When and how did you get interested in flying?
Well, I think I always wanted to fly. I still remember the first time I went flying. My uncle took me flying. I was too little to know the difference between whether or not those were toy houses that we were flying over, or real houses, and then as I was growing up, my uncle also took me and my cousin flying, so I think I always wanted to learn to fly.
Were your parents supportive of you flying?
Of course! I think I told you earlier that I first learned to skydive. I really fell in love with skydiving, and I had maybe 100 jumps or so. I was in college my folks were, they thought that was a good hobby. I was around airplanes a lot, and, so, my dad called one of his friends who lives in Wattsonville and asked him if I could learn to fly in his airplane, a 1946 Taylorcraft, and because I didn't have much money I got to learn to fly in his airplane. All I had to do was pay for the gas for the instructor, so that's how I got to learn to fly. I was really lucky.
What was your first airplane?
My first airplane was a 1946 Luscombe. I learned to fly in the Taylorcraft, and then my boyfriend at the time decided that, because we were talking about buying an airplane, decided that the Luscombe should be the airplane that we would buy, so we went and bought it and I still own that Luscombe. Many airplanes have come and gone and in my life but that one stuck around.
That's a really old Luscombe. It must have a lot of stories.
How did you get interested in aerobatics?
My uncle was a stunt pilot. We call ourselves aerobatic pilots now, but they used to call them stunt pilots. My uncle flew airshows and also the Reno air races. I always looked up to him. His name was Ernie Swin. He had a sheet metal shop and flew airshows. He owned one of the very first Pitts Specials.
After I learned to fly in the Taylorcraft, I took a ten hour course with Amelia Reid in her Citabria, and that was really, really fun. I learned how to do loops and rolls and Immlemans. Amelia was quite a character. She would fall asleep in the airplane and I had heard this about primary training. The Citabria is a nice airplane but it's tandem, so the pilot sits in front and the instructor sits in the back and whenever you did something she didn't like, she'd reach up there and whack you, and then if she was comfortable with your flying, she would fall asleep and I would be up there doing loops and Immlemans and stuff and she'd be in the backseat sleeping, and it wasn't till I would come in to Reid Hillview, and cut the power off on final, that she would wake up in the back seat because she'd hear the engine change. She was quite a character.
So Festo's your sponsor. Can you tell me about Festo?
Festo makes pneumatics and electrical devices for industrial automation so they make robotics and stuff for food processing, the automotive industry.
Sounds very fun place to work at!
They're very creative people. It's a German-based company and my husband was on their American advisory board because of his degrees in robotics from Stanford, so he does a lot of stuff in that industry, so since he works on the advisory board he got to know the chairman of the company and its a one and a half billion dollar privately owned company that started about 85 years ago so Festo was having a board meeting in Milwaukee during Oshkosh. So my husband went to the board meeting and suggested we go to Oshkosh, but we met their grandson of the founders who owns the company now, and he loves airplanes and Festo built their own airplane and he got to hold the pole for Sean Tucker in his Ribbon cut and I talked to Sean, since I was trying to line up the sponsorship with Festo, so after, the CEO got to hold the pole for him, they said, "Oh sure, we'll sponsor you!" So that's how I got sponsored by Festo.
So you've raced at Reno in Vickey Cruse's plane and you must have had a lot of feelings going through your head, with missing Vicky, and you're flying her plane and also being out on the course.
Vicky was a very good friend of mine. I miss her a lot. A lot of things remind me of Vicky.
I've missed a couple friends too, like Che Barnes and Jack Burke.
It makes you realize how precious your friends are and how very brief we're here.
Are the rumors true that you're going to do the Aerobatic Racing Challenge with Bill Cornick and Spencer Suderman?
We're supposed to go flying to together tomorrow if the weather permits. We'll see how it works out. I think that their little Pitts' will kick my butt, but we'll see how it works out. If it looks like it's something that will be entertaining then we'll do that.
I think that will be entertaining because the Extra has speed but the Pitts has maneuverability. I would watch that!
But speed doesn't do you much good if you're going straight up or flying a great big loop as opposed to a little Pitts. So I've actually thought about how I would fly the sequence, to try to make myself more competitive. So on the uplines I'm thinking that I may have to put the throttle back so my lines aren't so long amd I can get back to going forward again. So on the loops I will probably want to lower my airspeed. We'll see how it works out. We'll probably make a few practice runs. It will be fun to do that with them.
Could you share some cool flying stories with us?
Well, when I first bought my Luscombe I had about 50 hours. I got my private pilot's license when I had 40 hours. So I went to the airport and rented Amelia Reid's Luscombe, trained in that for about 10 hours, and I got on an airline and went to the East Coast and bought this airplane.I flew it back by myself and I flew for about 10 hours so then I had 60 hours and it took me about 40 hours to fly across the United States and then I had about 100 hours. It was a fantastic trip. I was 24 years old then. I just took it a few hours at a time, low and slow, and when I left New Jersey my radio went out so I had to land at uncontrolled fields, which was just fine because I brought my sleeping bag and my tent, which I forgot tent poles for, so I just planned to sleep under the wing across the United States and I did! Mostly I met the nicest people and they invite me to their homes to eat. One fellow I met in a restaurant the night before at the airport, came at six in the morning to bring me the weather forecast and I had planned to go across the US and the north part of it but when I got to Illinois there was a big storm. I headed south through the St. Louis area and headed west on I-40. I had a street map was practical for getting across the country. I flew a lot of different airplanes. It was a really great trip.
You go to an airport and everyone's friendly because they all love flying.
I love the aviation community because everyone's great, nice, and will let you sit in their airplanes.
That was one of the special flights in my life, but another really special flight was a couple years ago, I owned a Stearman and we flew to Oshkosh and when I say we I mean there were five other airplanes so we started off early in the morning over the Sierra's and we said we were going to formation fly. Formation flying was like, "Oh I can see your airplane, maybe miles away!", but by the time we got to Oshkosh, five or six days later, formation flying was we were flying right up next to each other. We would be flying formation and then we would call up the next person to be the leader and that the previous leader would drop back to the end and we would change formations from one formation to another so our flying skills really changed during that time, but it was a fantastic trip.
We flew across the country at 500 to 1000 feet the whole way. We flew across the great Salt Lake, it was just incredible, just an incredible trip, and it made me appreciate the freedom that we have in the United States, to be able to make a trip like that, to fly without flight plans, and to fly at the altitudes of which we choose to, and when and where we'll go, it was just so much fun. We would fly pretty short lengths because the Cub pretty much dictated the speed of the whole formation, about 70 kn, so it literally took us a week to get out there and we were there for a week, and then it took a week back. You will be amazed by how much of the country is covered by corn. It was really quite a trip. We had to cross over some passes, we would have to climb up and across. Some of the aircraft didn't have very big engines, so you have to take advantage of the thermals to get up high enough to go over the passes. At one point, we had to split up and one group went over the pass and the other group had to go around, and then we met back up. At one point, we went over one of the passes, and I was thermaling up in the Stearman, and I got up to 13,500 feet. It was so cold. It was freezing cold, and right about that time was when my fuel tanks decided to start leaking but I couldn't tell that it was actually leaking because what it looked like was that this fuel just went down like there wasn't any fuel left when I was over this pass in the middle of mountains, so that was kind of an interesting moment so we decided that we should find the nearest airport on the other side and go in to check and make sure I still have some fuel because it didn't seem like I should be out of fuel but it looked like I was out of fuel.
We got snowed on and rained on, and it was really hot. I felt my ears get sunburned. Next time I make that trip remind me to wear my leather flying helmet! It was quite a trip. What was really great was the friendship; being able to share that experience with other people, so we are talking about making that trip again next summer so we'll see. I hope it happens. We'll see who we can get to come. So I guess those were my most favorite flying stories
If you could fly any airplane ever what would it be?
Oh my gosh! I don't know what the answer to that question would be. Variety is the spice of life so I'm quite happy flying different airplanes. Probably the most fun airplane that I've flown is the Extra. It's really fun to fly. I don't think there is a more fun airplane to fly than that. So out of any airplane that might be it. Maybe the new Extra since mine's in old Extra, so if I had a favorite airplane maybe the new Extra would be it, but I've been lucky to fly all kinds of different airplanes which are really fun to fly.
Be sure to check out Vicky's website http://www.vbaerosports.com/
Also check out these videos we did of Vicky flying:
Photos courtesy of Vicky Benzing except for the Reno shot of Vicky Cruse's plane.
Special thanks to my good friend Zach who helped me edit this!