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)"
13 August 2010

Oshkosh B'Gosh !

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Amanda Pope and I just returned from six wonderful-but-tiring days at the biggest aviation event in the world, the EAA's AirVentureOshkosh1 2010 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  It proved to be one of the highlights of our run with the film.  We started off with a huge screening at the Theater in the Woods, made possibly through the generosity of Diane Titterington and the Aviation Speakers Bureau.  What a terrific event. Most of the crowd of roughly 1000 people were pilots who had flown into Oskosh that same day, including a couple who actually flew in specifically to see the movie (yes, we were totally blown away!)  The rest of the week found us screening the film three more times at the Skyscape and Hilton Theaters at the EAA Museum, and hosting signing sessions in the EAA's store.

In between the screenings and signings there were a number of terrific events, including an afternoon spent in the VIP area (thank you Brian Lorenz) where Amanda got to meet Red Bull's Chuck Aaron, and I chatted with barnstormer Matt Younkin, who often pilots a replica of Pancho's Mystery Ship.  We made friends at seemingly every turn, and actually the weirdest thing about how huge AirVenture is, is how small it seems.  For example, ahead of us in the Southwest line at the airport in L.A. was our good friend 99'er Susan Liebeler, headed to Oshkosh of course.  We got to the tarmac at AirVenture and the first person we see practically, is our buddy John Lyon from Flabob Airfield.   A few minutes later we ran into Clay Lacy and Harliss Brend (photo above right), who had just arrived in style in a restored Douglas DC-2.  And on, and on, and on! 

There were also some delightful introductions at Osh.  We met and socialized with a bunch of other filmmakers and authors who, like us, had come to share their projects.  We got to stare in admiration at pilot C.B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who was there to sign his new book and had a line longer than an Airbus A380 (yes we did have a pang of jealousy -- but then again he IS an American hero!)  We met several people who knew Pancho, including a fellow named Oshkosh4Ron WieOshkosh3ner who spent part of his childhood at the Happy Bottom Riding Club. Ron shared memories of soaking in Pancho's circular pool in the midst of the hot summer . . .  it was obviously a bit of paradise.  And we got to hear a bunch naughty Pancho stories, some of which we'd heard before and some of which we hadn't.  Next time you run into me, ask me about the time Pancho was waiting for the guy to fuel her plane -- and I'll whisper it in your ear okay?

Photo at left: Amanda Pope speaks to fans at our fourth and final, standing-room-only screening at the EAA Museum. At right, she sneaks a hug with ace heli pilot Chuck Aaron.

AirVenture is vast -- over 700,000 attendees and upwards of 15,000 aircraft on the field -- and just to get from one side of the venue to the other can be an ordeal.  In between bus rides and hikes to and from our screenings and signings, Amanda and I marveled at the organization it takes to put something like this on.  The marvelous thing is that the EAA does manage to make it look easy.  This year especially there were huge challenges, including  an enormous downpour that threatened to make the event untenable.  Would you believe they actually closed the airport at Milwaukee two days before we flew in, due to hard weather?  The ground at the airport in Oshkosh was soaked, and that made parking of planes and autos difficult or in some cases impossible.  But despite all this, there was no talk of canceling the event.  Contingency plans were put into place, and by the third day of the air show you'd never have known there'd been a problem.  That's a credit to the employees of the EAA and especially, the volunteers.  We're grateful to everyone who helped us with our (admittedly small) part of the show, and especially thank Adam Smith, Kristin Schaick, Kathy Hanson, and Mark Forss.  Amanda, Pancho and I are grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of aviation's premiere event.

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