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News > Welcome back Pancho -- early test pilots handprints discovered
 
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AFFTC Museum, Pancho Barnes
Tony Moore, museum specialist, Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, talks with a tour group about Pancho Barnes and the First Citizen of Edwards Day. During the celebration, Pancho and her closest friends left their handprints and signatures on three panels. The panels were discovered two years ago between the display and exterior museum walls. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Laura Mowry)
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Welcome back Pancho -- early test pilots handprints discovered

Posted 2/1/2012   Updated 2/1/2012 Email story   Print story

    


by Laura Mowry
Staff Writer


2/1/2012 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Two years ago, during routine cleaning, members of the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum stumbled across an incredible piece of history - three panels with handprints and signatures from Pancho Barnes and legendary Edwards test pilots during the 1950's and 1960's.

As soon as the panels were dusted off, the museum staff knew that they found something truly unique. At the time however, there were many details missing and the staff was unsure about the story behind the panels.

"We were thrilled to discover the panels," said Tony Moore, museum specialist, Air Force Flight Test Center Museum. "Pancho Barnes, Chuck Yeager, Frank Tallman, Tony Levier, and Joe Cotton are only a fraction of the names, and they are all historic test pilots. To see all these names in one place is just an incredible piece of history. At the same time, there was this great mystery surrounding the panels. Where did they come from? Why were they created in the first place?"

Originally, there was speculation that the panels came from the old Officers Club that burned down.

"The Officers Club included panels with handprints and signatures of test pilots that cycled through at Edwards. You can see them in the film 'Toward the Unknown,'" added Moore.

"So, we looked into it and unfortunately we discovered that the panels were just too small to be from there," he concluded.

After conducting extensive research that turned up no new information about the panels, they were tucked away for safe keeping and business returned to normal.

"It was frustrating, we just could not figure out the history behind these incredible panels," said Moore.

The subject of the panels resurfaced when Dana Kilanowski, director, Flight Test Historical Foundation and Historian for the Society of Experimental Test Pilots contacted Moore regarding an unknown signature on a flying helmet.

Kilanowski, considered a leading expert on Pancho Barnes, shed light on the history of the panels.

With the expansion of Edwards, the ongoing changes within the U.S. Air Force, and Pancho's love of its 1950's culture; her relationship with the Air Force became more distant. In 1964, the Edwards community welcomed her back with open arms.

Pancho's closest friends rallied together and honored her with the First Citizen of Edwards Day. During the celebration guests dipped their hands in ink and signed the three panels.

"It's remarkable to see the extensive list of legendary test pilots. But, when you consider these were her absolute best and closest friends, it adds another remarkable dimension. It makes it personal," said Moore.

One of the newest exhibits in the AFFTC Museum, the panels were framed by the Arts and Crafts Center and put on display for all visitors to see.

"Pancho had an incredible life and she was a force to be reckoned with. Her ties to the Edwards community are just amazing. It's so great that this little piece of history survived," said Nancy Peat, 66, visiting the muneum from Union, Mich.

"That's part of what makes Edwards so great - it's rich history," she said.

The panels, discovered during routine cleaning were stored between the museum's display wall and exterior wall.

"There's no telling how long those panels were hidden between the walls. I'm just glad we found them in time to preserve them and put them on display. This is one of the last treasures left behind by Pancho," Moore said.



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