Florence “Pancho” Barnes was born into a very wealthy family but she wanted to live a different kind of life than expected from her family. She did give in to marry the man picked out for her. He was a minister named C. Rankin Barnes.She had one son but rarely took care of him. When she became a pilot she buzzed his church during his service. Her family couldn’t believe that their daughter was such a foul woman. She was a foul cigar smoking, and used language a cultured woman would never use.
Her grandfather’s was a pioneer in ballooning sparked an interest in aviation. Florence was not a typical married woman. She learned to fly even with the objections of her family. She took lessons and made her solo flight after six hours. This was incredible. Then she dressed as a man spent months in Mexico and helped revolutionaries escape from the police. She was named Pancho by these men and the name stuck.
Achievements and Records:
- Started the Stunt Pilots in Motion Picture Association
- First Woman Stunt Pilot in movie “Hell’s Angels”
- Entered the Powder Puff Derby but didn’t place because she crashed
- Organized the barnstorming troupe “Mystery Circus of the Air” Test pilot for Lockheed’s Vega Flew at 196 m.p.h. She became world’s fastest woman pilot
She bought a strip of land in the Mojave Desert and built The Happy Bottom Riding Club also known as The Rancho Oro Verde Fly in Dude Ranch. The Muroc and later Edwards Air Base near. On the dude ranch she entertained many test pilots from the base. She became friends with Chuck Yeager, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin. Some say she ran a bordello but it was not. She did have rip-roaring parties there and the ranch became The Place To Go. In 1952 she had a conflict with the United States Air Force. They wanted to build a new runway that would run on her property. They wanted to pay her for her property but Pancho wanted a new appraisal. It was then that the Air Force accused her of running a bordello and wouldn’t allow men to come to her ranch. This was the beginning of the end of her dude ranch. Pancho filed a lawsuit against the Air Force and then a suspicious fire burnt down the ranch. She won the case and her named cleared.
After this lawsuit she developed cancer and died in 1975.
It’s hard to describe Pancho because she was a fabulous pilot but also a colorful character. You will be fascinated as you read more about her. She was part of the Golden Age of Aviation but she was more than that. I was so intrigued with her and I hope you will be too.
To learn more about Pancho Barnes Go to:
Movie: Pancho Barnes with Valerie Bertinelli
Biography: The Lady Who Tamed Pegasus: The Story of By Pancho Barnes by Grover Ted Tate
Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes by Barbara Schultz
PBS documentary Film: The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Club