Wednesday, April 24, 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)"
30 March 2007

Some Perspective on Pancho

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Barbara Hunter Schultz's house speaks volumes about her character: the rear part of the spacious home is not a garage, but an airplane hangar. In it are five or six aircraft in various states of repair — but at least three are flyable and Barbara goes aloft regularly, often with her husband Phil who is a professional pilot.

Barbara lives near Fox Field in Lancaster, California, and has been in these parts for over thirty years. When she first came to the area, the name "Pancho Barnes" was still on the tip of everyone's tongue, especially around Fox Field where Pancho's son Billy maintained his hangar. Billy and Phil worked for several years, in fact, to restore Pancho's Travelair "Mystery Ship" to flight status, before Bill was killed in an airplane crash in 1980.

Being an adventurous woman herself, and one fascinated with aviation, it seemed natural that Barbara would feel a bond with Pancho. That's the reason, back in the 1980's, that she began to seriously think about the idea of writing a Pancho Barnes biography. The task ended up taking roughly ten years.

The result is a great book, one that not only tells Pancho's story in an entertaining fashion, but does a great deal to separate fact from fiction. In Pancho's case, there seems to be a lot of fiction about what she said and did ... and who she did it with!

One of Barbara's biggest breaks in writing the book, she explained to director Amanda Pope during our recent interview, occured when she met Gertrude Marya Caraman. Marya had been Pancho's social secretary during some of her most formative, and riotous, days — during the late 1920's when she the world was her oyster. Marya helped plan many of Pancho's wild Hollywood parties, and started helping Pancho write an autobiography (one of many attempts she would make during her lifetime!) Barbara Schultz quotes a terrific letter from Marya to Pancho in her book, recalling Christmas 1929: "You gave me your travel case and a huge bottle of toilet water you had bought for Ramon (Novarro) and decided wasn't good enough for him...I remember sitting by the bed and you sitting up IN the bed and thoughtfully (philosopher style) scratching your legs and telling me that you were a genius and I admitting that you might be."

Writing the biography might have taken nearly a decade, but Barbara enjoyed the task thoroughly, as it allowed her to meet a cast of fascinating characters. "Every now and then, the human races produces unique, one-of-a-kind characters who become our celebrities, menotrs and the stuff of which legends are born," Schultz writes in her book's introduction, "Florence Lowe 'Pancho' Barnes was a character among characters."

If you're interested in the book, you can find it on or other internet booksellers. You can also buy it directly from Barbara's amazing internet shop, PlaneMercantile. While you're there, you can also take a look at some of the other neat merchandise she carries, from Amelia Earhart Luggage to books and jewelry.

here is a link


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