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)"
02 December 2006

A Journey to Mount Lowe

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Florence "Pancho" Barnes' grandfather was one of Pasadena's most prominent and interesting citizens. Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe was a self-made man who made and lost several fortunes during his lifetime. He is remembered famously as a pioneer American balloonist, but he also invented an early ice machine, and improved upon various technologies associated with the use of natural gas. During the Civil War Lowe persuaded President Abraham Lincoln that balloons could be important reconnaisance platforms, and thus for two years he and his Balloon Corps made observations above battlefields from Chancellorsville to Chickahominy. In the process Lowe became known as the "Most Shot At Man" in the war. In the late 1880s Lowe moved his family to Pasadena and began one of his most ambitious projects: building a railway up the side of the San Gabriel Mountains. The railway actually consisted of two stages. The first was a large funicular which ran a steep grade up to Echo Mountain. The second was a trolley car line that ran from the funicular to Mount Lowe's Alpine Tavern hotel. When it opened in 1893, the mountain railway was hailed as a singular engineering achievement, and a spectacularly beautiful addition to Pasadena. Unfortunately, just six years after the railway opened, Lowe was forced into bankruptcy. He would never recover from the loss. The railway itself was eventually acquired by the Pacific Electric, which operated it until the late 1930s when several disasters, including a fire at the Tavern and a torrential flood, forced its abandonment. It's safe to assume Pancho rode on her grandfather's railway sometime during her childhood. More significantly, in 1910 Professor Lowe took her with him to see the Air Meet at Dominguez Hills. This air show, the first in the history of the United States, must have put the balloonist Lowe in his element. According to Pancho's memoirs, her grandfather pointed at the aircraft zipping by, and told young Florence that one day, she too would learn to fly. She certainly did.

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