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Luke | Aiming High: the legacy of Skip Hopler

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Dominic Tyler
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Edwin “Skip” Hopler’s funeral and internment were held at the National Memorial Cemetery June 6, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Skip is a legend,” said Travis Byrom, 56th Fighter Wing F-35 training operations manager. “He was an incredible pilot, leader, and mentor. The impact Skip had on the Air Force F-16 community is unmatched.”

From flying F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam to training the world’s greatest fighter pilots at Luke Air Force Base, the legacy of Skip Hopler flies high and in sync with the United States Air Force.

Hopler’s flight path began in 1966 during the Vietnam War. He trained in the F-4 Phantom at a replacement training unit in Moody AFB, Georgia. At the time, RTUs were set up to train Airmen to replace pilots coming back from their one-year tour overseas in Vietnam.

After his training, Hopler deployed twice to Danang Air Base, Vietnam, and flew 389 missions in two years.

In 1971, Hopler landed at Luke AFB as an F-4 Instructor Pilot until 1975. Over the years, as aviation technology evolved, so did the Air Force and its warfighting aircraft. Hopler followed suit.

In 1978, Hopler became one of the first of 50 fighter pilots to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon. When the first F-16 training squadron opened at Hill AFB, Utah, he helped write the syllabus for the F-16 pilot program.

After 3,800 hours in the cockpit and over 21 years of service, he retired his wings in 1988. But his flight with USAF aircraft continued.

Hopler spent the next few decades training fighter pilots. He was directly responsible for training over 17,000 F-16 fighter pilots from 1988 to 2013.

“I’ve known Skip for over 42 years now and though I’m a couple inches taller, I’ve always looked up to him.” said Yogi Kasl, retired Lockheed Martin F-35 training operations manager and former student of Holpler. “He made an impact on all 17,000 fighter pilots that trained to protect our country. He was a great boss, mentor, and friend I will miss dearly.”

In 2014, he became the lead training operations manager at Luke AFB and guided the opening of the F-35 Lightning II Academic Training Center.

Before retiring in 2018, Hopler oversaw training of 400 F-35 pilots from the Air Force, joint forces, and partner nations.

Hopler’s contributions to the development of the F-16 and F-35 training programs were paramount to the capabilities of combat-ready Airmen. His life and legacy are remembered by his friends, family, and the thousands upon thousands of students he’s lead over the years.