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Reverse Thrust! Air Force Removes First Female Command Pilot

Capt. Zoe Kotnik, the Air Force’s first female single-ship aerial demonstration pilot, was removed from duty on Monday due to an undisclosed reason. (USAF SrA K. Reaves)

SHAW, AFB — Capt. Zoe Kotnik, the Air Force’s first female single-ship aerial demonstration pilot, was quickly removed from duty on Monday only 13 days following her selection to the position.

Capt. Kotnik’s selection as the first female to command and pilot the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team on January 29 was met with a hugly popular response nationwide. The Air Force declined to provide details into what led to her quick dismissal.

F-16 Viper Demo crew stand poised beside Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnik as she taxis her F-16CM on the flight line at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., on Jan. 28. (USAF SrA K. Reaves)

“I removed Capt. Kotnik from her position as the commander of the Viper Demo team (Monday), because I lost confidence in her ability to lead the team,” Col. Derek O’Malley, Commander of 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw AFB, said on Tuesday. “Major (John) Waters, last season’s Viper Demo pilot has resumed command, so the team is in great hands, and the show will go on.”

When asked by for details into Capt. Kotnik’s removal, Shaw AFB chief spokesperson Capt. Alannah Staver was unable to provide additional information. He did confirm, “The team is working to minimize impacts on scheduled performances and looks forward to inspiring crowds around the country during their upcoming season.

Capt. Zoe Kotnik was a popular choice as the next F-16 Viper Demo pilot across social media. Many had compared her to the fictional comic book heroine Captain Marvel. (USAF)

As the first female single-ship demonstration pilot, Kotnik’s was excited at the opportunity to inspire future female pilots. Her social media account, filled with recent in flight video and comments of gratitude, had been removed late Monday. 

“What I’m looking forward to most is the potential to have an influence on younger generations,” Capt. Kotnik said from Shaw AFB on Jan. 29. “I know firsthand how impactful airshows can be and what a difference it makes to young people to see just one example of what they too can do and who they can become.”

Kotnik, call sign “SiS”, had been certified by Air Combat Command for her new position following a sunrise flight. Capt. Kotnik had completed over 30 practice missions before the certification. “SiS” has over 1,000 hours piloting jet aircraft.

“As good people, like Capt. Kotnik make mistakes, I want them to have the opportunity to learn from them without being under public scrutiny, and to continue to be a part of this great service,” Col. O’Malley continued. “They’ll be better for the experience, and in turn, we’ll be better as an Air Force.”

Last season’s Viper Demo pilot, Maj. John “Rain” Waters has resumed command and will return as the pilot for a third straight season. The team’s first air show is March 30 and 31 at NAS Key West, Fla.

(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)

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Charles Atkeison

Written by Charles Atkeison

Charles A Atkeison is a long time aerospace journalist having covered both military and civilian aviation, plus 30 space shuttle launches from Cape Canaveral. He has produced multimedia aerospace content for CNN, London's Sky News, radio, print, and the web for twenty years. From flying with his father at age 5 to soaring as a VIP recently with the Navy's Blue Angels and USAF Thunderbirds, Charles continues to enjoy all aspects of flight.

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