Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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.

Information Sign up

Sign up to be on our mailing list for updates.

News

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

Yeager Weighs In, Part III A Party at Pancho's

Print Email

When Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, the news was kept secret from the public. But it would've been next to impossible to conceal what happened from folks who lived in and around Edwards AFB. "We made a pretty good sonic boom that really rattled the base," remembers Yeager. The thunderclap that heralded the supersonic age may have panicked some local residents, but the X-1 team expected it. "Well, we knew there’d be a sonic boom," Yeager notes, "because Dr. von Karman predicted it. And because it was not the first sonic boom ever made, that man heard, because meteorites make have shock waves comin off of em, and they make a tremendous sonic boom, but this was the first one ever made by an airplane."

Owing to the top-secret nature of the sound barrier effort — the Russians would not duplicate the feat for well over a year and even then lacked critical engineering insights — Yeager's accomplishment would not be publicized for many months. A small amount of laughing and scratching took place just after Yeager landed the X-1 on the Rogers Dry Lake: he got out of the cockpit and stood on the wing of the craft as it was towed back to the hangar. After debriefing, it was time to really kick back and marvel at what Yeager, Jackie Ridley, Bob Hoover, Dick Frost, Bob Cardenas and everyone else associated with the effort had accomplished. "We went out out to Dick Frost’s house," Yeager recalls, "Had a couple a martinis, and then went out to Pancho's. I was riding a motorcycle and Hoover and Dick Frost were followin' me in a car. Pancho knew we had got above Mach 1 but she didn’t know how." According to the legend, Pancho served Yeager a free steak dinner, but that's not exactly what Yeager remembers, suggesting that "The Right Stuff" may have gotten it wrong. "It made an excellent story – the first guy to go Mach 1 got a free steak, first guy to go Mach 2 gets a free steak - that’s all portrayed in The Right Stuff, by a writer for a producer," Yeager notes. "Well if you believe everything you see in the damn movie or read, be my guest."

For his part, Bob Hoover remembers the events of that night clearly. He'd flown as chase pilot and back-up pilot for Yeager during the test flights, and had his own reason to celebrate — he'd taken a million dollar photo of the X-1 whipping past his own plane at supersonic speed. "He came right by me and I could see his closing rate was enormous," says Hoover. "So I knew he had it accomplished. And he went by me and I got a picture. It shows - this was the first time we had had the diamond shock wave, coming out from the airplane. And we had that on President Truman’s desk the next day. Well it was a pretty wonderful accomplishment." Hoover continues, "We all went to Pancho’s, started partying. And I said ‘Pard you’re gonna get a free stake at Pancho’s tonight.’ And we were all celebrating and having fun talking about it, only to find out within a short time - somebody came over and said this is highly classified, you’re not to say anything more, that’s it. Well gee the cat was already out of the bag by then. But it broke up our party - it would of gone all night I’m sure!"

The secrecy surrounding the feat seemed to bother Pancho more than it did Chuck Yeager. "After he made it, they kept it quiet," she recalled in an interview conducted in the 1970's. "And they made it top secret. They held it for six months – we couldn’t get any publicity on the news or anything. And then it came out, when it finally came out, you know, time had passed. Anyway, nobody did anything for Yeager." Realizing the enormity of what Yeager had accomplished, and being an expert at publicity, Pancho thought she'd take things into her own hands. "So I got incensed about this, [Yeager] being my close friend and everything. So I went and bought the biggest trophy, this high, you know, real fancy trophy. Had it made specially. And we took it down to the Picture Palace meeting, and we had a formal presentation with the Motion Picture Pilots." The trophy presentation, at which Yeager was given an honorary membership in the Motion Picture Stunt Pilots Association, was one of the first events at which the young pilot was celebrated. It certainly was not the last.

"So I got incensed about this, [Yeager] being my close friend and everything. So I went and bought the biggest trophy, this high, you know, real fancy trophy. Had it made specially. And we took it down to the Picture Palace meeting, and we had a formal presentation with the Motion Picture Pilots." The trophy presentation, at which Yeager was given an honorary membership in the Motion Picture Stunt Pilots Association, was one of the first events at which the young pilot was celebrated. It certainly was not the last.

One final little footnote: also in the audience at the Motion Picture Stunt Pilots event that evening was a former stundent from Pancho's flying school. "I had a student came to me," remembered Pancho, "And he said, 'Pancho, I haven’t got any money. And I haven’t got any education. And I can’t be a government student, but I want to learn to fly an airplane, can you figure anything for me?' And I said, 'Yup, I’ll give you a job.'" Pancho traded him work in her dairy and corrals for flying lessons. He ended up getting his commercial license, joined the British Royal Air Force ferrying planes to England, and later started TransInternational Airlines and one of the great builders of Las Vegas. The young student's name? Kirk Kerkorian.

Facebook Box

You Can Help

Your tax-deductible donation can help make "The Legend of Pancho Barnes!" a reality.

:

News Letter

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