“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,” Col. Allen Herritage, director of public affairs at ACC, said 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.”
Herritage would not comment further on what led to Kotnik’s removal, citing privacy concerns.
Air Force Times asked the 20th if Kotnik wished to comment, but has not yet received a response.
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.
Kotnik’s selection garnered a great deal of press and social media attention. The Viper team posted a tweet last month announcing her selection that nodded to the advertising campaign for the Marvel Studios movie “Captain Marvel,” which depicts a superhero who starts out as a female Air Force fighter pilot.
Kotnik’s first show as part of the Viper team’s 2019 schedule was to be at an air show at Naval Air Station Key West in Florida, on March 30 and 31, according to ACC’s website.