|Florence Lowe Barnes|
Barnes in her 1928 image used on her pilot's license
|Born||Florence Leontine Lowe
July 22, 1901
|Died||March 30, 1975
|Known for||Happy Bottom Riding Club|
|Spouse(s)||C. Rankin Barnes (m. 1919–1941)|
Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes (July 22, 1901 – March 30, 1975) was a pioneer aviatrix, the founder of the first movie stunt pilots' union and the owner of the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a bar and restaurant. She broke Amelia Earhart's air speed record in 1930. She was a member of the Ninety-Nines, and raced in the Women's Air Derby.
She was born as Florence Leontine Lowe on July 22, 1901 to Thaddeus Lowe II (1870–1955) and his first wife, Florence May Dobbins, in Pasadena, California. Her grandfather, was Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who had pioneered American aviation with the establishment of the Union Army Balloon Corps during the American Civil War. In 1919 she married Reverend C. Rankin Barnes of South Pasadena, California, and they had a son, William E. Barnes. Her mother died in 1924.
Having spent four months abroad, Pancho returned to San Marino, California. In 1928, while driving her cousin Dean Banks to flying lessons, she decided to learn to fly. Convincing her cousin's flight instructor of her desire that same day, she soloed after six hours of formal instruction.
She ran an ad-hoc barnstorming show and competed in air races. Despite a crash in the 1929 Women's Air Derby, she returned in 1930 under the sponsorship of the Union Oil Company to win the race – and break Amelia Earhart's world women's speed record with a speed of 196.19 mph (315.7 km/h). Barnes broke this record in a Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship.
After her contract with Union Oil expired, Pancho moved to Hollywood to work as a stunt pilot for movies. In 1931, she started the Associated Motion Picture Pilots, a union of film industry stunt fliers who promoted flying safety and standardized pay for aerial stunt work. She flew in several air-adventure movies of the 1930s, including Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels.
Pancho had extensive connections in Hollywood. Her early close friend George Hurrell later would become the legendary head of the portrait department of MGM Studios. Pancho Barnes is credited with helping Hurrell start his career in Hollywood after he took the photo she was to use on her pilot's license.
She lost most of her money in the Great Depression. By 1935, Pancho had only her apartment in Hollywood left. She sold it, and in March 1935 bought 180 acres (73 ha) of land in the Mojave Desert, near the Rogers dry lake bed and the nascent Muroc Field, then called March Field because it was an adjunct property of March Army Air Base at that time.
The Happy Bottom Riding Club 
On her land, Pancho Barnes built the Happy Bottom Riding Club, also known as the Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch, a dude ranch and restaurant which catered to airmen at the nearby airfield and her friends from Hollywood. Pancho became very close friends with many of the early test pilots, including Chuck Yeager, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin. Pancho's ranch became famous for the parties and high-flying lifestyle of all the guests.
However, a change of command in 1952 contributed to her getting into a conflict with the United States Air Force. The Air Force was planning for the future of aviation, and decided they needed to build a new, super-long runway to accommodate new aircraft that were being planned to run on atomic power. That new runway would run directly across Pancho's ranch. The Air Force originally offered her a price for her ranch, land, and facilities that was very close to the cost of undeveloped desert land. She requested a fair appraisal to better reflect the actual cost of replacement of her land and business, but in the midst of getting a re-appraisal, the base leadership accused her of running a house of ill-repute on her ranch. The effect of even the hint of impropriety resulted in her ranch and business being put off-limits to military personnel, and the value of her business plummeted.
Pancho then filed a lawsuit against the Air Force to, as she put it, "Roust out the scoundrels in the government who would perpetrate such an injustice." She knew that if she filed a lawsuit, she would have the opportunity to depose under oath the various leaders and personnel on base, and the truth would come out and clear her name. During the height of the intense court battle, in 1953, her ranch burned in a fire of mysterious origin. After the fire, the value of her ranch and business further plummeted to a level more closely reflecting the original buy-out offer from the Air Force. Nonetheless, the court battle continued. Pancho was determined to receive fair value for her land and business, and to clear her name. A main contention of her defense was: "My grandfather founded the United States Air Force." On that argument, the court found in her favor and she was awarded $375,000 remuneration for her property and business. Also, her name was cleared. As it turned out, the proposed runway was never built.
After the government bought her out, she moved to Cantil, California, in hopes of restarting a similar dude ranch business there. It never happened. It was not until the late 1960s that Pancho once again became a commonplace figure at the base and began to be referred to as the "Mother of Edwards AFB." The wounds began to heal as Pancho reconnected with many old-timers. The officer's mess at Edwards was renamed the Pancho Barnes Room.
Pancho Barnes suffered from breast cancer, and one might assume this was the ultimate cause of her demise. Pancho was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Antelope Valley Aero Museum's annual "Barnstormers Reunion" on April 5, 1975. However, when a friend called on March 30, she could not reach Pancho. Her son Bill found her dead in her home and the coroner determined that she had died several days earlier. Bill obtained special permission which was granted from the United States Air Force to spread her ashes over the site of the Happy Bottom Riding Club; he then flew an airplane over the site and her ashes came to rest.
Her fourth husband, "Mac" McKendry, continued to live in Cantil and survived her for many years.
Son Bill Barnes died piloting a P-51 Mustang flying near Fox Field in Lancaster in October 1980. In 1940, Pancho had founded Barnes Aviation of Lancaster which Bill operated in his adult years. It remains in the general aviation business today.
Her life and personality were portrayed in the 1983 epic film The Right Stuff adapted from Tom Wolfe's bestselling book of the same name. Kim Stanley played her. She was also the subject of a heavily fictionalized 1988 TV movie written by John Michael Hayes and directed by Richard Heffron entitled Pancho Barnes, in which she was portrayed by Valerie Bertinelli. The first biography about Pancho was published in 1986, The Lady Who Tamed Pegasus: The Story of Pancho Barnes, written by Grover Ted Tate, who relied heavily upon the copyrighted autobiography materials of Pancho Barnes. In 1996, a second biography appeared, Pancho: The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes, written by Barbara Schultz. A third biography appeared in 2000, written by Lauren Kessler, The Happy Bottom Riding Club: The Life and Times of Pancho Barnes. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) sponsored a documentary film, The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club, completed in 2009. In it, Kathy Bates provides the voice of Pancho Barnes. The documentary was made independent of the estate of Pancho Barnes. However, the estate gave the film makers full access to her personal papers and photographs as well as her copyrighted autobiography that are owned by the estate. The film, which chronicles Pancho's life story, was produced and written by Nick T. Spark and directed by Amanda Pope in affiliation with KOCE-TV, a PBS station in Orange County, California. The documentary won an Emmy for best arts and history documentary.
Pancho's Mystery Ship was for a long time located in a hangar at Mojave Airport. It was sold to a private collector a number of years ago, and is currently in the United Kingdom, where it has been restored.
The Happy Bottom Riding Club site is the location for the annual Edwards Air Force Base Pancho Barnes Day celebration (established in 1980). A barbecue is held and drinks are served, along with dancing and live music to honor the remembrance of this aviation pioneer and friend.
Fictionalized accounts 
- Pancho Barnes on IMDb
- The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club on IMDb
- The Right Stuff on IMDb
- Los Angeles Times. March 30, 1975. "Florence Lowe (Pancho) Barnes, 69, the eccentric rancher and pilot who broke Amelia Earhart's air speed record in 1930, was found dead Saturday at her home in Boron. ... Pancho Barnes was well known both for her pioneer flying career in the ..."
- "Florence Lowe "Pancho" Barnes". Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved 2010-12-26. "Pancho was born Florence Leontine Lowe to a wealthy family on July 22, 1901. Wanting for nothing, she grew up in a huge mansion in San Marino, California, and attended the area's finest private schools. Her father, an avid sportsman, encouraged her to appreciate the great outdoors and Florence became an accomplished equestrian. Florence's grandfather, Thaddeus Lowe, also influenced her early development. He had started the nation's first military air unit, the Army of the Potomac's balloon corps, during the American Civil War. ..."
- Virginia Postrel (July 1, 2007). "Starlight and Shadow. George Hurrell’s brilliantly orchestrated photographs helped define Hollywood glamour in the 1930s". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2010-12-26. "One of his first friends in Southern California was Florence “Pancho” Barnes, a Pasadena heiress and free-spirited early aviator. ... She encouraged Hurrell’s photography and often posed for him. In the photo for her pilot’s license, he had her strike a masculine pose, complete with cigarette and grimy fingernails."
- "Who is Pancho Barnes?". Sheldon Concert Hall. Retrieved 2010-12-26. "Barnes is credited with discovering legendary Hollywood glamour photographer George Hurrell (1904-1992), who was then eking out a living as a painter and photographer in Laguna Beach, California. She initially hired him only to shoot a photo for her pilot's license application, but loved the photos he took of her - especially the ones that made her look glamorous. To boost Hurrell in his career, Barnes introduced him to all her Hollywood friends. In short time he became the most in-demand photographer in Hollywood."
- "Happy Bottom Riding Club." Happybottomridingclub.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <http://happybottomridingclub.com/docs/happy_bottom_riding_club.pdf>.
- Website for the Estate of Pancho Barnes
- Website for the "Happy Bottom Riding Club"
- Website of the documentary film, The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club
- Pancho's story on Chuck Yeager's personal site
- Website of the documentary film about the Powder Puff Derby with Pancho Barnes, "Breaking Through The Clouds"