Capt. Zoe Kotnik, the first female pilot to head the F-16 Viper demonstration team, was relieved of command Monday.
“Col. Derek O’Malley, 20th Fighter Wing commander, relieved Capt. Zoe Kotnik from command Feb. 11 due to a loss of confidence in her ability to lead and command the Air Combat Command F-16 Viper demonstration team,” said Col. Allen Herritage, director of public affairs at ACC, in a statement.
“The Viper demonstration team is working to minimize impacts on scheduled performances and looks forward to inspiring crowds around the country during the upcoming season as soon as a new commander is selected.”
No details have been released regarding what prompted the sudden loss of confidence in Kotnik’s ability to lead, but the announcement is sure to ruffle feathers throughout the aviation community and beyond. Kotnik’s command of the Viper team prompted headlines around the nation, touting the young pilot’s accomplishments as an aviator and drawing comparisons between the female pilot and the protagonist of the forthcoming “Captain Marvel” film.
Maj. John “Rain” Waters, last season’s Viper demo pilot, has resumed command in Kotnik’s place, O’Malley said.
Kotnik, an F-16C pilot whose call sign is “SiS,” was certified as the Viper team leader by ACC commander Gen. Mike Holmes on Jan. 29. She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2011, earned her wings in 2013, and has more than 1,000 flying hours in military aircraft. She deployed to Kunsan Air Base in South Korea for a year, from February 2015 to February 2016. She also has flown air defense missions in support of Operation Noble Eagle.
The Viper team is a single-ship demonstration team that performs precision aerial maneuvers to show the F-16′s capabilities at air shows and other events such as the Super Bowl, as well as flying in Air Force Heritage Flight formations. In addition to being the first woman to head the Viper team, Kotnik is also the first female single-ship tactical demonstration pilot in the Air Force.
The service even likened Kotnik to the upcoming superhero flick “Captain Marvel,” in which actress Brie Larson plays an F-16 pilot.
Kotnik, of Poynette, Wisconsin, comes from an aviation-enthusiast family, according to Stars and Stripes.. She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2011 and was selected for undergraduate pilot training, flying the T-6B Texan II and the T-38C Talon, according to her official Air Force biography.
After earning her wings in October 2013, she moved to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and learned to fly the F-16C Fighting Falcon. Kotnik was the chief of training for the 55th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Shaw for three years before switching to the Viper team.