Monday, July 23, 2018

The Emmy™Award-Winning Documentary Film

"Broadcast" version now airing on most public television stations.

"Uncensored" version now on DVD and in film festivals.

Synopsis: A charismatic figure featured in Tom Wolfe's book The Right Stuff, Florence "Pancho" Barnes was one of the most important women in 20th Century aviation. A tough and fearless aviatrix, Pancho was a rival of Amelia Earhart's who made a name for herself as Hollywood's first female stunt pilot. Just before WWII she opened a ranch near Edwards Air Force Base that became a famous -- some would say notorious -- hangout for test pilots and movie stars. Known as the "Happy Bottom Riding Club", it became the epicenter of the aviation world during the early jet age. Chuck Yeager celebrated breaking the sound barrier there in 1947, and Howard Hughes and Jimmy Doolittle caroused in the bar. The Club's destruction by fire in 1953 is seen by many to mark the end of a Golden Era in post-WWII aviation. In the same fashion Pancho herself has become something of a legend, a fascinating yet enigmatic icon whose swagger is often celebrated, but whose story has been largely unknown. Until now.

A documentary film produced and written by Nick Spark and directed by Amanda Pope. Featuring interviews with test pilots Bob Cardenas, Bob Hoover and Chuck Yeager, astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and biographers Barbara Schultz and Lauren Kessler. Narrated by Tom Skerritt with Kathy Bates as the voice of Pancho Barnes.

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Women in Aviation
"Read Nick Spark's article about Pancho
from Women in Aviation magazine (.pdf)"
09 August 2007

A Local Aviation Legend Passes

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Sadly, the nation's longest-serving television anchor, KTLA's Hal Fishman, passed away this week. Although Hal was known primarily as a television persona, I was a bit surprised that few of the tributes given to him have mentioned his passion for aviation. Hal was a truly impressive fellow, apparently as cool and calm in the air as he was in front of the television cameras, and an accomplished pilot. In 1969, Hal shared the storied Fédération Aéronautique Internationale's Louis Blériot Medal with his friend Barry Schiff. The two went on to write a number of books together, including the aviation thriller "Flight 902 is Down!". Fishman held thirteen world records for speed and altitude, most recently (I think) hitting the mark of 943.97 miles per hour with pilot and friend Clay Lacy in a Gulfstream G-II. You may not have heard about it, of course, because I don't think Hal ever mentioned it in his newscast!

Photo (above): Hal Fishman with his good friend and co-author, Barry Schiff, courtesy of Barry Schiff. (below) Fishman at an aviation event, in front of a B-17, also courtesy of Barry Schiff. See www.barryschiff.com for more.

Aside from holding all those records, Hal Fishman was a promoter of aviation here in the Southland. He'd occasionally bring a TV camera aboard his plane, and show viewers at home his unique perspective of Los Angeles. (At one point, to dramatize the need for increased aviation security and scrutiny of applicants for licenses, he went into the air to point out the vulnerability of certain landmarks to airborne attack.) He was also an ever-present figure at local air shows and events, and appeared in the film "One Six Right" celebrating the Van Nuys Airport (see earlier production journal). I spoke to him on the phone about "Pancho" at one point, and he provided a lot of encouragement, and a number of leads. Then, a few months later, I met him at a ceremony at the Santa Monica Airport to mark the re-birth of the Museum of Flying. He spent a few moments with me, encouraging progress with the project and saying he hoped to be there for the premiere. He was gracious, and gregarious when it came to talking about Los Angeles aviation history. He was certainly a part of it.

Incidentally, a nice write-up about Fishman's passion for aviation and automobiles appears on Steve Parker's blog, The Car Nut

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The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club ©2008-2010 Nick Spark Productions, LLC.