As one of only two female African-American pilots in the Air Force , Capt. Christina Hopper is a rarity. She is also the first and only Black female F-16 Fighting Falcon instructor pilot at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Hooper is also the first female Black F-16 pilot to fight in a war, flying about 50 missions and logging 800 hours in Iraq. When Hooper flies an F-16, she flies solo, acting as pilot, navigator and bombardier.
While in Iraq, Hopper saw hostilities escalate and the potential of war become more pronounced. “Sure enough, while we were there, they basically froze everybody that was in theater and said we were going to stay there until Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off,” she told the The Arizona Republic Newspaper. “Once the war kicked off, we were flying anywhere from two to three times a day, so it really added up fast.”
One of her greatest anxieties was being captured, but she tried not to dwell on it. “It wasn’t something I focused on, but it’s something that kind of played in the back of my mind,” said Hopper, whose hometown is San Antonio.
Despite her parents’ Air Force careers, Hopper didn’t think she wanted to join the service, so she attended the University of Texas at Austin. Before her freshman year, she met with an Air Force recruiter at the university, who made the Air Force sound good. Hopper decided to try the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program for a year.
Hopper was a competitive swimmer, and her ROTC commander let her balance her athletic pursuits with the program, which persuaded her to stay in ROTC through college. She began her freshman year in the premed program and studying psychology. She thought that perhaps she’d be a doctor in the Air Force, but she decided after her freshman year that premed wasn’t really the direction she should go. She dropped those classes but stuck with the psychology major, considering that military intelligence might be a good route to take.
Then, in her junior year in college, her ROTC commander talked to her about becoming a pilot. “I told him, ‘No sir, I don’t think I should do that,’ ” she told the Arizona Republic. She eventually applied for a pilot slot in her junior year, qualified and began her training. Hooper competed against her peers in a merit-based competition and ended up an F-16 pilot. She says that while it’s easy piloting the F-16, because it is like a flying computer, it’s not easy to fly it well.
Hopper earned four Air Medals and one Aerial Achievement Medal in the war. Three of the Air Medals were for the amount of time she spent flying in combat, and one of them was for flying through rain and blowing sand and completing her mission despite her aircraft being struck by lighting and losing her jet’s anti-aircraft warning system.
Hopper has kept the legacy going with her husband Aaron, also an Air Force pilot and an F-15 pilot in the 522nd Fighter Squadron.