Thursday, November 30, 2023

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)"
13 May 2007

Chuck Yeager Weighs In

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Please note, General Chuck Yeager maintains a terrific website, simply called On that site is a wonderful tribute to Pancho, which you can access at this link:here

Throughout his life, Gen. Charles "Chuck" Yeager has been a devoted sportsman and outdoorsman. Anyone who has read his two autobiographical books, Yeager and Press On!, knows that he lives life to the fullest and that this is one of the things that makes him so distinctive a personality. So it was wonderful, when we interviewed Gen. Yeager last year, to hear him talking about his latest trip to Alaska. That's where he, some close friends and his wife Victoria fished and hunted to their heart's delight — and of course the General caught a huge salmon. Not bad for someone in his 80's, but then again Chuck Yeager has always been a hard man to keep up with. For a long time, as we all know, he was in fact faster than any man on earth!

Chuck Yeager and Pancho were close friends, not only because they shared a love of flying, but because they shared a love of the outdoors. At the time Yeager arrived at Muroc (later Edwards AFB), it was July of 1945. WWII was almost over, and Yeager had come through it as a fighter ace with 11.5 victories. Pancho had been just about as lucky during the war, although initially it looked like it would ruin her — wartime airspace restrictions meant she could not operate her flight school. Instead, she invested her time in the alfalfa farm she'd bought, and it began to prosper as the base at Muroc grew. It was quickly turning into a full-fledged ranch and dairy, and once the war ended it would become a "fly-in" resort — the "Happy Bottom Riding Club."

Yeager rode Pancho's horses, hunted with her and her husband Mac, and even took an airplane trip to Mexico with them. Yeager remembers that escapade this way:

Pancho said, “Do you like to hunt deer?” and I said, “Yeah.” And she said, “Let’s go down and go to one of the Yaqui Indian villages and bring your rifle." So we went down to Hermasillo. She was a good pilot and she flew the airplane quite a bit. And we got down there and the Mayor came out and met us in a car and we spent the night. He had a big banquet for us. And then the next day, he gave her a bunch of horses. And I took my rifle. Out there in the Yaqui Indian villages, Pancho could speak Yaqui Indian language like a native. She was really a very talented gal. And I shot a buck. We gave it to the Indians. The thing that amazed me was how talented Pancho was in the languages..."

Photo (above): Chuck Yeager (second from right) with hunting party at Pancho's Happy Bottom Riding Club

Pancho loved Chuck Yeager like a son, and after he became famous for breaking the sound barrier, she took great pride in their relationship. The "Happy Bottom Blister", a brochure made to promote Pancho's rodeo, devoted an entire page as a tribute to Yeager. The text on that page notes that "Capt. Yeager was the first pilot to fly faster than the speed of sound. This was a goal those in aviation had dreamed of for many years, and its accomplishment hit a high point that will not be easily exceeded." Then it goes on to say, "Capt. Charles E. Yeager learned to ride and rope at Pancho's. He found riding to be good sport and splendid exercise as a deviation from his exacting job as a test pilot. His wife Glennis and two sons Donnie and Mickie, aged three and two years, also have a lot of fun on horseback. Among the first words that Donnie learned to speak were "horse" and "Pancho".

Photo: Chuck Yeager ties up a calf in Pancho's corral, also from a Happy Bottom Riding Club brochure.

Just how one of Pancho's horses and her corral gate would figure into history, coming up soon on the Production Journal. Stay tuned!

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