Flying With America’s Most Famous Female Aviators

Dozens of talented women preceded Amelia Earhart, and thousands have followed, and each has her own groundbreaking story to tell

(Library of Congress)

Florence “Pancho” Barnes (1901-1975)

Pancho Barnes
(Bettmann / Corbis)

Though at one time Barnes broke Ameilia Earhart’s world speed record, she is more likely to be remembered as the most colorful character in aviation. Wealthy, headstrong and unconventional, she performed in barnstorming shows, competed in air races, and worked as a Hollywood stunt pilot. Just before she took up flying in 1928 she had roamed Mexico disguised as a man. Married to a minster, she sometimes buzzed his Sunday morning service. In 1935 Barnes established the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a California dude ranch famous for parties frequented by such test pilots as Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Doolittle, and Buzz Aldrin.


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