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Air Force Names First Female to Command F-16 Viper Team

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In a historic moment, the Air Force will have a female pilot as the commander of the Air Combat Command’s F-16 Viper Demonstration Team. The group heads to dozens of air shows each year to highlight the capabilities of the aircraft – a variant of the Fighting Falcon – and support recruitment efforts.

Capt. Zoe “SiS” Kotnik’s selection to command the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team was announced on Twitter. According to American Military News, the decision also allows the Air Force to “leverage the anticipated popularity of an upcoming superhero movie featuring a female fighter pilot to spur recruitment.”

The Air Force even used a comic book-styled panel in their announcement, likely to make a connection between Kotnik and Carol Danvers, the comic book character who becomes Captain Marvel and is the focus on the upcoming Marvel film, Captain Marvel.


In the film, Danvers, who is played by Brie Larson, is an Air Force F-16 pilot. Several Air Force pilots, including the first female fighter pilot in the service, Brid. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, assisted during the film’s production.

During the Super Bowl trailer for the movie, Larson walks with Lashana Lynch, who is playing fellow pilot Maria Rambeau.

“About to show these boys how we do it,” says Lynch. “You ready?”

“Higher, further, faster, baby,” Larson replies.

In another connection to the upcoming film, the hashtag #higherfurtherfaster was featured in a tweet from the Air Force Recruiting Service that announced Leavitt’s hosting of a group of female fighter pilots, including Kotnik.

“Every hero has an origin story,” says the tweet. “We asked over 80 female pilots to share theirs.”

As for Kotnik’s origin story, the pilot was born in Poynette, Wisconsin and is part of a family of aviators, including airshow hall of fame pilot Charlie Hillard, who is her uncle, and her mother, who was a private pilot.

Kotnik was inspired after seeing a NASA T-38 Talon at an airshow. She graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2011, earned her wings in 2013, and started flying the F-16C.

She’s flown missions in support of Operation Noble Eagle and also served as an instructor. In total, she’s clocked over 1,000 flying hours, and will serve as commander for the demonstration for the next two years.