- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Chris Patterakis, a former commander of the Air Force Thunderbirds and a decorated fighter pilot, died May 9. He was 70.

Maj. Patterakis died of unknown causes while visiting Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, said his brother, Mike Patterakis.

Maj. Patterakis commanded the Thunderbirds flight demonstration team based at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas from 1975 to 1977.

“He just had a lot of charisma,” said Dick Pfeiffer, who served as Maj. Patterakis’ crew chief. “When he walked out on the flight line, you knew he was on the flight line.”

The son of Greek immigrants, he flew 315 combat missions during the Vietnam War. In 1978, Maj. Patterakis launched an unsuccessful bid for Congress. He later started his own local telephone company and worked for 10 years as a pilot for United Airlines until his retirement in 2001.

“He didn’t sit still,” said boyhood friend Glen Streeter.

The Pentagon lured Maj. Patterakis out of retirement shortly after September 11, 2001.

He and his wife, Vicki Patterakis, left their Modesto, Calif., home and moved to Northern Virginia. He was named a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force, assigned to oversee programs intended to boost ethnic, gender and economic diversity in the military.

Maj. Patterakis, who was born in New Mexico, joined the Air Force three days after graduating from Modesto High School in 1953.

He served the next four years on active duty as an enlisted man before earning his commission and pilot’s wings through the peacetime Air National Guard.

In Vietnam, Maj. Patterakis flew an F-4C “Phantom II” out of Cam Ranh Bay. He received several decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He was considered a promising Republican candidate when a Northern San Joaquin Valley House seat opened up in 1978. Without political experience, he challenged but lost to Democrat Tony Coelho, a seasoned Capitol Hill staffer.

His military colleagues remembered Maj. Patterakis for his strong leadership.

“You would just follow him to hell and back,” said Bob Gore, a former Air Force colleague.

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