August 1, 1929: Pancho Barnes - Leading Aviatrix

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Mrs. Florence L. Barnes established herself in the aviation scene by setting a national speed record for women of 196.19 miles per hour in her Wright-powered Travel Air. In later years, known by her flamboyant nickname “Pancho,” she established herself as a hostess and friend of aviation at her ranch near Edwards AFB.

Having spent four months abroad in Mexico, getting caught up with revolutionaries and escaping the attention of authorities, disguised as a man, she began to use the nickname "Pancho" around this time.Barnes returned to San Marino, California, with an inheritance bequeathed to her on her parents' death. In 1928, while driving her cousin Dean Banks to flying lessons, she decided to learn to fly, and convinced her cousin's flight instructor, Ben Caitlin, a World War I veteran, of her desire that same day. She soloed after six hours of formal instruction.  Barnes ran an ad-hoc barnstorming show and competed in air races. Despite a crash in the 1929 Women's Air Derby, she returned in 1930 under the sponsorship of the Union Oil Company to win the race – and break Amelia Earhart's world women's speed record with a speed of 196.19 miles per hour. Barnes broke this record in a Travel Air Type R Mystery Ship.

After her contract with Union Oil expired, Barnes moved to Hollywood to work as a stunt pilot for movies. In 1931, she started the Associated Motion Picture Pilots, a union of film industry stunt fliers which promoted flying safety and standardized pay for aerial stunt work. She flew in several air-adventure movies of the 1930s, including Howard Hughes' Hell's Angels.  Barnes had extensive connections in Hollywood. Her early close friend George Hurrell then eking out a living as a painter and photographer in Laguna Beach, California, would later become the legendary head of the portrait department of MGM Studios. Barnes is credited with helping Hurrell start his career in Hollywood after he took the photo she was to use on her pilot's license, introducing him to her Hollywood friends.  In a short period of time, Hurrell became the most in-demand photographer in Hollywood.

Barnes lost most of her money in the Great Depression. By 1935, she had only her apartment in Hollywood left. She sold it, and in March 1935 bought 180 acres of land in the Mojave Desert, near the Rogers dry lake bed and the nascent Muroc Field, then called March Field because it was an adjunct property of March Army Air Base at that time.

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