Zoe Kotnik made history when she became the first female Viper demo pilot, but her post as command was short-lived. After just two weeks as commander of the F-16 Viper Demo Team, Kotnik was relieved of her duties.
The news was shared in a statement from the Air Force Times.
“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,” said Col. Allen Herritage, director of public affairs at ACC, 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.”
Exact details of what led to Kotnik being removed and the “loss of confidence in her ability” have not been shared due to privacy concerns.
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Heartbroken to hear that I won't get a chance to meet Zoe Kotnik this year, what happened doesn't really matter and the only thing that does is if she's doing alright and her happiness. After the news from @viperdemoteam regarding her removal from command I have one thing to say to Col. Derek O'Malley from the 20th Fighter Wing. I've managed close to a thousand employees in my lifetime, at various jobs, and I have not once posted on social media that I "Fired someone" after the fact. Look I understand that I don't know what happened but that shouldn't matter, you should handle these "Business decisions" with a little more grace and professionalism than putting a damn good pilot on blast publically. A simple "Zoe stepped down due to personal reasons, we're sad to see her go but happy to see Rain back in the Viper" would have been sufficient. You should be ashamed of yourself…rant off. Credit: @thezoekotnik
Kotnik will no longer perform with the team which is based at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, but “will continue to serve in a non-supervisory role in the 20th Fighter Wing.” O’Malley hinted at “mistakes” made by Kotnik before her removal.
“We have thousands of airmen across our Air Force serving our country, and not one of them is perfect,” O’Malley said. “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. They’ll be better for the experience, and in turn, we’ll be better as an Air Force.”
“In these types of situations, I never forget that we’re dealing with real human beings, that I care deeply about, and that we are charged to take care of,” O’Malley continued. “This will be a difficult time for Capt. Kotnik, but she’s surrounded by wingmen that will help her every step of the way.”
Kotnik was first hired on January 29.