The Biography of Florence Lowe Barnes
By Barbara H. Schultz



Every now and then, the human race produces unique, one-of-a-kind characters who become our celebrities, mentors, and the stuff from which legends are born. Florence Lowe Pancho Barnes was a character among characters. Born at the dawn of the twentieth century, she inherited wealth, status, and privilege from a family overflowing with visionaries, artists, and inventors. They endowed her with a keen intellect, spontaneity, and an insatiable appetite for adventure. As a result, Pancho never passed up an opportunity due to indecision nor did she ever hesitate to voice her opinions. She lived in a world of direct action with little room for rules or conformity. Aviation writer Don Dwiggins described his long-time friend well. “She was a rebel with a simple cause – to enjoy life on its own terms, as an individualist, not only for what it had to offer but for what she could contribute as well.” 1Pancho’s story is spun with treks through primitive jungles, fast living, and a renowned elocution of profanity. No one could swear with the complete abandonment and dexterity of Pancho Barnes, the flyers’ pal. Her tale is also woven with flying and fame. Her involvement in aviation began at the side of her grandfather Professor Thaddeus Lowe, inventor of balloons and Civil War hero. As a teenager, she admired the World War I pilots that flew in defense of freedom. At the age of 27, she joined a daring breed who took to the skies for the pure pleasure of flying as well as to prove to the world that the sport was a safe mode of transportation. These barnstorming pilots set records, performed dare-devil stunts, and founded support organizations to further their cause. Pancho’s contribution was both admirable and decidedly dynamic. She became one of early aviation’s most colorful members. Her peers recognized her for her competency in the air and her unequivocal generosity on the ground. No matter what Pancho’s financial situation was at any given time, she always seemed to have an extra bag of groceries for a needy family or a warm bed and meal for a homeless flyer. Middle-age found Pancho operating the Happy Bottom Riding Club next door to Edwards Air Force Base in California. The place became the unofficial debriefing room for a new generation of elite test pilots. When the United States government decided to expand the base in the fifties, they shut her down, but not without a fight. Pancho accused the government of devaluing her property by insinuating that she was running a cleverly disguised brothel and sued them. She defended herself before the court and her name was vindicated. Pancho certainly deserves a place in the annals of aviation history for her contributions to flying in the 1920s and ‘30s. If this were the only basis for her recognition, however, her memory would have been relegated to the past along with many other pioneering pilots. It is rather her own unique character and seventy years of involvement with flying which has created a special niche for Pancho. Her alliance with aviation was sometimes outlandish, sometimes exemplary, but always dedicated. As true of many legends, Pancho’s story has been embellished and fabricated over time. This biography is an attempt to correct certain facts, dates, and anecdotes in order to bring her character into a more accurate perspective. Florence Lowe Pancho Barnes has long deserved to have her complete story told in the manner she thought fitting. As she told fellow pilot Phoebe Omlie, her biography would be deplete of any four-letter words. She used enough of them in her lifetime. Pancho’s adventures have in no way suffered without them.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from AVRM.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest