“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,” reads a statement made by Col. Allen Herritage, director of public affairs at the Air Force’s Air Combat Command.
“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 Capt. Kotnik’s ability to lead, but the announcement is sure to ruffle feathers throughout the aviation community and beyond. Capt. 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.
She is also the Air Force’s first female single-ship tactical demonstration pilot! pic.twitter.com/ol67541aRe
— F-16 Viper Demo Team (@ViperDemoTeam) January 29, 2019
In fact, despite announcing that Capt. Kotnik has been relieved of her command, the Shaw Air Force Base Twitter account still prominently features a number of tweets praising her role as the Viper team commander.
— Dr. Heather Wilson (@SecAFOfficial) January 30, 2019
— Matt Donovan (@USecAF_Official) January 30, 2019
An accomplished pilot, Capt. Kotnik boasts over 1,000 hours of flight time in various military aircraft, earning her not only the role of first female Viper demo team commander, but also the distinction of being the Air Force’s first female single-ship tactical demonstration pilot in history.
The grounds for Capt. Kotnik’s dismissal have not yet been revealed, but it can be assumed that this situation will be the subject of both internal investigation and media scrutiny in the weeks to come.