First Female F-16 Demo Team Commander Suddenly Removed From Team

posted in: Military | 3

Capt Zoe Kotnik Climbs into F-16

Less than two weeks after being confirmed as the 2019 USAF F-16 demonstration pilot and leader of the demo team – the first female commander of any single ship ACC demo team – Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnik has been removed from the position.

Col. Derek O’Malley, the commander of the 20th Fighter Wing which is located at Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC, removed Kotnik after losing confidence in her ability to lead. His statement was posted the on the team’s Facebook page midday Tuesday, shocking many in the airshow community.

Kotnik’s appointment to the Viper Demo Team was quite popular, with many applauding the choice of a female to lead the team. She was labeled a “real-life Captain Marvel” in reference to the upcoming movie that stars a female Air Force fighter pilot who becomes a superhero. The marketing practically wrote itself and the fanfare of her appointment now shines a huge spotlight on this sudden change.

“It was exciting to have the first female demo team pilot here at Shaw, but I’m also just as excited about the many other females that are serving with great distinction across our Air Force. I’m proud to serve with them, and I’m inspired by them. Even as I speak, another female pilot from the 20th Fighter Wing is flying combat missions in the Middle East,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley’s statement reads extremely similarly to the one issued in 2017 when the leader of the USAF Thunderbirds was also relieved of his position. The key phrase in both cases was “loss of confidence” in the ability to lead.

USAF F-16 Viper Demonstration Team - AirshowStuff

As commander of the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team, Kotnik was responsible for leading the 17-member unit whose mission is to inspire the next generation of pilots and maintainers, and to represent the Air Combat Command, United States Air Force, Department of Defense, and the United States of America at more than 20 air shows annually. She also was responsible for overseeing maintenance and conducting the demonstration in the air.

The outgoing demonstration pilot, Maj. John “Rain” Waters, will now stay on to lead the team and fly the demonstrations for at least the 2019 season, which will be his third.

Capt. Kotnik graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2011 and earned her wings in 2013. She has over 1,000 hours in military aircraft.

The team’s first performance in 2019 is scheduled for March 30-31st at Naval Air Station Key West in Florida. At this time, it’s not known how this decision could impact the season.

Here is the full statement from 20th Fighter Wing commander Col. Derek O’Malley:

Viper Demo Team friends and family, please see a message below from the 20th Fighter Wing commander.

I removed Capt. Kotnik from her position as the commander of the Viper Demo team yesterday, because I lost confidence in her ability to lead the team.

I know that loss of confidence is a common response from the Air Force, whenever someone is removed from a command position, and I think it’s important to understand why we take this approach.

We have thousands of Airmen across our Air Force serving our country, and not one of them is perfect. 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. This will be a difficult time for Capt. Kotnik, but she’s surrounded by wingmen that will help her every step of the way.

It was exciting to have the first female demo team pilot here at Shaw, but I’m also just as excited about the many other females that are serving with great distinction across our Air Force. I’m proud to serve with them, and I’m inspired by them. Even as I speak, another female pilot from the 20th Fighter Wing is flying combat missions in the Middle East.

Maj. Waters, last season’s Viper Demo pilot has resumed command, so the team is in great hands, and the show will go on. We’re looking forward to another amazing season with this team.

Col. Derek O’Malley
Commander, 20th Fighter Wing

Blue Angels Rock Oshkosh, Discuss Super Hornet Transition Plans

posted in: Airshows, Jet Teams, Popular Posts | 3

Blue Angels Fly at Oshkosh for the First Time

Oshkosh always has an award winning lineup and many highlights through the week. This year – the show was home to another first.

For the first time ever, the United States Navy Blue Angels flew a full demonstration in the skies over Oshkosh.

The team arrived Wednesday afternoon during the afternoon airshow, announcing their presence with a perfectly-timed (of course) flyby at the end of the national anthem. Only five jets arrived initially, with #3 arriving several hours later and #7 coming in separately after that.

On Thursday, the diamond pilots performed their circle and arrival maneuvers, where they pick out landmarks to use as they fly. They were supposed to do this during the daily airshow, but the aircraft had a small mishap while taxiing out in the interest of safety they canceled. They were able to reschedule for 8pm, after the airport is normally closed. Two jets took off and completed the necessary maneuvers just in time. Fans who stayed noted the rare chance to see the Blues jets with afterburner glow and lights on. The solo pilots performed their circle and arrival flight on Friday morning.

Noticeably absent from the show was the Blue Angels’ famous blue and gold C-130 Hercules, Fat Albert. In the wake of the crash of a USMC C-130T that killed 16 servicemembers, the USMC ordered a safety stand down of all C-130Ts, including Fat Albert. Bert was not only unable to perform, she never even made it to Oshkosh. Instead, the team relied on a Navy C-40 Clipper, the military version of the Boeing 737-700C, to bring in their maintenance crew and some equipment.

US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017

The Blue Angels also participated in a popular Theater in the Woods event on Friday, July 28th. During this appearance, they spoke about being on the team and took questions from the audience. A couple of the questions were particularly interesting; when asked about female Blue Angel pilots in the future, Blue Angel #1 revealed that there have been no female F/A-18 applicants for the past two recruitment cycles. The team has never had a female fly as a Hornet demonstration pilot.

US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017US Navy Blue Angels - EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2017

The transition to the Super Hornet was also discussed. Currently, the team is in their 30th year of flying the Boeing F/A-18 Legacy Hornet. Despite internet rumors of a switch to the Super Hornet in September of this year or at the beginning of the 2018 season, the team plans to continue flying their Hornets for now. In fact, they are currently inducting three “new” Hornets into the squadron.

The target date for transitioning to the Super Hornet is not until 2019, and it was quickly pointed out that it could slip beyond that. There are several Super Hornets already set aside for the team, but they will need to be modified and tested before the pilots can begin training. One step in the right direction was mentioned; apparently a couple (now previous) Blue Angel pilots have already flown the current flight demonstration profile in the Super Hornet simulator and the results seemed positive. Hang in there Rhino fans!

Didn’t get a chance to see the Blue Angels at Oshkosh in person? No worries! We’ve got you covered with a video of their entire Friday performance!