Saturday, April 10, 2021

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

Aviatrix Books to Read and Enjoy

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I've been doing a lot of reading for the Pancho project! It's a lot of fun to immerse yourself in books, and periodically in the production journal I'll write a little review. To come in the next couple months will be mention of books about Bob Hoover, Chuck Yeager, Roscoe Turner, Bobbi Trout, and other friends of Pancho. Today let me mention the book "Jackie Cochran" by Maryann Bucknum Brinley and Jackie herself. Some may think it is sacrilege to mention Jackie C. and Pancho in the same context — the two notoriously didn't like one another! But it is hard not to compare the two. Jackie learned to fly a few years after Pancho did, in 1932, but her career lasted far longer and had a far greater impact than Pancho's. She was the first woman to fly at Mach 1, winner of the Bendix Trophy, fifteen Harmon trophies, president of the 99's, and the organizer and commander of WWII's Women's Air Service Pilots, the W.A.S.Ps. She was arguably the most illustrious female flier of the 20th Century.

Jackie's story is similar in some ways to Pancho's. Both women were absolutely fearless in the air, and both craved speed. While Pancho worked as a motion picture stunt pilot and set speed records in her Travelair Mystery Ship, Cochrane competed in air races around the country, flew in the grueling MacRobertson London-to-Australia endurance race, and tested aircraft for the likes of Sasha Seversky, founder of Republic. They shared many friends in common, including Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle and Hap Arnold. According to friends we interviewed, Pancho and Jackie competed for Yeager's attention in particular. Cochran believed Pancho was "the most uncouth woman alive" according to Gen. Fred Ascani, who got to witness the rare event of the two being in the same room, on the occasion of a party celebrating Cochran's breaking the sound barrier. For Pancho's part, the attractive, accomplished Cochran must have brought out her competitive spirit. What's interesting, and you'll get this if you read the Brinley book, is the subtext that underscored the relationship between the two. Pancho came from an extremely wealthy family and flew for the thrill of it. Her wild, outsized behaviour shocked many of her blueblood friends and her family, and made her an outsider. She ended her life fairly impoverished, her wealth gone, forced out of high society in part because of her love of flying and antics. For Jackie's part, she came from nothing. Adopted as a child, she grew up dirt poor, and strived her whole life to succeed, and to do so with finesse and polish. From a start as a beautician, she became enormously successful as a business person and pilot, a friend of presidents and generals who came to be accepted into high society. The arc of her life, in short, was the opposite of Pancho's. From that standpoint alone, no wonder these two did not get along.

Remants of the Happy Bottom Riding Club

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A large part of Pancho Barnes' guest ranch, the Happy Bottom Riding Club, burned to the ground in 1953. A short time later the property was seized by the U.S. Air Force, and it was absorbed into the limits of Edwards Air Force Base. What few people realize is that parts of the HBRC are still standing. The long hotel buildings, which survived the fire, were sold and moved to a location north of Edwards. Pancho's hangar was moved to El Mirage airport. The more permanent buildings at the HBRC were either bulldozed, or left to decay. Pictured here are some of the remnants of the ranch, as photographed during a recent visit by our documentary film crew.

Pancho's famous circular swimming pool, and the fountain she had built in the shape of the USAF insignia are also still standing.

Combing thru the Los Angeles Times

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Combing thru the Los Angeles Times One of the more interesting and let's face it — fun! — bits of research on the film is looking thru the Los Angeles Times database for articles about Pancho. So far we've surveyed hundreds, and there are many more keyword searches to be done. When you consider that Pancho at one time called herself "Florence Lowe" and "Florence Barnes" in addition to "Pancho Barnes", well, you get the idea! Pancho was featured in the Times as a young debutante, and her wedding to her first husband Rankin Barnes made the society pages. As one of California's premiere aviatrixes, she made the headlines repeatedly between 1928 and 1935. Here is one of the more interesting discoveries of late, a photo of Pancho after she'd just set a new speed record flying her Travelair Mystery Ship from San Jose Airport to Van Nuys, in 1:39. A remarkable feature of this flight is that she carried photographic plates snapped at the start of the Stanford-USC game at Palo Alto, and they were in Los Angeles being developed by the time the game ended!

Louise Thaden's Friendship with Pancho

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Pat Thaden Webb, the daughter of Louise Thaden (the aviatrix who won the 1929 Powder Puff Derby) recently wrote to me about her mother's friendship with Pancho. It's quite poignant so I thought it best to share... Here's what she wrote: "Yes, Mom and Pancho were friends, and Mom thought the world of her. I remember one time when Mom and I were driving somewhere and the conversation came up about some of Mom's early flying friends that had met such tragic deaths, which made a lasting impact on my mother that she maybe could have done more than she had to change things. I asked her how in the world she could have been friends with Pancho when Pancho was so wild and Mom was just the opposite. Mom replied with great feeling that the crazy things Pancho did was just for effect, and that she was one of the most good hearted persons she had ever known, and had done more to help people all during her life than most people knew...and for me not to forget that. Pancho was at the top of the list of the people Mom admired, respected and loved."

Brian Terwilliger's 'One Six Right' Finale

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On Sunday, I attended a special screening of 'One Six Right', a wonderful film made by Brian J. Terwilliger. (See: Brian's film is obstensibly about the history of the Van Nuys Airport, but it actually reaches far beyond that and into a somewhat ethereal area, celebrating the mystery, joy and wonderment of flight. Beyond that, it has an important political message, that local and municipal airports contribute to our nation's economy and welfare.

Brian's film is obstensibly about the history of the Van Nuys Airport, but it actually reaches far beyond that and into a somewhat ethereal area, celebrating the mystery, joy and wonderment of flight. Beyond that, it has an important political message, that local and municipal airports contribute to our nation's economy and welfare.

The special screening represented the end of a bit of a barnstorming trip for Brian, who showed the film all across the country after premiering it at the Osh Kosh air show. In attendance at the screening were many notables from the aviation world.

On display were some amazing aircraft including an A-26 Invader, Clay Lacy's DC-3 in United colors, and some of the stunt aircraft from the film. 'One Six Right' sets a standard that we can only hope to follow with "Pancho".

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