No offense to Carol Danvers, but there’s a real Captain Marvel in the Air Force breaking glass ceilings.
The Air Force recently made Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnik the first female pilot to command the F-16 Viper Demo Team.
“I can’t believe I have this opportunity,” Kotnik said in a Jan. 29 interview with Live Airshow TV.
A 2011 graduate of the Air Force Academy, Kotnik earned her wings in 2013 and became an F-16C pilot. She’s been assigned to the 35th Fighter Squadron at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, and the 55th Fighter Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, where she flew missions in support of Operation Noble Eagle, the air defense effort designed to prevent a recurrence of 9-11-type attacks in America, according to her official biography. During her eight year career, she’s amassed more than 1,000 flight hours.
She may be humble about her groundbreaking promotion, but her origin story clearly shows a woman who was destined to fly.
Kotnik’s mom was a private pilot and her uncle, Aviation Hall of Fame pilot Charlie Hillard, was the first American to win the World Aerobatics Championships.
“It’s really cool to have that connection and go full circle with that,” she said in that same interview.
What really sparked her interest in the skies though was an encounter with a NASA T-38 Talon jet at an airshow.
“The NASA T-38 actually pulled up to show center, shut down their engines, popped the canopy, pulled off the helmet and it was a female fighter pilot,” she told Live Airshow TV. “And it was at that moment 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.”
Now she flies under the call sign “SiS.”
“The story that I can share about the call sign is that I’ve been one of the only women in most of my squadrons in the Air Force, through pilot training and in most of my past squadrons,” she told Live Airshow TV. “So I am the little sister of the squadron.”
All that hard work paid off on Jan. 29 when Gen. Mike Holmes certified her as the Air Combat Command’s Viper team leader. Kotnik’s team is currently in preseason training mode at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina before their first show in Key West, Florida, March 30-31.
“These shows allow us to demonstrate the capabilities of the F-16 to a worldwide audience while highlighting the work of the airmen who keep the Viper flying,” said Master Sgt. Chris Schneider, the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team superintendent, in an Air Combat Command press release. “It’s not every day people get the chance to hear the sound of freedom roaring over their heads.”
The main purpose of the Viper Demonstration Team is recruitment, and it certainly appears the Air Force is making a concerted effort to entice more female pilots to join their ranks, at least based on “Captain Marvel”-inspired Twitter campaigns like the one below.
Speaking of which, the Carol Danvers-esque trajectory of Kotnik’s career and achievements has not been lost on the F-16 Viper Team, which highlighted her newfound commander status in a tweet featuring an obvious nod to the upcoming Marvel blockbuster.
For her part, Kotnik just wants other young women to see that you don’t need superpowers to fly high.
“What I’m looking forward to most is the potential to have an influence on younger generations,” she said in that Air Combat Command press release. “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 can do and who they can become.
“I hope to be a source of inspiration and motivation they can draw from in their own lives.”