Pancho Barnes – Barnstormer, Stunt Pilot, Test Pilot

It was the Roaring 20’s, the early days of aviation, and most folks in America didn’t know that women were up in the air flying. Pancho Barnes took the aviation industry by storm, or shall we say, by ‘barnstorm,’ becoming one of the first women ‘barnstormers’ in Pancho Barnes Mystery Circus of the Air. Barnstorming troops performed death-defying feats and stunts for pay. Some of her best pilots friends at the time were stunt pilots for Hollywood movies. In fact, when Pancho’s friend, Howard Hughes refused to pay the stunt pilots for Hell’s Angels a wage equal to their risk, she organized her buddies into the Motion Picture Pilots Association of stunt flyers, upping their pay a whopping 500%! Hughes then hired Pancho to fly her Mystery Ship around microphones to get the sound dubbed into the film of the airplanes, as they remained fast friends. Pancho Barnes also was one of
the best test pilots in the air. One of her most famous clients was Lockheed. She took their Lockheed Vega and put it through the paces, out over the vast Mohave desert. This is the very first plane that the great Buzz Aldrin flew! Dr. Alrin appears in the new documentary, “The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy bottom Riding Club,” as he was one of Pancho’s friends. Pancho kept spotting this little oasis of a ranch during her test flight days, and wouldn’t you know, she ended up buying the ranch, and naming it “Rancho Oro Verde,” as it was 80 acres of alfalfa fields when she eventually bought it in 1934. This is where she created the “Happy Bottom Riding Club.”

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Dr. Louis F. D'Elia is the custodian of the Estate of Pancho Barnes and a Trustee of the Flight Test Museum Foundation at Edwards Air Force Base.