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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.