military flight hours, Chris has been a flight instructor/evaluator of three different mobility weapon systems including the C-130H, C-17A and C-27J Spartan. He wrote the book on tactics and techniques in combat for the Spartan and was one of the first operational pilots chosen to test fly it.

Chris has logged 840 hours of combat time conducting tactical airlift during 670 combat sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan. These included assault landings on unimproved runways, night vision goggle assault landings and combat airdrops of military supplies and humanitarian aid.

His three deployments to Iraq and Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom and four deployments to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom involved airdrops by C-130 and C-27. These airdrops provided supplies and ammunition to troops in contact with enemy fighters including the Taliban. He received the Hometown Heroes Salute presented by President George Bush in 2001.

His combat missions earned him eight Air Medals, one Army Commendation Medal and one Air Force Achievement Medal. He also commanded relief efforts to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Superstorm Sandy. He volunteered for a flight to deliver supplies when Pakistan suffered an earthquake.

Chris has been directly responsible for the training and readiness of 76 airmen. He began flying the C-17 in 2011 after being transferred to the 89th Squadron in Dayton. As commander of the 445th Operational Support Squadron at Wright-Patterson AFB, he supervised flights of nine C-17A Globemaster III aircraft, which include the full spectrum of military operations.

In August of ’21, while in the Air Force Reserves, Chris commanded Airmen who flew over 1,000 Afghanistan refugees and Americans out of Kabul. The entire operation was the largest Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation airlift in U.S. history, carrying over 124,000 people safely out of enemy territory in 17 days.

As difficult as it may be to imagine Chris’ current status in the Air Force Reserves is “only” his part-time job, he has for 14 years flown as First Officer with Continental and United Airlines. When named captain of the B-737, he had logged 6,420 hours in that airplane.

Chris’ determination and abilities in aeronautical science involved many pursuits, starting with his finishing undergraduate study and training at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. He completed that program by earning Summa Cum Laude status (4.0) in three years instead of the usual four. A fellow officer and friend of Chris said, “he achieved every major milestone a pilot can, faster than almost anyone else.”

In 2002 he graduated with the highest academic average of his class in the Air Force’s Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training. In 2005 he was named Distinguished Graduate of C-130H Aircraft Commander Upgrade Training. He received his master’s degree of Military Operational Art and Science, from the Air Force’s Air University, in 2017. He then graduated from Air War College in 2020.

Volunteer work includes serving in United’s pilot development program. He also evaluated software upgrades for the return to service re-certification following two accidents of Boeing’s 737max jets.

Chris is one of those rare people gifted in nearly any academic pursuit. At RHS, not only did he have eleven years of perfect attendance; he was also a three year letterman with the tennis team and four year letterman in soccer. He achieved National Honor Society and Four-Year Scholarship Club and participated in University for Young Americans, various seminars and Mock Trial. He earned the Presidential Academic & Fitness Award and the Rotary Award, in addition to two scholarships. Spare time found him working at McDonald’s.

Chris is engaged to Leah McIntyre, and a wedding is planned for this spring.

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