Why Charlie?

10:54 PM

I get an email once in a while that asks about my involvement in writing the screenplay for Three-Eight Charlie, the authorized life story of Jerrie Mock. For those new to this conversation, Jerrie was the first woman to fly solo around the world, making this fantastic journey in 1964 in a basically stock 1953 Cessna 180 named Charlie.

Since I have been producing a fair amount of new readers mostly due to Twitter, I thought it would be a great time to bring the World of Flying tweeples up to speed on a project that has been my passion since 2000. Here is the how the whole thing started:
I had been visiting the Fresno County Library since about age 10 when in 2000, I pulled a ratty copy of Three-Eight Charlie off the shelf of the aviation section. I had never heard of Jerrie Mock, but I seriously dig Skywagons, and this looked like a good hangar flying tale of one courageous woman's romp around our globe. Once into the book, I could not put it down, it was Mock's masterpiece, a tale of epic size and scope, with all the ups, downs pitfalls and triumphs you would expect that comes from a solo flight around this rock we live on.
Intrigued by the story, I read that Mock's plane, FAA N1538C, was in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. I had a planned trip there in 2000, so I made the National Air and Space Museum a required stop to visit Charlie. After you read Mock's book, you feel as if you had ridden jump seat with her, and you gain a great admiration for her trusty airplane, who comes to life in the book. And since this flight was such a major part of aviation history, I expected to see Charlie hanging right there next to Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. Oh how wrong I was:
After searching from one end of the NASM to another, I could not find Charlie. I asked a clerk and found that Mock's plane was "in storage" at the Smithsonian's Paul Garber Restoration Facility in nearby Suitland, MD. I caught a train and bus out there, and slipped onto the tail end of the last tour of the day. In the last building on the tour, I stumbled across Charlie, stuffed back in a corner with his wings removed and resting between the gear. One tire was a little low, and the plane looked like it had seen better days. I was blown away. No, check that, I was pissed. And confused.
I stood there for a few minutes staring at one of aviation's most important historical artifacts, and could not understand how this woman could make such a big flight only to see her plane so far away from the public eye. None of this computed to me...I had to learn more...and I SWEAR the following happened:
As the rest of the tour wandered to the far side of the building housing Charlie, I stepped over the rope that separated the public from the artifacts. I walked slowly up to the side of Charlie, and soon found myself completely mesmerized. I stood in a trance, my fingers soon running softly across the large red "N" number on the side of the fuselage. To myself, I said "how the hell could this have happened, Charlie? What ARE you doing here?" As I stood there, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that in some otherworldy way, Charlie was communicating with me, and he was telling me to get him out of there. It literally gives me chills to even write this today, because I know what I felt that day, and it was an airplane pleading with it to help get his and his pilot's story told. And while I know you can't actually talk to a flying machine, I did that day, and promised Charlie I was going to do whatever I could to right this wrong. At this point the security guard showed up and politely ordered me to step away from the artifact.
From that day to today, I have been working to bring Charlie's and Jerrie's story to the masses. I met with Jerrie in 2004 and after convincing her I had her best interests at heart, I obtained the Life Story Rights from her and spent the next two years working with some professional editors and directors polishing the script to Three-Eight Charlie. I choose to write this as a feature film and not a documentary because I intend to someday get this movie made as a work of family entertainment that will introduce flying to a whole generation of young kids and their thirtysomething parents. The way to accomplish this goal is to see it in major release in theaters across the country.

For full disclosure, the Smithsonian's Dorothy Cochrane did help me out big time in this project. She explained that the NASM had just ran out of room, and that Charlie had a permanent home waiting when the new Steven Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport was complete. And the museum kept their word, as Charlie is indeed on display there for everyone to enjoy, and I cannot take credit for that. I will however take credit for raising awareness of the story, the airplane and the pilot.

Where does this project go from here? Traditional channels to get into Hollywood's inner circle have not yet paid off, and I am exploring other independent routes to get this film funded and produced. It might not be this year, no, this year a film is coming out about a woman who while colorful, did not make it around the world.

Someday, everyone will get to enjoy the story of the women who did make it around the world, solo. When that happens, when the public learns about Jerrie and Charlie, my quest will be complete. All that stands in the way is one giant "A" list actress to attach herself to the project, and about $20 million to bring Jerrie's world in 1964 back to life.

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