Zoe Kotnik, the first woman to head the F-16 Viper demonstration team, has been relieved of her command. A statement from Col. Derek O’Malley of the 20th Fighter Wing said that Captain Kotnik, 30, was removed because Col. O’Malley had “lost confidence in her ability to lead the team.”
The colonel went on to say, “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 referred to this being a “difficult time for Capt. Kotnik, but she’s surrounded by wingmen that will help her every step of the way.” The statement concludes with the colonel saying that Major John “Rain” Waters will be restored to lead the team.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Kotnik Was Elevated to Commander on January 29
There has been no elaboration on the reason for Kotnik’s removal. According to Kotnik’s official Air Force profile, she goes by the call sign “SiS.” That biography say that Kotnik graduated in 2011 from the Air Force Academy, where Kotnik studied science and economics. Kotnik earned her wings in 2013. Between February 2015 and 2016, Kotnik was deployed to Kunsan Air Base in South Korea. On January 29, the Viper Demonstration Team announced Kotnik had been named as the new commander in a Marvel Comics style video. Kotnik’s first show as commander was slated to be at Naval Air Station Key West in Florida in March.
2. Kotnik Refers to Herself on Instagram as a ‘Chick Fighter Pilot’ & ‘Girly Girl’
As news of her removal became public, Kotnik deleted her Instagram page. Her last visible post showed her goofing around with Major John “Rain” Waters’ son. Kotnik wrote in the caption, “Sorry @rainwaters27, your family is coming with me on the road this year… ? Just kidding… but seriously. This was too cute not to share.” On her Instagram bio, Kotnik wrote, “Chick Fighter Pilot-Zoomie ‘11-Girly Girl-Traveler-Adventurer-Thrill Seeker-Foodie .Life.Family.Flying.Outdoors. ??Red, White, Blue??.” In September 2010, Kotnik was part of The Wings of Blue Air Force Parachute Demonstration Team who won the U.S. Parachute Association National Skydiving Championships.
Kotnik is a graduate of Poynette High School in Poynette, Wisconsin, 25 miles north of Madison.
3. Kotnik Is the Niece of Famed Acrobatic Pilot Charlie Hillard
Kotnik is the niece of the famed acrobatic pilot Charlie Hillard. Hillard, who was known as a member of the Eagles Aerobatic Team, was killed in a tragic accident in Lakeland, Florida. His Hawker Sea Fury plane flipped over as he came into land at the Sun ‘n Fly event. Hillard was the first American to win the World Aerobatic Championships in 1972. Stripes.com reports that Kotnik’s mother is also a private pilot.
4. Kotnik Got Her Callsign Thanks to Being the Only Woman in Most of Her Military Classes
Kotnik said in an interview that she got her callsign thanks to being the only female in many of her Air Force classes. That led to her being referred to as the “little sister.” During the same interview, Kotnik said that it was when she saw the female pilot of a NASA T-38 Talon supersonic jet, she knew she wanted to be a pilot. Kotnik said, “It was at that moment that I realized, “Oh my God, that’s exactly what I can do. And it was that alone, having that visual to realize it was something I could do as well.” Kotnik added, “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. I hope to be a source of inspiration and motivation they can draw from.”
5. Kotnik Says She ‘Grew Up With the Blood to Fly’
Kotnik said in a 2015 interview that she “grew up with the blood to fly.” Kotnik said that she had huge exposure to aviation from a young age.