Ask and ye shall receive! NOTABLE PILOTS:Flight Captain Florence "Pancho" Barnes
NT:7 SS:6 DE:4 SH:4 QD:6 C:4
In a nation that counts aviation heroes like Howard Hughes and Charlie Steele among its residents, Florence "Pancho" Barnes still stands out as an extraordiary adventuress and one of the most gifted pilots in Hollywood. Born to a wealthy family in San Marino, she attended exclusive private schools, becoming an accomplished equestrian, outdoorswoman and traveller at an early age. At one point while visiting Mexico, her party was ambushed by a group of revolutionaries. The quick-witted Florence disguised herself in men's clothes and posing as a tour guide named "Pancho," managed to fool the revolutionaries for four months before escaping and returning home.
Still restless even after her adventures in Mexico, she took up piloting as a hobby in 1928 after driving a cousin to a flying lesson and persuading the instructor to give her lessons as well. It turned out she was a natural, making her first solo flight successfully after six hours of instruction! Discovering a genuine love of flying, she became a full-time professional pilot, flying barnstorming shows, breaking the women's world air speed record in 1930 and becoming one of the movie industry's top stunt pilots and the founder of the first Hollywood union for movie aviators. In fact, it was her work as a stunt flyer in the 1930 film "Hell's Angels" that would be her first meeting with Howard Hughes--who would remember the daredevil pilot when organizing the Hughes Air Guard as his private militia in 1935.
By '35, Barnes had fallen on hard financial times--her contracts with her racing sponsors and the major film studios had expired, and pilots were leaving the film industry en masse to sign on with combat militias to counter the growing depredations of piracy. Barnes was even considering pulling up roots and leaving Hollywood altogether when Hughes approached her with the offer of a position as test pilot for a special unit he was forming to assess new plane designs under combat conditions--the Air Combat Evaluation Squadron. Pancho jumped at the chance to push the newest and most advanced fighters in the world to their limits and beyond. Today, she serves as chief test pilot for the experimental division of Hughes Aircraft. While she will engage in combat out of necessity, Barnes always strives to put down enemies only with what force is necessary, and follows a strict code against strafing pilots who "ride the silk elevator" or who successfully escape an aircraft she's shot down. But no one slights her skills in the air--she is one of the nation's most outstanding pilots, able to coax aircraft into feats of aerobatics that give engineers heart attacks. Combined with the cutting-edge fighters she flies, Barnes is an dangerous opponent in a dogfight.
Because ACES falls outside the normal Hughes Air Guard chain of command, answering directly to Hughes himself, Barnes comes across as surprisingly easygoing to those who meet her for the first time. Though she holds the official rank of Flight Captain in the HAG, her fellow ACES pilots rarely address her by rank, instead using her call sign "Pancho" or "Chief" in reference to her position as chief test pilot. Rumors of her skill at marksmanship, languages and disguise--combined with the frequent disappearances of ACES personnel from public view--have led some to speculate that she also serves as a secret agent and troubleshooter for Hughes. When asked about this, Barnes dismisses such rumors with a laugh. "I fly the fastest, most state-of-the-art planes in the world while pirates and riff-raff are shooting at me," she says. "I think that would be enough excitement for anyone, don't you? Well, most people, at any rate..."
More to come!