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)"
15 July 2009

Pacific NW Showings a Towering Success!

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Our trip to the Pacific NW to show The Legend of Pancho Barnes was an enormous success and a huge thrill -- in more ways than one!  On Friday we showed the film at the Arlington Fly In's outdoor Runway Theater.  Appropriately enough, just before our screening Arty Trost, the only female long-distance ultralight pilot in the USA, gave a talk about flying her "lawn chair with wings" on a flight of over 4000 miles.  Pancho would have approved!

About 500 to 600 people showed up on a perfectly balmy evening for the free event, and "Pancho" proved to be a big hit.  It was quite neat to know that many of the people in the audience were pilots, some of whom had been flying hair-raising stunts earlier in the day.  Special thanks to Barbara Tolbert and her entire staff for hosting us at the event.

On Saturday we journeyed to McMinnville, Oregon, home of the Evergreen Air and Space Museum.  Director of Development Phil Stuva gave Amanda and me a guided tour of what is one of the nation's greatest air museums.  Not only does the facility house the legendary Hughes HK-1 Hercules (better known as the "Spruce Goose"), but the space wing houses an SR-71, an X-15, and a fully-upright Titan II ICBM complete with launch control simulator.  Our tour included time on the flight deck of the Hercules.  This plane, which in so many ways has come to symbolize the person of Howard Hughes, is astonishing to see in person.  The rear of the fuselage, when viewed from inside, actually appears to be an intricate optical illusion -- so you have to remind yourself, yes it is actually that big!  Sitting at the controls, it was hard not to feel the tug of history.  What emotions went through Hughes' mind, when he sat in this very chair on that day back in November of 1947, and pushed the throttles forward to initiate the maiden flight of this giant craft?

Not to be outdone, Howard Hughes' old friend Pancho got an opportunity to do something on a truly giant scale.  Thanks to the work of Melissa Grace at Evergreen, we showed the film on the museum's enormous IMAX screen.  Our audience included our "surprise" special guest Lauren Kessler, the author of the biography The Happy Bottom Riding Club.  While Pancho loomed large, our audience hooted and hollered, and we realized that Howard Hughes might have had a point -- sometimes bigger is better!


Photo (top): Nick Spark and Amanda Pope on the flight deck of the Spruce Goose.  (Left): the film gets its debut in IMAX.

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