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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Legend of Pancho Barnes

Recently Netflix has added a documentary called The Legend of Pancho Barnes. It is available for instant viewing.

For most of you Florence "Pancho" Barnes needs no introduction but for you young people out there I shall provide a brief history lesson.

Most of us came to know of the aviatrix Pancho Barnes through the book and film 'The Right Stuff'. She also appears in the book 'Yeager'. I have also seen her mentioned in a number of books about Amelia Earhart for they knew one another.

Florence earned the nickname Pancho when she ran away from a marriage to a preacher and hopped a gun running boat to Mexico. Legend has it that the preacher wouldn’t give her a divorce so she used to buzz the church during service every Sunday. She was a record setting pilot in her own right and flew as a 'stuntman' in a number of famous movies such as Howard Hughes's 'Hells Angels'. She was friends to a number of Hollywood movie stars and famous pilots of the day.

In the early days of test flight a place called Muroc Air Force Base (which would later be called Edwards) drew the best pilots around. They lived in tents on the high desert and flew the fastest machines ever built. The nearest town was hours away so Pancho saw an opportunity and built a fine ranch and watering hole that would in time come to be known as the 'Happy Bottom Riding Club'. All of the big names in aviation at that time hung out at Pancho's. Some of the names include: Jimmy Doolittle, Bob Hoover, Chuck Yeager, and many of the Mercury Seven astronauts.

In the 1980's a film was made about Pancho starring Valerie Bertinelli. This was a very watered down version of reality. This video is not available at this time. As much as I enjoyed the ealier one it really didn't portray Pancho correctly. The real life Pancho was not a particularly attractive woman and she had a mouth on her that would make sailors look for an exit.

This new documentary gives the larger than life woman her due. Starring the voice talents of Kathy Bates and Tom Skerritt the film is engrossing. The Legend of Pancho Barnes also features interviews with many icons of aviation such as Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover, and Buzz Aldrin.

I think it is fair to say that this is must see TV for all pilots.


History Channels: Dogfights

Over the holiday’s I’ve had time to search through Netflix’s extensive instant movie library for films that feature flying. I’ve run across a few gems that I think you would enjoy dear reader. Obviously the mail order side of Netflix has a larger inventory of cool flying movies but the selection for instant viewing isn’t bad. So if you are weathered in someplace with nothing to do but wait, fire up Netflix pour yourself a cool drink and get ready to enjoy the ride.

I love the History Channel. They have a number of documentaries about flying. I know many documentaries are a real snooze fest but this one will really get your blood pumping. Dogfights Seasons 1 and 2 is a wonderful mix of real historic film footage, actual pilot testimony, and cutting edge computer graphics. They have painstakingly and in startling detail recreated histories most incredible dogfights. You will be placed in the cockpit of a gleaming F-86 Saber Jet hunting in Mig Alley. The tactics and maneuvers are explained in graphic detail. You can almost smell the cordite as you fire 50-Caliber guns into Mig 15’s flown by Russian ‘Honcho’ pilots. Every episode will plunge you into the aircraft and battles of every major air battle since WWI. You will hear the pilot’s themselves give first person accounts in the background while you see planes engaged in mortal combat. If you are stuck in front of the tube with little to do try Dogfights.

Another documentary that is quite interesting is Nova’s Battle of the X-Planes which has some rare footage of the competition for the new Joint Strike Fighter. This is definitely‘Must See’ TV for pilots.

The Magic of Flight: IMAX is a fun movie documentary that is almost entirely filmed in the air. Expertly narrated by Tom Selleck. This is a good film for young people as well.

All pilots have a fascination with the Write Brothers and I am no different. If you are like me you will certainly enjoy Nova’s Wright Brothers Flying Machine. This show even goes so far as building a replica of a Wright Flyer and shows real film footage of it’s first flight.

The next films you are likely familiar with but that’s okay, these are the movie equivalent of comfort food for pilots. Next on our list is The Spirit of St. Louis. I hadn’t seen this movie since I was a kid and when it magically appeared on Netflix a couple of weeks ago I decided it was time to watch it again. It holds up surprisingly well to my eye. James Stewert gives the great performance that he is known for. I especially enjoyed the montage in the Ryan factory of the Spirit being built. That montage shows almost every aspect of building a plane even down to the rib stitching. Who could forget Jimmy Stewart’s screeching drawl out of the window of Spirit “Hey where’s Ireleand?”

Another great Jimmy Stewart Flying movie is Strategic Air Command. This may be one of the most accurate flying movies Hollywood has ever produced and darn good ride to boot. Having worked for SAC myself in years past I give this one two thumbs up.

This next entry is something new. The Red Baron is surprisingly good and plunges you into the world of the famed German ace. The special effects are on par with Flyboys and it is just as good a time. The story does get a little slow at times but it doesn’t beleaguer the movie much. The courtesy the German and allied pilots show each other harkens back to the age of chivalry.

The next two movies I list together because they have much in common. They even use a lot of the same historic battle footage. These are of course Tora! Tora! Tora! and Midway. If you want to get your war in the pacific fix you could do a lot worse than these two epic films. Both movies are blissfully free of Ben Affleck.

You Seaplane pilots out there will enjoy Flight from Ashiya. Michael Anderson’s masterpiece about The Air Rescue Service featuring Yul Brynner.

The final two films are documentaries. They are a little dry but have excellent film footage and interviews. I would save these for those nights that you just can’t sleep; these will send you off with dreams Merlin Engines dancing in your head. Empires of Industry: War Planes of World War II and Memphis Belle are two films every pilot should partake in.

Well dear reader I have given your hours of Netflix viewing for pilot’s I am sure there is more in there and as they add to the instant library I will keep you posted. For example I am still waiting for them to give us ‘Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines’! It’s available on DVD but as of this writing still not instant.