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.
“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 AvGeekery.com 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.
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.)