USAF’s First Woman Flight Commander Sacked After Just 2 Weeks


Earlier, military gender equality advocates everywhere and the USAF’s press service had highly praised Zoe Kotnik, a 30-year-old Air Force captain who earned the distinction of becoming the first woman to take command of the prestigious F-16 Viper demonstration team late last month.

Kotnik was relieved of her command on Tuesday by her superior, 20th Fighter Wing commander Col. Derek O’Malley, who was said to have “lost confidence in her ability to lead the team,” according to an Air Combat Command press release cited by the Air Force Times. She was replaced by Maj. John Waters, who had commanded the team before Kotnik.

A 20th Fighter Wing spokesperson told the portal that Capt. Kotnik would no longer be performing with the demonstration team, but “continue to serve in a non-supervisory role”.  The Air Force’s press service did not comment on what led to Kotnik’s sudden demotion, citing privacy concerns.

In a post on the Vipers’ official Facebook page, Commander O’Malley alluded to “mistakes” made by Kotnik, adding that he wanted her to “have the opportunity to learn from them without being under public scrutiny and continue to be a part of this great service”.

“It was exciting to have the first female demo team pilot here at Shaw [AFB] but I’m also just as excited about the many other females that are serving with great distinction across our Air Force,” O’Malley stressed.

Kotnik was promoted to Viper team leader on 29 January, becoming the first female pilot to lead the group, and the first woman single-plane tactical demonstration pilot in the US Air Force. The Vipers had heavily played up their new commander as a US Air Force ‘first’.

However, Kotnik’s sudden sacking and the lack of a detailed explanation led to a flood of comments on social media, with users speculating as to just what the captain could have done to deserve such a demotion, and blasting the Air Force’s decision, calling it “odd,” “sad and unfortunate.”

Some gender equality activists theorised that Kotnik had been pushed out by the ‘ole boys network’. Others challenged the assertion, however, saying the captain must have done something pretty bad for the USAF to choose to swallow the negative publicity of firing her after such a short period.

As expected, many spewed one-liners from the 1986 Tom Cruise film Top Gun, thanking Kotnik for her service and saying she could be their “wing woman anytime.”

Other veterans recalled their service in branches of the military, praising the bravery and perseverance of their female counterparts and wishing Kotnik luck.


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