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Pancho

This one kinda came out of left field today and caught me by surprise…but I’m glad it did.

I was idly scrolling through instant view movies on Netflix this morning, looking as I often do to put on something interesting for background sound while surfing around, writing a bit of correspondence and of course scratching out a blog post. I have no idea why, but playing movies seems to clear my mind better than music does. Usually it’s some old favorite that I know practically word for word and don’t even need to watch to know what’s going on; I hit the ‘play’ button and get on with whatever I’m doing.

Not today. I selected a recent addition to the Netflix streaming titles, The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club, hit ‘play’ as usual…and didn’t take my eyes off the screen for the whole hour and four minutes of this film made in 2009.

I’d been mildly familiar with Pancho’s life since I got into aviation but never got the full story until today. I’d heard she was not a typical woman of her times, and after watching the film I’d have to say that’s a major understatement. Florence Leontine Barnes was on the dumpy side and had a face that’d stop a clock, but she’s one of the most magnificent women I’ve ever learned of. A flyer since 1928, she was a barnstormer, air racer and entrepreneur, operating her Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch for many years near Muroc Field, a haven for pilots of every cut and stripe. It adopted its famous nickname, the Happy Bottom Riding Club, from a guest describing his horseback riding experience, and more than lived up to it through the years. That ranch was the location of  too many boisterous adventures to catalogue, flamboyant personalities coming and going, and must have practically hummed with fun and creative energy.

I was delighted by the commentary by one of my favorite pilots of all time, Col. R.A. ‘Bob’ Hoover, throughout the movie, too. I’ve seen the man’s flying at airshows many times over the years, have met him personally more than once, and have his signature in my first logbook…a true gentleman and a great tie in to my own life with this movie.

There was plenty of footage of all sorts of great aircraft, but the highlight for me was Pancho’s 1929 Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship, a lovely machine and a long time favorite of mine, one of the prettiest ships of aviation’s Golden Age in my opinion. Once I’m mobile and can fly larger models again, I’m gonna build me one, I decided today.

If you’re at all inclined toward aviation, this film’s worth a watch. I like inspiring movies that are about real people and things, and I have zero patience with squishy stuff containing anything maudlin or syrupy…and this film delivers. After watching this film, I’m pretty sure I’d have been proud to count Pancho Barnes as a friend.

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