A very readable volume about the Grand Central Air Terminal is this book:

Underwood, John. 1984. Madcaps, Millionaires and 'Mose'. Heritage Press, Glendale, CA. 144pp.


the register


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"When you have a choice, choose happy!”

Indeed, Pancho was one of the more colorful Golden Age pilots, male or female, to grace the skys around the U.S. and Mexico. Her more complete biography, with many additional photographs and links, tales and charts of her Golden Age travels, and references, is over on the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register Web site at the link.

Pancho is listed by name twice in the Grand Central Air Terminal (GCAT) Register. Each time she flew the Travel Air Mystery R, NR613K, a sleek, single cockpit, low-wing monoplane. Please direct your browser to the link to learn about the interesting history of this airplane, including its current restoration. All totaled, NR613K appeared ten times in the Grand Central Air Terminal (GCAT) Register between December 15, 1930 and June 7, 1931. Only twice was the pilot identified as Pancho Barnes, but she was probably the pilot on most of the other occasions. Most of the flights were identified as "Local" by the tower Operators, A.J. Lygum and "Wright." Ground time on most arrivals was brief with only one stay, on April 29, 1931, lasting most of the day.

Barnes' first documented visit was on Thursday, May 14, 1931 at 11:20 AM. She remained on the ground for 27 minutes before departing to an unknown destination. A point of origin or purpose for her flight was not entered in the Register by the tower Operator, named "Wright."

Pancho Barnes & Travel Air Mystery R, NR613K (Source: NASM)


Her second landing was five days later on Tuesday, May 19, 1931 at 2:33 PM. This time she remained on the ground for an hour and 20 minutes before departing. The photograph, right, is of Pancho and her Mystery R. The image is from the National Air & Space Museum (NASM: S.I. 74-3400).

The 1910 U.S. Census, her first, finds her at age 8 living in San Gabriel, CA with her parents, an older brother and an assortment of five hired hands and servants. Her father, Thaddeus Lowe, was a "Gas Manufacturer." At age 18 the Census for 1920 placed her at the same address living with her parents, her mother's mother and a nurse. Her brother was not living with the family. Her father's occupation was listed as "Manufacturer" of "Gas Stoves."

Pancho married at age 19 to an Episcopal clergyman, C. Rankin Barnes, about 11 years her senior. The 1930 U.S. Census placed them living at 1350 Garfield Avenue, San Marino, CA with their 8-year old son William E. Pancho was age 28. She identified her employment as "Aviator" in the "Aviation" industry. Living with them was a secretary, a cook and a 23-year old "houseboy."

But, the lot of a clergyman's wife was not for her. Their marriage gradually became one of convenience into the 1930s. Their early marriage years were relatively peaceful, as evidenced by their departure to Honolulu aboard the S.S. City of Los Angeles on August 14, 1926. But, the following year Pancho was aboard the S.S. Laconia out of New York on January 29, 1927, returning April 1st. This appeared to be a 60-day cruise, which didn't include Rankin Barnes on the passenger list. She then learned to fly in 1928.

The San Marino city directory for 1937 listed them together at the Garfield Avenue address as husband and wife. They would finally divorce in

Barnes shows up in three of our Registers. Twice in this one, twice in the Davis-Monthan Register, Tucson, AZ and five times in the Clover Field Register, Santa Monica, CA. She flew four different aircraft to these landings, including the Travel Air NC6477, Monocoupe NC194K, her Mystery R, and the Travel Air NC4419.

This last Travel Air she flew into Mexico and back with two passengers. They and the airplane were documented on the following U.S. Immigration form dated December 10, 1930. This timing falls between November 24, 1928 and March 8, 1931, the period Pancho owned and flew the airplane.

U.S. Immigration Form, December 10, 1930, Pancho Barnes, Passengers and Travel Air NC4419 (Source: ancestry.com)
U.S. Immigration Form, December 10, 1930, Pancho Barnes, Passengers and Travel Air NC4419 (Source: ancestry.com)

She and her young friends, Brick Scroogs and John Peaches, probably had spent some time over Holiday Cheer in Agua Caliente, Mexico, a favorite, just-over-the-border watering hole for Americans of all ages who thirsted during Prohibition. Prohibition was the law of the land from 1919 until terminated by the 18th Amendment in December, 1933. Whether her husband knew of this and other probable trips is unknown. Later, in the 1940s, Pancho opened a watering hole of her own, the famous "Happy Bottom Riding Club."

Two books of interest are in our REFERENCES section at the links of Kessler and Schultz. These biographical works provide insight into Pancho's manner, her way of life, the "Happy Bottom Riding Club" and her circle of friends. She was a part of most of the California aviation scene during the late 1920s into the 1930s. She raced, set records, made Hollywood movies and had fun in and out of airplanes.

Pancho was born into wealth July 29, 1901. She led a good life, in and out of airplanes, spending through her fortune while doing so. She died March 29, 1975 at Boron, CA amidst tragic poverty. She was cremated and her son Bill scattered her ashes out of an airplane over her ranch. She flew with Transport certificate T4668. FindaGrave at the link exhibits photographs and the following biographical sketch.

Aviation Pioneer. Born in San Marino, California, into the prominent Lowe family. Her grandfather, family scion Thaddeus Lowe, was appointed Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps by President Lincoln during the Civil War and is considered the founding father of the United States Air Force. Under his tutelage, Barnes at an early age learnt horseback riding, camping and hunting along with the more genteel pursuits of dancing and needlework befitting a budding society lady. Despite her marriage in 1919 to Reverend C. Rankin Barnes, Florence eschewed the social strictures of her era to become a pioneer of women's aviation. Florence gained the moniker Pancho, a conflation of the name of Cervantes' character Sancho Panza, during an improbable stint as a gun-runner for Mexican revolutionaries. In 1930 Barnes broke Amelia Earhart's women's speed record in her "Mystery Ship," a Travel Air Model R sponsored by the Union Oil Company. After her marriage to the Reverend Barnes ended in divorce, Pancho founded the Happy Bottom Riding Club, a dude ranch and restaurant serving the test pilots from the adjacent Edwards Airforce Base in Southern California. It was in this role that she was immortalized in Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. She died at home in Cantil [sic], California.