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Barnes, Pancho (22 July 1901–29 March 1975), airwoman, was born Florence Leontine Lowe in San Marino, California, the daughter of Thaddeus Lowe, Jr., and Florence Mae Dobbins. The uninhibited character of Barnes’s adult life contrasts sharply with the conventionality of her background and upbringing. Born into a wealthy California family and educated at several private and convent schools, she was married at the age of nineteen to the Anglican vicar of Pasadena, C. Rankin Barnes, in 1921, giving birth to her only child, William, the same year. The marriage was not successful and the couple quickly separated, although they did not divorce until 1941. The death of her mother in 1924 made Barnes financially independent, enabling her to embark upon a life of adventure. Capitalizing upon her childhood training as a horsewoman, she obtained work as a double for several Hollywood actors in horseback scenes, as well as providing occasional screenwriting assistance to her childhood friend ...

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Beech, Olive Ann (25 September 1903–06 July 1993), cofounder and president of Beech Aircraft Corporation, was born Olive Ann Mellor in Waverly, Kansas, the youngest of four daughters of Franklin Benjamin Mellor and Susannah Miller Mellor, both originally from Ohio. As a young girl, Olive Ann moved with her family from their farm in Waverly to the larger town of Paola, Kansas, where her father became a full-time carpenter. Olive Ann managed her own bank account starting at age seven, and by eleven she was in charge of writing checks to pay the family bills. Unlike the famous flier ...

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Janet Bragg. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (79-13664).

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Bragg, Janet (24 March 1907–11 April 1993), aviator, nurse, and nursing home proprietor, was born Janet Harmon in Griffin, Georgia, the daughter of Cordia Batts Harmon and Samuel Harmon, a brick contractor. The Batts family had long been established in Griffin. Bragg's maternal grandfather was a freed slave of Spanish descent, and her maternal grandmother was a Cherokee. Bragg's grandfather had built the house in which she and her siblings were born; her mother had been born in the same house. Bragg, the youngest of seven children, had a happy childhood, enjoying sports and games and excelling at school. In an interview conducted at the University of Arizona as part of a project called African Americans in Aviation in Arizona, Bragg reminisced: “We were a very happy family. We were not a rich family, only rich in love.”...

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Willa Brown. Shown wearing a padded flight suit. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution (90-13119).

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Brown, Willa (22 January 1906–18 July 1992), pilot and aviation educator, was born Willa Beatrice Brown in Glasgow, Kentucky, the only daughter of Hallie Mae Carpenter Brown and Eric B. Brown, a farm owner. After 1910 the family, as part of the internal migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities, moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, hoping for greater opportunities in employment and education. There her father worked in a creosote factory; he was also pastor of the Holy Triumphant Church in 1920 and the Free Church of God in 1929....

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Claire Lee Chennault Right, with Major General Gilbert Cheves, at the start of a softball game in China, each serving as captain of a team drawn from the men under their command, 1945. Courtesy of the National Archives (NWDNS-111-SC-203553).

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Chennault, Claire Lee (06 September 1893–27 July 1958), military officer and airline executive, was born in Commerce, Texas, the son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault, a small-scale cotton grower, and Jessie Lee. Chennault grew up on a small farm in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana. His mother died when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father married Lottie Barnes, a local schoolteacher. Educated in the nearby town of Gilbert, he entered Louisiana State University in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his stepmother, who had persuaded him to continue his education, died. “I was alone again,” he later wrote, “and really never found another companion whom I could so completely admire, respect, and love.”...

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See Columbia Space Shuttle Crew