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Article: Be Careful Who You Mess With


Be Careful Who You Mess With

If you are a fan of aviation movies, then perhaps you remember watching the movie "The Right Stuff."

In the movie, there is a segment about when Chuck Yeager became the first pilot to break the sound barrier. The flight took place from Edwards Air Force Base in California.

The aircraft he flew was serial number #46-062, nicknamed Glamourous Glennis in which he piloted the airplane and exceeded the speed of sound.

Just outside of Edwards AFB was a dud ranch, where pilots loved to relax and enjoy themselves. In the movie, the managers of the Bell X-1 program were trying to find a pilot brave enough to take the X-1 past the sound barrier.

One pilot wanted a lot of money to make the flight, but Chuck Yeager offered to do it for free because he was already a USAF pilot.

Despite a broken arm, Yeager succeeded in breaking the sound barrier for the first time in history.

The Happy Bottom Riding Club

An early aviatrix by the name of Pancho Barnes was a pioneer aviator and a founder of the first movie stunt pilot's union.

Florence Lowe "Panch" Barnes standing beside her beloved Travel Air Type R known as the "Mystery Ship"
Pancho Barnes standing beside her Travel Air Type R, known as the "Mystery Ship" R613K.

You can see a movie about Panch and her airplane called "The Legend of Pancho Barnes."

In 1935 She built a due ranch that included a riding club, bar, and restaurant with a swimming pool adjacent to Edwards AFB, which quickly became a gathering place for Edwards AFB pilots. 

An interesting feature of the swimming pool was that it had an inclined deck so that Pancho could ride her horse into the pool to cool off after a long day riding in the desert. 

The Happy Bottom Riding CLub which is adjacent to Edwards Air Force Base in California.
The Happy Bottom Riding Club Dude Ranch

Pancho Barnes relaxing with Phoebe Omlie and Irma "Babe" Story at the Happy Bottom Riding Club
Pancho Barnes relaxing with Phoebe Omlie and Irma "Babe" Story, fellow aviatrix.

One of our earlier blog posts was about Phoebe Omlie.

It was there at the Happy Bottom Riding Club where Chuck Yeager agreed to fly the X-1 and break the speed of sound barrier.

At least, that is how it was portrayed in the movie.

Enter The USAF

Edwards Air Force Base is the home of the Air Force Test Center, the Air Force Test Pilot School, and NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center.

Aerial view of Edwards Air Force Base in California
Edwards Air Force Base, California

In 1952 a change of command occurred at Edwards Air Force Base, and the new command envisioned a new, super-long runway to accommodate new atomic-powered aircraft.

As it turned out, the new runway would run directly across The Happy Bottom Riding Club.

The USAF offered her a price for her ranch, land, and facilities which was basically the price of vacant desert land.

Unhappy with that offer, Panch Barnes requested a fair appraisal better to reflect the replacement cost of her land and business.

Well, while the appraisal was taking place, the leadership at Edwards decided to accuse Panch of running a house of ill-repute on her land. The result was that her ranch and business were put off-limits to military personnel.

As you might imagine, the value of her business plummeted.

Be Careful Who You Mess With

A riled-up Pancho Barnes filed a lawsuit against the USAF to, as she put it, "Roust out the scoundrels in the government who would perpetrate such an injustice." 

The goal was to give her an opportunity to depose under oath the various leaders and personnel on the base so that the truth would come out and clear her name. 

While the intense court battle raged on a mysterious fire in 1953 burned her ranch to the ground.  

The burned out Happy Bottom Riding Club in 1953 during a court battle with the USAF
The burned-out Happy Bottom Riding Club

Of course, this further reduced the value of her property, now even closer the USAF offer to purchase.

Determined to receive fair value for her property, Panch Barnes continued her lawsuit, receive fair value for her land, and to clear her name.

During testimony, she said, "My grandfather founded the United States Air Force."

Based upon that argument, the court found in her favor, and she was awarded $ 375,000 for her property and business.

Also, her name was cleared.

As fate would have it, the proposed runway was never built.

As I said above, be careful who you mess with!

I hope you enjoyed this trip through some of the history of aviation. If you enjoyed this trip, and are new to this newsletter, sign up to receive your own weekly newsletter here:: Subscribe here.

Until next time, keep your eyes safe and focused on what's ahead of you, Hersch!




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