The story of Chuck Yeager’s colorful friend “Pancho” Barnes and her famed test-pilot hang out.& nbsp; Courtesy of the Environmental Management Branch, Edwards AFB. Special thanks to Kathy Harris and Gary Hatch. Any photos that are © Pancho Barnes Trust are used with their permission.
THE HISTORY OF PANCHO’S
Born on July 14, 1901, Florence Lowe Barnes possessed an adventurous soul. Raised in a setting of family wealth and privilege, she blossomed into a confident, self-possessed, and athletic woman. Married at age eighteen, she tired of society life and began a lifelong series of adventures. She earned her nickname “Pancho” while roaming revolution-torn Mexico in 1928. Later that same year, after returning to the Los Angeles area, she turned her attention skyward.
Pancho Barnes earned her pilot’s license in an age when few women were allowed, much less encouraged, to fly. She quickly earned a reputation at airports throughout Southern California as a woman that could fly, fix airplanes, tell flying stories, and drink with the best male pilots of the era. Her aviation expertise earned her a place in the first Women’s Air Derby transcontinental air race alongside other early aviation legends such as Amelia Earhart in 1929. The following year, she took the world’s speed record away from Earhart, setting a record of 196.19 miles per hour.
Her aviation skills earned her jobs as a Hollywood stunt pilot and a civilian test pilot. Her stunt pilot days earned her friendships with a variety of stars like Gary Cooper, Tyrone Power, and Errol Flynn. Her test pilot work for Lockheed brought her up to the high desert of the Antelope Valley where she spotted a small green jewel of an alfalfa farm locate between Rosamond and Rogers dry lakes.
Taken by the limitless blue skies, Pancho bought the small farm in 1935 and relocated to the high desert. One of her first actions was to carve out a rough landing field so she could continue flying and so her pilot friends could come up to visit. The ranch was a working one, and her ranch hands were soon not only raising alfalfa, but horses, pigs and dairy cows as well.
Pancho quickly established contracts to supply meat and milk to the Army’s nearby Muroc Bombing and Gunnery Range, thereby beginning a long relationship with the encampment that would eventually grow over time to become Edwards Air Force Base. Demonstrating her entrepreneurial genius, Pancho obtained a contract to remove the food waste from the Army mess halls. Her ranch hands then cooked it into food for the pigs that were then slaughtered and sold back to the Army mess halls – a novel form of recycling.
Within a few years, her ranch had expanded to 368 acres and featured a swimming pool, an enlarged airstrip, restaurant, bar, dance hall, guest rooms, and rodeo arena and was known as the “Rancho Oro Verde Fly-Inn Dude Ranch.”