Tuesday, June 25, 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)"
11 April 2007

Bob Hoover, Meet Pancho Barnes Part II

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Continuing our discussion with the Gentleman of Flight Bob Hoover, director Amanda Pope turned to the story of the X-1 program. As I mentioned earlier, Hoover flew as back-up pilot for Chuck Yeager during the sound barrier attempt. Notably, neither Yeager nor Hoover was initially thought of for the job. Rather, civilian test pilots hired by Bell Aircraft would do the deed. That is, until they began commanding premium prices for what they regarded as very risky trips into the stratosphere. The presence of civilian and military test pilots (who were paid nowhere near the same amount of money) under the same roof led to natural rivalries. "Well, there were a lot of civilian test pilots who had never been in combat, most of them hadn’t," recalls Hoover. "And they would stand around and [talk]. They were expecting to go faster than sound before the X-1 program. And it turns out that one day I heard Gene May bragging about how much flying time he had. And he said, 'How much flying time do you have?' And I said, 'Well I don’t really know but it’s a pretty fair amount.' And he said, 'Well I’ve got over 10 thousand hours.' And I said, 'Well Mr. May I don’t know how much good that’s going to do you. How much jet time do you have?' And he said,'Oh, not very much.' And I said,'I don’t think all that prop time’s going to do you much good when you are chasing for the supersonic record. And that ended that conversation.' And there was another fellow by the name of Slick Goodlin. And he would show up and oh boy he thought of himself. And he asked for 150 thousand dollars to do the job. And they felt if they would just be nice to him, maybe he would share some of his experience [with us]. And he wouldn’t even speak to us. He said, 'How much money you gonna pay me to talk with me?' And we said we’re not going pay anything, thank you very much. We thought you were a test pilot that did all the rest, we’d know. And that was the end of the conversation. I never spoke to him again - never saw him again."

According to several different sources, one day Pancho overheard one of the civilian test pilots — possibly Gene May — criticizing Hoover and Yeager's flying abilities, suggesting that there was no chance the two could break the sound barrier. Allegedly Pancho strutted over and added this classic two cents: "Yeager and Hoover could fly up your asshole, tickle your left eyeball, and fly out and you'd have no idea what happened except that you were farting shockwaves."

Amanda Pope asked Hoover to repeat this famous bit of business in the interview, but ever the polite rascal — rarely do foul words emerge from the lips of the Gentleman of Flight — he slyly smiled and decined. "Yes, I remember saying that very well," he commented. "But well, she said so many things..."

(Photo at right: Bob Hoover in 1958, preparing for another round of flight tests. Courtesy Edwards Air Force Base History Office.)

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