Friday, September 29, 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)"
02 February 2007

The Mystery of the "Mystery Ship" #4

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On March 1, 1931, Pancho set a speed record by flying her Mystery Ship from Los Angeles to Sacramento in two hours and 13 minutes. According to biographer Barbara Schultz, Pancho's arrival coincided with a Red Cross fundraiser at the United Airport, and she was greeted by close to 20,000 spectators. It must have been one of the most thrilling moments of her life!

In August, Pancho participated in the 1931 Powder Puff Derby flying her Travel Air biplane, and although she made it to Cleveland, she was out of the running. Nevertheless when she returned home, she was invited to participate in the Fiesta de Los Angeles parade. Her Mystery Ship was put on a float and she and the plane driven through downtown Los Angeles. They were celebrities both!

By now, although she didn't yet know it, Pancho's speed record setting days were behind her. The Depression was beginning to affect her finances, and her piloting skills may have also been slightly on the wane.

Pancho had always allowed Paul Mantz to fly her plane, and now decided to allow him to keep it in his hangar and fly and maintain it in exchange for maintaining it. As part of the deal, Pancho took a $5000 loan from Mantz.

Mantz flew the plane in a number of movies, including the amazing Technicolor film "Dive Bomber", where (painted a drab green) it appeared as an "experimental R.A.F. fighter". Meanwhile, Pancho moved to the desert near Muroc in 1935, leaving her flying career, and her beloved plane, behind.

Pancho always figured she would reclaim her Model R. But in 1938, with the Great Depression in its ninth year, Mantz called in his loan. Pancho was unable to pay it, and lost her pride and joy: her Mystery Ship.

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