Women in Transportation History: Pancho Barnes, Aviator

Aviation pioneer Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes (1901-1975) developed a strong enthusiasm for human flight early on in her life. When she was only eight years old, her grandfather Thaddeus S.C. Lowe – an aviation legend who achieved fame as the Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps during the Civil War – took her to the first major airshow in the United States at Dominguez Field in Los Angeles County.

In 1928, Barnes followed through on her desire to pilot a plane when she took flying lessons. She soon became a formidable aviator. Barnes competed in air races and, in 1930, zipped through the skies above Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport at 196.2 miles (315.8 kilometers) per hour in a Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship plane to break the women’s speed record which had been set by Amelia Earhart.

Another one of Barnes’ notable aviation achievements took place the following year when she established a round-trip record between Los Angeles and Sacramento while piloting a low-winged monoplane. She flew approximately 350 miles (563.3 kilometers) each way, taking two hours and 41 minutes to travel to Sacramento and two hours and 13 minutes en route back to Los Angeles. In recognition of her new record, Governor James Rolph of California presented Barnes with a trophy that singled her out as “America’s fastest woman flyer.”

In addition, Barnes made her way to Hollywood and worked as a stunt pilot in several 1930s air-adventure movies. She founded the Associated Motion Picture Pilots, a union promoting both flight safety and standardized pay for aerial stunt work.

In yet another memorable chapter in the annals of her flight-themed work, Barnes eventually operated a bar and restaurant in the Mojave Desert in southern California that was frequented by test pilots such as Chuck Yeager and Buzz Aldrin. This later-in-life role earned Barnes another type of big-screen immortality when actress Kim Stanley portrayed her in the 1983 movie The Right Stuff.

For more information on Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancho_Barnes.

(Photo credit: By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30191793.)

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  1. Today in Women’s Transportation History – 2010: The Flying Flapper of Freeport Takes Her Last Flight — Transportation History Fly n Things


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