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Women in Aviation
"Read Nick Spark's article about Pancho
from Women in Aviation magazine (.pdf)"

A Great Website About Bobbi Trout

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Incidentally, a terrific website about Bobbi Trout was put up by her friend Nanette Mahler. Nanette runs the Supply Hangar, a cool on-line aviation shop which you can access thru her Bobbi site. The address is: http://www.bobbitrout.com/

Bobbi Trout's Endurance Flight January 1931

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On January 9th, 1931 aviatrixes Bobbi Trout and Edna Mae Cooper landed their plane, the "Lady Rolph", at Municipal Airport in Los Angeles. They had spent 122 hours, 50 minutes in the air flying 7,370 miles, all of it in circles over the City of Angels. The goal was to set a women's endurance record, and Bobbi and Edna did just that! Unfortunately they fell short of the men's overall record of 150 hours (set by Carl A. Spaatz and his compatriots aboard the U.S. Army's "Question Mark") when their Curtiss Robin's engine failed. As the newspaper headline (left) says, "The Engine Fail(ed) Long Before Their Courage Wanes."

For Bobbi Trout, the flight was a landmark. Two years earlier in 1929, she'd tried to set an endurance record with Elinor Smith in the "Sunbeam". While that attempt garnered a great deal of attention, the flight ended after 42 hours when their refueling plane got into trouble, had to make an emergency landing, and was damaged.

It's difficult today to truly appreciate the courage that Trout, Smith, and Cooper demonstrated on these flights. Aerial refueling in the late 20's sometimes involved lowering cans of gas from one plane to another. A more sophisticated set-up, used on these flights, used a long hose that fitted into a filler pipe. The chance for an explosion or fire was great, and more than once Bobbi got a faceful of gas while trying to refuel the plane.

Bobbi and Pancho Barnes had a strong friendship that dated back to 1929, when they met at the Carpinteria Airport. They also flew together in the Powder Puff Derby and worked together to form the Women's Air Reserve. (They're seen in the photo at right at the opening of Grand Central Airport in February of '29.)

In 1933, King Carol of Rumania sent Bobbi an Aviation Cross in honor of the endurance record she'd set two years prior. The Cross was presented to Trout during a reception thrown by Pancho at her home in San Marino. As a biographer of Trout noted, only two other Aviation Crosses were awarded to Americans: Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.

Special thanks to Igor Pusenjak

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Special thanks to Igor Pusenjak, who runs the terrific website FlyInCalendar.com, for helping support our project by hosting our banner on his site! It's through the support of people in the aviation community like Igor that this film is made possible.

Pancho's Flight into Mexico

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In February of 1930, just about 76 years ago (!) Florence "Pancho" Barnes flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City. While other aviatrixes had flown into Mexico — Matilde Moisant made exhibition flights there in the 1910s — Pancho was apparently the first to fly long distance into the interior. The reason for the flight was to pioneer an air route for Pickwick Airways. Pickwick, incidentally, had been formed just a year priot in 1929 and aviatrixes Bobbi Trout and Ruth Elder were on hand for opening ceremonies at Grand Central Airport!

Pancho flew her trust Travel Air Speedwing biplane on the long-distance flight. She was accompanied by a student flyer, Mariano Samaniego who acted as her interpreter and probably took the stick on occasion. The flight was leisurely, and according to biographer Lauren Kessler, Pancho flew for only three or four hours a day over the course of five days with stops in Tucson, Arizona, Nogales, Mazatlan, and Guadalajara.

Considering the fact that Mexico at the time had few airports, and given the fact that navigational aides in those days were primitive at best, Pancho's flight was an impressive achivement. Even more impressive was the reception Pancho apparently received in Mexico City, where she was feted by members of the Mexican Air Force and government. A great website which includes more information about Pancho's flight into Mexico can be found:

here.

Exploring The Enigma of "Pegasus"

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Ted Tate (seen in the photo with his friend Roscoe Turner) lived one hell of a life. A decorated pilot who flew combat missions in WWII, Korea and Vietnam, he was also a flight test engineer who worked on the F-111 and B-58 Hustler programs. He was a prolific writer who authored over 150 articles, and he produced a stack of books in his lifetime concerning a wide variety of subjects including flight test, travel in Mexico, and human survival.

One of Tate's most well-read books is "The Lady Who Tamed Pegasus", a biography of Pancho Barnes that he claimed he'd co-authored with Pancho. The book, which is out-of-print but still widely available, is something of an enigma. Just how much of what appears in the book is true, and based on Pancho's actual recollections, and how much Tate added for the sake of drama, is highly unclear. It came out years after Pancho died, and was independently published, so it was never reviewed. Tate never seems to have discussed how he came to write the book.

We do know this much: Ted Tate was a good friend of Pancho's late in her life, possibly her best friend. In the 1970s while stationed up at Edwards Air Force Base, Tate sought out Pancho, who he'd heard about from a friend. When he found her she was in poor health, living in squalor in Boron, California. Tate not only arranged for Pancho to receive medical care, but he re-introduced her to the staff at Edwards. Before long Pancho, who had been estranged from the Air Force after the lawsuits surrounding the "Happy Bottom Riding Club" affair, was voted "1st Citizen of Edwards" by her re-discovered friends. Thanks to Tate, a special banquet was held in Pancho's honor just prior to her death in 1975. It must have been one of Pancho's proudest moments.

It might surprise you to learn that Ted Tate's book "The Lady Who Tamed Pegasus" is a polarizing force. Filled with raunchy escapades and chock-full of racy language and expletives, it's appearance in print in 1985 outraged some of Pancho's friends, who felt it diminished Pancho's legacy. Some of them, including Chuck Yeager, denounced it.

What's interesting to us, however, is that many of the stories that appear in the book appear authentic, and some of them are not documented elsewhere. Is the narrator that's speaking in the book really Pancho Barnes? Are these her owrds? The question of what portions of it are true, and what's false, is difficult to speculate about. One of the problems is that Ted Tate passed away a number of years ago, and so it is impossible to ask him about how he made the book.

Our hope has always been that we'd find some additional documentation to help resolve the mystery. Perhaps if we did some digging, we could find some of Ted Tate's original notes, or better yet tape recordings that he made while interviewing Pancho for the book. Through Dr. Lou D'Elia, who has preserved Pancho Barnes' personal archives, I was able to meet with Ted Tate's daughter Tedi last week. (She showed me the terrific photo I've posted here, of Pancho in a tigerskin jacket! That's Tedi on the right.) I learned from Tedi that she does have several large boxes of her father's personal papers in storage, and would be happy to look for any materials related to "Pegasus". Whether any of it contains the materials we're seeking, and can help clear up the mystery surrounding this controversial book, remains to be seen. Stay tuned!

HERE WE COME: TAKING OFF IN 2007!

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I sometimes think that the "Pancho Barnes" documentary is a little bit like one of those airplanes of yesterday — a Jenny powered by an OX-5 engine. The metaphor may sound a bit weak, but if you think about it, those old planes were awfully hard to start. But once you got the propeller cranking, an OX-5 would take you where you needed to go, and with a roar!

Getting the "Pancho" film off the ground has been difficult, but thankfully director Amanda Pope and I made a great deal of progress in 2006. Not only did we meet our initial fundraising goal, but we made some important discoveries for the film. We spent a several months this year going thru Pancho’s personal papers and documents, and found some wonderful, never-before-seen material. We visited archives and libraries, obtained Pancho's FBI files (!) and met some of Pancho's friends, a couple of her biographers, and a host of admirers — all of whom encouraged us in our efforts.

Thanks to the generosity of a great many people, both individuals and foundations, we’re moving forward in a big way in 2007. In January, we will begin shooting our final interviews with friends and acquaintances of Pancho. I'm not about to name names, but we've got some wonderful people lined up who will be a part of the film. They'll supplement interviews we’ve already conducted with a host of aviation luminaries that included Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, Buzz Aldrin, Babe Story and Robert Cardenas.

A lot of work remains, and a great deal of fundraising as well. You can help make it all possible by donating to our project through KOCE-TV (see the donations page on this website). Every gift is tax-deductible, and corporate sponsorship welcome.

Check in with us to find out about our progress, and tell your friends what we're up to. Tell them, the Pancho Barnes documentary is coming...and with a roar!

Happy holidays and happy New Year!

Nick Spark Producer

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