Tuesday, October 22, 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.

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

Bob Hoover, Meet Pancho Barnes Part III

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Bob Hoover tells a great many stories about Pancho. One of the funniest, if you're a military man, is this one... When Pancho first got her wings and became an aviatrix of renown, she developed a strong friendship with a U.S. Army Air Force Lt. Col. named Henry "Hap" Arnold. This was in the early 1930's, when Arnold had command of March Field. By the late 1930's Arnold had emerged as one of the architects of American military airpower, and by the end of WWII he was Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S.A.A.F. Despite his rise to the upper echelons of the air forces, Pancho remained friends with Arnold.

Hoover told the story this way to director Amanda Pope:

One night I was sitting at the bar and [Pancho] said, "How come you're only a first lieutenant?" And I explained the background...that I'd been a sargeant pilot and then a P.O.W. And then she said, "Well, I just don’t think it’s right for all you been through and the way you fly and here you are only a lieutenant." And she said, "I’m going to change that."

So she picked up the phone and called General Arnold." He was the highest level you can get. And it was midnight here and that meant it was 3 o’clock in the morning back there on East Coast! And she woke him up at 3 a.m. in the morning and read him the riot act about how I ought to be promoted. And I thought, "There goes my career, that’s the end of it right now."

And you know, apparently he didn’t think anything of it. He says,"Oh, Pancho she’s been drinking. Which she had been. But she, if she liked you boy she’d do anything for you. And she proved that a lot of times to her friends."

Top Photo: Bob Hoover, Pancho, and an unidentified friend (possibly Roscoe Turner?) at the Reno Air Races in the 1960's, courtesy Bob Hoover. At left, Hap Arnold seen in his younger days.

One footnote: Edwards Air Force Base, where Pancho set up her Happy Bottom Riding Club, was created due to Hap Arnold's foresight. Recognizing that the flat, dry Rogers lakebed made for an ideal training site, he made it a remote base for his March Field squadrons in September of 1933.

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