Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes (born Florence Leontine Lowe) was a pioneer aviatrix, and one of the most well-known female pilots of her time. She learned to fly in 1928, going on to break Amelia Earhart's speed record only two years later in 1930, traveling at 196.19 mph.
After this accomplishment, she went on to pursue the film industry as a Hollywood stunt flier. Having experienced these working conditions firsthand, she established the Associated Motion Picture Pilots union in 1931, promoting safety and fair wages for stunt pilots.
In 1935, she purchased 180 acres of land in the Mojave Desert, adjacent to Rogers Dry Lake and Muroc Air Field. On her land, she built the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch that catered to the local airmen and test pilots.
The Happy Bottom Riding Club became the go-to spot to celebrate successful test flights, with Barnes offering a free steak dinner for breaking the sound barrier. She became close friends with many of the early test pilots, including Chuck Yeager, Buzz Aldrin, and Jimmy Doolittle, among others.
Pancho later became known as the "Mother of Edwards Air Force Base", with the Officer's mess named in her honor.
After she died in 1975, special permissions were granted by the United States Air Force, allowing her ashes to be spread over the site of her original Happy Bottom Riders Club.
Her life and shining personality were commemorated in the 1983 film "The Right Stuff", based on the book written by Tom Wolfe.
"Gurba, Norma H. Legendary Locals of the Antelope Valley. Arcadia, 2013.
Photo courtesy of MOAH Collections"