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Expanding Horizons

Wyoming Daughter pilots state-of-the-art commercial aircraft

Barbara Bentzin is not only a world traveler, but she also facilitates that travel for thousands of others every year. As a commercial airline pilot for three decades on many different types of aircraft, Ms. Bentzin’s job has taken her to almost every continent.

Today she serves as one of four pilots on a Boeing 787 that flies from Los Angeles to Melbourne, Australia. She makes the 15-hour flight to Australia three times a month. Before her Los Angeles–Melbourne stint, she was based out of Newark, N.J., where she routinely flew passengers to destinations all over Europe. (Rome was her favorite.) Prior to that, she was based in Guam, flying to locations all over Asia.

To an outsider, her job sounds incredibly exciting, but Ms. Bentzin demurs at that characterization.

“The job is not exciting,” said the member of Fort Caspar DAR Chapter, Casper, Wyo. “But we also don’t want it to be exciting or dramatic. It’s a lot less hands-on flying and more about being a good systems manager.”

Before she flew the 787, she completed more than a month of intense training, which included computer-based training, small-group instruction and simulator training.

“Our simulator training is so realistic that it’s exactly what you’d experience in the airplane,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that the first time we fly a new aircraft is with passengers.”

Her journey to aviation began right before college when a career counselor suggested she look into becoming a pilot. She initially balked at the idea, but after taking a community introduction to flying course, she was hooked. To offset the expense of flight training, Ms. Bentzin moonlighted as a flight instructor to help make ends meet.

“You can aim for the stars and get there,” she said. “That’s what I try to convey to young people today. They can set lofty goals and achieve them.”

In addition to her regular job, Ms. Bentzin volunteers with her husband, Bob, in the Civil Air Patrol, the United States Air Force Auxiliary. He serves as an aerospace education officer. She flies a single-engine airplane on various missions, from search and rescue to aerial assessments of natural disaster areas. She also helps with educational outreach—in particular, getting more young women interested in aviation.

Only about 5 percent of U.S. pilots are women, and the percentage of women applying for pilot’s licenses since 1980 has remained relatively flat.

“Like many of the STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] jobs out there, there are reasons we don’t have more women involved,” she said. “While girls are very good at math when they’re younger, they generally don’t get that encouragement to continue once they get older. But I’m seeing that change more and more.”

When she’s not flying for work, she’s probably flying for fun. Ms. Bentzin and her husband love to travel, taking an average of four major vacations a year. In fact, they met on a scuba diving trip in Belize.

She also gives much of her spare time to the DAR, which she joined four years ago after years of assuming she wasn’t eligible. A neighbor helped her with the application, and in the process, Ms. Bentzin said she “got sucked into genealogy.”

Today, she serves as registrar for her chapter and enjoys helping others find the missing links in their family history. But her favorite work is with her chapter’s special projects, which have included sending care packages to deployed men, women and K-9s, as well as helping local veterans’ and women’s organizations.

A motorcycle enthusiast, Ms. Bentzin is also involved in Patriot Guard Riders, which attends the funeral or memorial services of fallen military heroes, first responders and honorably discharged veterans to show respect as well as shield the service from protesters. The group also provides flag lines at welcome home ceremonies and deployment send-offs.

“It has been a really rewarding experience,” she said. “It’s an honor to be there for these men and women.”