Pilot Vicky Benzing will soar across the sky this weekend as she entertains local crowds during the annual Hollister Airshow held Saturday and Sunday.
Born in nearby Watsonville, Benzing was first inspired to become a pilot as a child after watching her uncle, Ernie Swinn, perform at airshows.
“When I was really young I thought we were flying over toy land,” Benzing said of the experience of riding in her uncle’s plane. In reality the pair were flying over very normal-sized homes and streets below.
Now the U.C. Berkeley alumna has the opportunity to sign her own autographs for young children at air shows, including many girls who can suddenly envision themselves becoming pilots.
Benzing earned her pilot’s license in 1982 after learning to skydive as a U.C. Davis student and says flying appealed to her sense of adventure. Benzing, who holds a Ph.D in chemistry from Berkeley, still made time for flying even as she worked full time at Novellus Systems.
“I just love to fly,” Benzing said, adding that flying has been, “a thread throughout my life.” Along the way Benzing says she received help from world famous coaches.
Now retired from her career in the semiconductor industry, Benzing has already committed to performing in 11 airshows this season, though a few more performances may be added over the coming weeks. This line-up includes the prestigious EAA Airventure show, held in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“I feel very fortunate and pretty excited,” Benzing said, explaining that the show in Oshkosh attracts some of the world’s top air show performers and aerobatic champions.
For Benzing, airshows are “An expression of how much I love to fly in three-dimensional space.”
Benzing owns two airplanes; a 1940 Boeing Stearman built for World War II and an Extra 300S that, “has been flown by some of the most famous aerobatics people.”
According to Benzing, the Boeing Stearman she owns was used to train troops in World War II and eventually sold out of the war assets and purchased for $770 by a firm in Oakland that used it for crop dusting. Benzing purchased the “grand old plane” in 1998 after it was reassembled in the 1990s.
If her Boeing Stearman is a “grand old plane,” the Extra 300S she bought in 2008 is a Porsche. The plane has a 300-horsepower engine and allows her to withstand 10 times the force of gravity during her routines.
Benzing will fly at 12:30 on both Saturday and Sunday during the local air show held at the Hollister Municipal Airport. The air show begins at 9 a.m. and ends at approximately 2 p.m. each day this weekend.
Tickets for the annual air show can be purchased at the door, or ahead of time at the airshow’s website, for $15 per adult and $10 for children. Parking passes are $5. A family pack, which includes two adult tickets, two child tickets and one parking pass, is also available for $40.