On doing what it takes, and then some

Wednesday Geek Woman: Pancho Barnes

Posted: 12 Jan 2011 08:00 AM PST

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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