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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.
OK so I saw the PBS version of this doc recently so I'm not sure if the DVD version is longer. And that is my only complaint otherwise I'd have given it a 10. For anybody with an aviation interest, this doc is a must view. Pancho was definitely a woman ahead of her time. One thing I do remember from Yeager's biography when Pancho came up in his book, was the unpleasant fact she had been dead for a considerable period of time before somebody found her body. A pretty ignoble end to this woman's amazing life. Nuf said, see this doc OK?
Maybe if Pancho had died while flying, she, too, would have been as famous as Amelia Earhart. All I know is that most folks, including me, have never heard of this remarkably unconventional woman. Florence Barnes was a very anachronistic lady. She had little interest in living a conventional life in the early part of the 20th century. She looked very unfeminine, smoked, cursed, wore men's clothing, worked for a while on a banana boat and was one of the first women to get a pilot's license! She clearly was a character--and an early feminist role model. There's MUCH, MUCH more to her story than all this and I suggest you see the film for yourself. It's never dull (since she was such a character) and the film is made in a very interesting fashion--very professionally made and a first-class production all the way. Well worth seeing.
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