Friday, July 19, 2024

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)"
24 February 2007

Broken by the Sound Barrier

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The time when Pancho Barnes owned her "Happy Bottom Riding Club" — located just outside Muroc (now Edwards) Air Force Base — is well remembered as the early jet aircraft era. Tom Wolfe wrote about this time, when dozens of experimental jet and rocket aircraft were developed and tested, in his landmark book "The Right Stuff". This one, roughly ten year period after WWII, saw man break Mach 1.0 and then fly to the threshold of space. It was as significant a time in aviation history as the 1910's, and Edwards in many was as important a place as Kitty Hawk. And...Pancho was a part of it. Her bar, hotel and restaurant were one of the few places available for the men who "rode the dragon" to blow off steam.

If you're interested in this era, and not opposed to a little creative license being taken with it, then there's a website you should pay a visit:

This is the website of the short film "A Lonely Sky" directed by Nick Ryan, a director of TV commercials in Ireland. Nick, who is as big an enthusiast of the "golden era" of flight at Edwards as you'll find, has painstakingly re-created the look and feel of that time and written a taut little "what if" drama. It's an exciting, and tragic little romp that involves a sister ship to Chuck Yeager's Glamorous Glennis. And much of the action takes place at a little bar that, well architecturally the exterior doesn't resemble the Happy Bottom, but the interior and the spirit of the place is lifted right out of Pancho's guest book.

What's really amazing, is the use of computer graphics to tell this story. Ryan created a CGI model of a B-29 and composited it into background plates he shot in the vicinity of Edwards Air Force Base, to create a look and feel that's very real. He also filmed inside the B-29 at the March Air Force Base Air Museum located near Perris, California, and was therefore able to achieve a highly realistic look. True, some of the interior parts of the X-1 are not totally authentic, and the characters are fictitious, but this is Hollywood after all and one hell of a well-realized daydream.

How does this all apply to the Pancho documentary? Well most likely it doesn't! We're not planning to re-enact Pancho's life or stage dramatic scenes with actors, and almost everything we plan to use on screen will be derived from photographs, documents, and historic film footage... This is a documentary film, after all. Whic h is not to say we won't use special effects or a computer to tell our story. In fact, we plan on doing both. Stay tuned!

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