This is a guest post by Kelly Seiler, who blogs at Undercover Feminist. She is an electrical engineer working on the avionics for an unmanned airplane.
I heard about Pancho Barnes when the documentary, “The Legend of Pancho Barnes and the Happy Bottom Riding Club” was screened at an after work event. As an engineer working in aerospace, I was definitely the target audience! I was extremely impressed by this woman, a legend of the Golden Age of Flight, who I had never heard anything about before. The Golden Age of Flight was the period between the two world wars that saw airplanes go from fabric and wood to metal structure. Flight records were set for what today are everyday occurrences (think: transatlantic flights).
When Pancho heard that pilot licenses weren’t being given to women, she dressed as a man for the picture on her license and sent in the paperwork using her initials. She flew as a stunt pilot for Hollywood films and was Lockheed’s first female test pilot. As times changed Pancho sold her Hollywood apartment and bought land in the desert near Edwards Air Force Base which she used to create the Happy Bottom Riding Club. The club featured a FAA approved runway, bar, restaurant, dude ranch, and a dance hall. Test pilots, aviation legends, and even heads of state were known to frequent the club which had over 9,000 members worldwide at its peak.
If your interested in some of the other female flying legends, check out The Ninety-Nines–a woman’s flying club that was founded by 99 licensed female pilots in 1929. Amelia Earhart was its first president.
Wikipedia: Pancho Barnes
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*flips out* I had totally forgotten, until just this moment, that I watched what IMDb tells me is a 1988 movie starring Valerie Bertinelli as Pancho Barnes when I was a kid. For two decades I have vaguely thought that there was a woman who wore a poncho and flew planes. And now I know why Valerie Bertinelli looks familiar to me (I never saw her other stuff).
That movie rocked. I’m off to Amazon to see if it’s on DVD.
Delighted that you enjoyed “The Legend of Pancho Barnes”. The movie has been airing on PBS stations across the USA, so check your local listings. You can also see an *uncensored* version of the film which is available on the DVD. You can purchase the DVD from our website, http://www.legendofpanchobarnes.com or Amazon.com The website has a great deal of information about Pancho and the production — just click on “Journal” to read all about how the movie was made and Pancho’s amazing life. Thanks so much for your posting.
Another notable woman in aviation, as an engineer, was Beatrice Shilling.