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)"
08 January 2007

Bobbi Trout's Endurance Flight January 1931

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On January 9th, 1931 aviatrixes Bobbi Trout and Edna Mae Cooper landed their plane, the "Lady Rolph", at Municipal Airport in Los Angeles. They had spent 122 hours, 50 minutes in the air flying 7,370 miles, all of it in circles over the City of Angels. The goal was to set a women's endurance record, and Bobbi and Edna did just that! Unfortunately they fell short of the men's overall record of 150 hours (set by Carl A. Spaatz and his compatriots aboard the U.S. Army's "Question Mark") when their Curtiss Robin's engine failed. As the newspaper headline (left) says, "The Engine Fail(ed) Long Before Their Courage Wanes."

For Bobbi Trout, the flight was a landmark. Two years earlier in 1929, she'd tried to set an endurance record with Elinor Smith in the "Sunbeam". While that attempt garnered a great deal of attention, the flight ended after 42 hours when their refueling plane got into trouble, had to make an emergency landing, and was damaged.

It's difficult today to truly appreciate the courage that Trout, Smith, and Cooper demonstrated on these flights. Aerial refueling in the late 20's sometimes involved lowering cans of gas from one plane to another. A more sophisticated set-up, used on these flights, used a long hose that fitted into a filler pipe. The chance for an explosion or fire was great, and more than once Bobbi got a faceful of gas while trying to refuel the plane.

Bobbi and Pancho Barnes had a strong friendship that dated back to 1929, when they met at the Carpinteria Airport. They also flew together in the Powder Puff Derby and worked together to form the Women's Air Reserve. (They're seen in the photo at right at the opening of Grand Central Airport in February of '29.)

In 1933, King Carol of Rumania sent Bobbi an Aviation Cross in honor of the endurance record she'd set two years prior. The Cross was presented to Trout during a reception thrown by Pancho at her home in San Marino. As a biographer of Trout noted, only two other Aviation Crosses were awarded to Americans: Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

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