MCCLELLAN PARK — A new documentary on Netflix, “Mercury 13,” tells the story of 13 women who in 1959 underwent the same physiological screening tests as male astronauts selected by NASA.
While those women were never allowed to be astronauts, some of them were remarkable pilots.
The documentary shot new footage of a plane one of those women flew, calling in a woman stunt pilot who has a lot in common with those early aviators.
“The minute I got up in the air I knew that this was a passion that would last me for my whole lifetime,” stunt pilot Vicky Benzing said.
For years, Benzing has been flying her plane “Lucky Girl.”
“(It’s) a reflection of how I feel about myself,” she said.
She performs in the aircraft at air shows and racing in the Reno Air Races, gaining a reputation few have matched.
“My top speed in jet class is 469.831 mph, which makes me the fastest woman ever at the Reno Air Races,” Benzing said.
One of her other planes is a Boeing-Stearman, the same aircraft flown by woman pioneer aviator Wally Funk.
Funk was one of 13 to join the Women in Space Program in 1959, a privately-funded endeavor that put those women in the same physiological screening tests as male astronauts selected by NASA.
It’s the focus of Netflix’s new film, “Mercury 13.”
“So I got called because I’m a female Stearman pilot,” Benzing said.
Benzing was cast as Funk’s pilot stunt double.
“Not all of it made it into the movie,” she said. “But a lot of the footage made it into the movie.”
She says she wasn’t fully aware of what Funk and the other women of Mercury 13 went through. Still, she can relate because she too applied to become an astronaut.
“When you get a phone call from NASA to come interview to be an astronaut, that’s about the most excitement an aviator can get,” Benzing told FOX40.
Unfortunately, Benzing says she could not pass one of the physical tests.
“You get to fly a lot and be around people who love aviation and loved flying and love science and technology. It was sort of a perfect fit,” she said. “So I was quite crushed that I didn’t get the slot.”
Only seven people out of her interview group of 20 were able to join NASA.
“And it turned out that three of them were on the Columbia when it burned up,” Benzing said.
Benzing went on to have a successful career in Silicon Valley, but today she’s honored to be filling in as a stunt double for one of the top women aviation pioneers.