Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes (1901 – 1975) was born as Florence Leontine Lowe on July 22, 1901 to Thaddeus Lowe II (1870-1955) and his first wife Florence May (Dobbins) Lowe. The Lowes were a wealthy family in Pasadena, California, and Florence Lowe was reared to become a society lady. However, her upper-class upbringing and her mother’s fears about her wild tendencies and tomboy-like attitude led to a 1919 marriage to Reverend C. Rankin Barnes of South Pasadena, with whom she had a son, William E. Barnes.
The peaceful life of a clergyman’s wife was not for Florence however. After her mother’s death in 1924 and subsequently inheriting the family fortune, she returned to her flamboyant and headstrong ways in early 1928 which caused her marriage to end in 1941. Having spent four months abroad, Pancho returned to San Marino and in the Spring of 1928, decided to learn to fly. At this time in aviation history, Barnes was one of only two dozen aviatrixes in the United States.
Her passion for aviation took off, and she ran an ad-hoc barnstorming show and competed in air races. In 1930, Pancho won the race and broke Amelia Earhart’s world women’s speed record with a speed of 196.19 mph.
In 1929, she moved to Hollywood to work as a stunt pilot for movies and became the first woman in the world to do so. She flew in several air-adventure movies of the 1930s, including Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels.” 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.
In 1935, she sold her Hollywood apartment and bought 80 acres (32.4 ha) of land in the Mojave Desert and built the Happy Bottom Riding Club on her land. The club and restaurant catered to airmen at the nearby airfield. Pancho became very close friends with many of the early test pilots, including Chuck Yeager, General Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin.