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)"
16 December 2009

Hello NASA, Pancho has landed!

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Director Amanda Pope and cinematographer Clay Westervelt and I spent the better part of a day at NASA's Dryden facility, where we showed the film and got the grand tour of this famed flight test and research laboratory.  (See our facebook page for all the photos).  NASAWe learned a lot of things, some of which we can't talk about or they'd have to kill us.  But seriously, one thing we did learn is that members of the public-at-large can tour the facility at Dryden.  That's something you will want to seriously consider if you live in Los Angeles vicinity.  Click here for details of how to do it!

One of the highlights of our visit was a trip out to the edge of the Rodgers Dry Lake, where twin 747s are stored.  These special aircraft have been rigged to carry the Space Shuttle from Edwards, where it lands on occasion, back to Florida.  In typical NASA-speak they call them SCAs, or 'Shuttle Carrying Aircraft.'  "We always tell the pilots before they take off," said our tour guide Cam Martin with a wry wink, "'No pressure but you have the future of the entire agency riding with you.'"  With only a handful of shuttle flights left on the schedule (as the shuttle is to be retired) these airplanes' fate is undetermined.

Cam also showed us the sister ship to the Bell X-1 that Chuck Yeager flew when he first broke the sound barrier, which is displayed on a pole in front of the facility's main building (that's it at right, with Amanda, myself and Clay posing in front).  It being NASA, someone there realized that the aircraft cockpit could still be pressurized, and so the aircraft was re-purposed as a time capsule for Dryden's anniversary.  That's gotta be a first! 

From my perspective, the real highlight of the day was a tour of the main hangar, where a number of NASA research and chase aircraft are stored.  This was the same hangar where Scott Crossfield rather famously put an F-100 through the wall.  That rather famous incident occured, as Cam Martin explained, when Crossfield's aircraft had a flame out.  He managed to dead-stick land it, and thought he'd let it roll to a stop in front of the NASA2NASA hangar.  Unfortunately, he forgot that the plane's brakes relied on the engine for pressurization.  The aircraft rolled inside and Crossfield managed to steer it away from the various X-planes parked there, wedging it into and through a wall.  "If it had been another foot, he would have been killed," Cam Martin explained, pointing to the area (now obscured by an air conditioner) where the welded repair of the hangar wall was once visible.  Instead he lived and the story went out, how Yeager might have broken the sonic wall but it took Crossfield to go through the hangar wall!

Our screening at NASA was a terrific success.  Director David McBride (shown in the photo at left) introduced us, and we had many good friends in attendance including Joni Schaper, Mike Salazar of the Pancho Barnes Trust Estate, and Alan Brown.

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