Monday, July 22, 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)"
07 October 2010

Fly In at Edwards AFB 2010

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Since we came out with "Pancho" over a year ago, Amanda Pope and I have had some Flyingupincredible adventures.  We've personally shown the film in eight states, at film festivals from Manhattan to San Francisco, and at the biggest air show in the world.  Nothing stacks up though, to the adventure we had last week -- and right in Pancho's backyard.  The occasion was literally history-in-the-making, and it involved "Pancho Day".  Those of you who have seen our movie, know that each and every year the USAF and the Flight Test Historical Foundation have celebrated Pancho's legacy with a BBQ at the ruins of the Happy Bottom Riding Club.  Well, almost each and every year!  Last year there was no Pancho Day due to various factors including cost, the fragility of the HBRC grounds, and last but certainly not least the issue of base security.  Security is also an issue with the annual Edwards Air Show, which attracts an incredible number of people but creates a real headache at a base home to so many "restricted" and sensitive defense and research programs.

EdwardsAFB2010_010_2Apparently for some time, there has been some considerable thought given to the idea that the Edwards Air Show ought to take place at a somewhat remote area, removed from the base's more sensitive areas. One such area is the mostly-unused Rosamond Dry Lake, which sits adjacent to the larger Rogers Lake.  (Rogers is home to the Edwards main base and the place where the Space Shuttle sometimes lands.)  Bill Koukourikos of the AFFTC Flight Safety Office came up with a novel idea, to do a "dry run" for the air show at Rosamond and see how it might work.  He dreamed up a civilian fly in, where  up to 150 pilots could land on dry lake.  It seemed like a pretty wild idea, but Maj. Gen. David J. Eichhorn, the Air Force Flight Test Center commander, immediately embraced it.  From that point forward there was a wild scramble to make it happen, and a deadline of sorts: Eichhorn planned to relinquish command on October 5th.  The event would be his unofficial send-off.

Those of you who track our facebook page know that word of the event, and the lottery to select Welcomethe 150 planes to land on the lakebed, spread like butter with a hot knife.  People from all over the United States put in tail numbers in hopes of being part of history.  And it would be history -- as far as we know, this would be the largest collection of civilian aircraft ever to fly in to the confines of Edwards AFB, and land on the lakebed.

The event would also represent a "flashback" to another era, in that when Pancho's Rancho Oro Verde Airport was in business, she'd sometimes host scores of civilian planes and pilots.  At one point, she even hosted an aerial treasure hunt where pilots had to fly from airport to airport looking for clues!  So while the Edwards Fly In would not be a "Pancho Day", Pancho and her spirit necessarily became part of the event.  Word went out to the four corners of the earth that a "Pancho impersonator" was needed.  Several people applied for the job, including believe it or not our good friend John Lyon.  (While his personality was absolutely in line, he was rejected due to his unwillingness to shave off his mustache.)

PanchoatEdwardsAmanda and I were invited to the event, and the Air Force planned to screen the film in the presentation tent for USAF personnell after the sun went down.  But while the idea of making one more drive up from Los Angeles to Edwards sounded about as appealing as another Jerry Brown / Meg Whitman debate, the notion of flying up to Edwards and landing on the lakebed — that sounded incredible!  Fortunately, we are friends with one lucky woman, pilot and adventurer Ramona Cox.  Ramona, who has flown all over the world and who's been flying pretty much since she was 10, won one of the lucky lottery tickets.  Turns out the odds of that were not good, as over 1200 people applied for the 150 slots!  But Ramona is one of these people who, like Pancho, tends to make her own luck and before you knew it, we had a landing slot and seats reserved in her Cessna.

The day was completely awesome.  It started with an early-morning wake-up and drive to the Van Nuys Airport, where we connected with our friends Dean and Shelly Siracusa.  Dean, who served as co-pilot on the trip, is also a master photographer and a lot of the great photos here are shot by him...  Anyway, we departed Van Nuys on the now-famous (thank you Brian Terwiliger) runway 1-6 Right and crossed over into the Valley.  The Rosamond Dry Lake is visible from many miles away, and as we approached its clay skillet outskirts, we could see a large white rectangle.  This turned out to be a tent, erected by the Air Force and contractors, who managed to convert a lakebed into a fully functioning airport and recreation area in a mere 48 hours.   It's not that hard to do actually, because it turns out the surface of the lakebed is super flat, and to prepare it for aircraft landings all that had to be done was to compact the outer surface of clay, and paint markings on it.  For air traffic control, a large truck was used.  Yes, this control tower had wheels and could do 35 mph no problem.Eichorn

Guided by Ramona's steady hands -- she's landed at Burning Man's desert strip for many years now -- our landing was smooth as could be, with a satisfying "crunch" as the wheels bit into the clay.  As soon as we were on the ground, we were surrounded by military personnel.  Fortunately this wasn't Groom Lake.  They were quite friendly, directing us to park the plane and pointing out the pancake serving area and "latrine".  Yes you know you're on an Air Force Base when they use that word! 

As things turned out, less than 150 aircraft made the trip to Edwards, but there was still a good amount — probably over 120.  Some of these included warbirds such as a P-51 Mustang, a B-25, and a DC-3 flown by our friends at Flabob.  Many other people joined us who had driven in by car.  Spending time ogling various planes took up a bit of the morning, and there was an air show of sorts put on by pilots flying out of Edwards (including an F-16 at fairly low level).  In addition, there were EdwardsAFB2010_096_2presentations about flight safety including how to avoid mid-air collisions with military aircraft, a discussion by Joshua Control (FAA) about procedures, a wonderful discussion of women in aviation by USAF pilot Col. Dawn Dunlop (412th Test Wing commander), and B-2 test pilot Maj. Jennifer Jeffords, spoke about her life in aviation.

One real highlight was the arrival of "Pancho Barnes" by airplane in the middle of the event.  Pancho (played by aviatrix and 99's member Leslie Dinius) lived up to her wild reputation by asking General Eichhorn if he was married.  It was all in good fun, and no one got hurt (least of all John Lyon).

Speaking of Pancho, Amanda and I were invited to give a few remarks about her and the film.  Having the microphone thrust in my hand, I suddenly realized this would be the only chance a civilian — someone who didn't help organize the event — would have to speak to everyone.  EdwardsAFB2010_151_2So I took a few moments to publicly thank Gen. Eichhorn, his staff, and all the great people who made the Edwards Fly In possible.  I also said this: Pancho Barnes was an outrageous, wild, wonderful, accomplished woman, the type of individual that only could have existed in the United States of America.  This fly in event also, was the kind of thing that would only happen in these United States. We should all be very proud about that, and the great job the USAF is doing for our nation.

In short, it was a marvelous, marvelous event and we are thrilled we got to be part of it. 

Thanks to Ramona, Dean, Phil Salisbury for all his help, the Flight Test HIstorical Foundation, Lou D'Elia  and everyone who came and played a part.

Sorry you missed it?  Well, there's likely to be another fly in, in the year 2012, and next year look for the Edwards Air Show to take place on the Rosamond playa.

Also, one final note, they never did get to show the movie in the tent.  Shortly after sundown a big windstorm put a big dent in the canopy.  Hopefully get another shot at showing "Pancho" at Edwards!

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