By Dan Miller and Di Freeze
“I’ve always been a little crazy,” says Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout, 95, the only living participant of the original “Powder Puff Derby,” the first Women’s Transcontinental Air Race, held in 1929. “As a kid, my golly, I wanted a hammer and saw and I made things! At 4 or 5 years old I was a carpenter. I hated dolls. I thought dolls were for the birds—and I never liked ice cream!”
Throughout her life, she blazed her own path; her pioneering spirit led her to a place, in the 1920s, where just a few fearless women had gone before—the spacious skies.
Trout’s grandmother conceived all girls and her grandfather desperately wanted a boy. Her mother, Lola, prayed that her first child, with George Everett Trout, would be a boy. It wasn’t.
Trout was born on Jan. 7, 1906 in Greenup, Ill. Throughout her early years, she and her family lived in many places in Colorado. While living in Greeley, a second child, Denny, was born. At one time, her father had a meat shop in Denver, but went broke when “he gave out too much credit.” While living in Oak Creek, Colo., she often led excursions for gold. On one occasion, after her and her friends dug a tunnel from a creek bank that reached under city hall, the town judge told them to stop before “city hall sank.”
In 1915, Trout’s parents separated for the first of several times, partially due to the turmoil caused by her father’s constant uprooting of the family to new locations. Mrs. Trout felt that Evelyn and Denny were suffering from the moves, and for this reason, to give them roots, sent them to stay with relatives over the next couple of years.
At age 11, Trout took manual training from an ROTC student, and aspired to be an ambulance driver to help out in World War I. In 1917, she moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to live with an aunt and uncle.
One spring afternoon in 1918, as she made her way home from school, she experienced the thrill of seeing an airplane pass over.
“It thrilled me to death!” she recalls. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to fly someday!’ By this time, her father had moved to California; her mother remained in St. Louis, where she managed a millinery shop. At her mother’s request, she returned to St. Louis in the summer of 1918. About this time, she read about Blanche Stuart Scott, the only woman to ever receive instruction from Glenn Curtiss, who on Sept. 2, 1910, took a solo hop into the air, “technically” but never officially becoming the first American woman to solo a powered airplane. Trout was intrigued by the fact that she wore pants while flying, and her urge to fly (and wear pants while doing so) grew.
Trout and her brother arrived in California in 1920; both had suffered a bout of influenza, and Trout’s illness lingered on; a doctor had told Mrs. Trout that the warm climate would be good for her. At first, they lived in Los Angeles with their father, grandmother and grandfather. Shortly afterward, they moved to San Diego, then Chula Vista. When her longing for her mother became too strong, Trout traveled to St. Louis, and convinced her to return with her.
In 1921, when Trout was 15, she read about two young women in Pasadena who were running a service station.
“I thought ‘Well, why don’t I?'” said Trout. She asked her parents if they would open a service station and let her run it. “Mother said, ‘I should say not!’ But Dad said, ‘Well, I think that’s a good idea.’ Mother had the money, but dad went out and put the station up on Elm.”
Trout managed it temporarily.
“My golly, we had so much business!” exclaimed Trout. “Dad had to give up his job with the telephone company to come over and take it and they made me go back to high school. On weekends and holidays I always had a job at the station.”
As Trout worked one day, she chatted with a customer, telling him about her dream to fly. That customer, W.E. “Tommy” Thomas, owned a Curtiss Jenny, and he was more than willing to take her up for a ride, on Dec. 27, 1922, at Rogers Airport, at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles.
“Amelia Earhart and I both had our first airplane rides there,” says Trout.
From the moment she took her first ride, Trout lived to fly.
“What do I love about it? What does anybody love about it? You can go places and fly like a bird,” she says with a laugh, at her modest condominium in north San Diego County where she has lived since 1976. “When people years ago, in the Stone Ages, saw birds fly around they must have thought, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could only do that?'”
When stage and screen star Irene Castle bobbed her hair, Evelyn decided to do the same, and when her friends and family teased her about her new look, she told them to just call her “Bobbi,” and the name stuck.
By this time, Trout had registered at the University of Southern California, at her mother’s prompting, for a course in architecture.
When Trout’s parents separated again, she dropped her studies at the college to help shoulder responsibilities. Her parents decided to split the profits from the service station, and her father left for Kentucky, but after losing the money he had at the racetracks, he soon returned, moving to Anaheim, where he bought another service station. Trout managed it, until it was later sold.
While girlfriends were going on dates, Trout was working to save money to learn to fly. Now, with $500 she had saved, and $2,000 received from the sale of the service station, Trout was ready to do just that.
She visited Burdett Air Lines Inc., School of Aviation, on South Western Avenue, where she was told, by “Pop” Burdett Fuller, the owner, that her initial instruction would cost $250. After she soloed, she would need to put in 10 hours of solo flight to receive a private license. The cost of renting an airplane, after that, would be extra. Trout happily wrote out the check, and asked what made an airplane fly.
“He did a rough design on a piece of paper,” said Trout. “He told me the rudder, alternators and the engine pulling it forward caused the air to go over the curve on the wing and caused a vacuum; the faster it went the larger the vacuum, and air around it would push your airplane up.”
On New Year’s Day, 1928, at the crack of dawn, Trout took her first lesson in one of Burdett’s five Curtiss Jennies. During the days that followed, she was a daily visitor to the airport. She later enrolled in meteorology and a navigation course at the University School of Aeronautics.
Trout says that when she learned to fly, “forced landings were the norm, not the exception.”
“In those days, the minute you took off you had to start looking for a place to land in case the engine went bad,” she said. Along with learning to fly, students at the school were often recruited to help repair planes, so Trout was getting her money’s worth.
On March 15, 1928, Trout went up with a new instructor.
“I gave it the gun and got up about 100, maybe 110 feet,” said Trout. “He pulled the throttle back.” Trout immediately put the nose down. “I was just over the end of a nice, beautiful field. I thought, ‘If I could just make a three-quarter turn I’d have the whole field; Pop Burdett said never try to make a three-quarter turn if you don’t have plenty of altitude and I knew that I didn’t so I started making a quarter turn, and my instructor gave it the gas.”
When her instructor asked why she hadn’t made a three-quarter turn, Trout told him the reason. He decided to show her how it could be done.
“He gave it the gas,” said Trout. “We got up to the same spot, and I think he got nervous because he knew he didn’t have enough altitude. He kept the nose up; on an old Jenny, the minute you give it gas, you’ve got to put that nose down or you’ll go into a spin! Well, he left the nose up, we went into a spin, and spun in.”
As a result, Trout was taken to the hospital, where she received stitches for a gash over her eye, caused by her goggles “digging in.” The instructor had escaped without injury.
Her mother found out about the accident while reading the evening edition of the Los Angeles Times when she read: “Girl Flyer Crashes!”
“She had somebody bring her out to Inglewood to the hospital and came in just as I was coming to,” Trout says. “She said, ‘Oh honey, you will give up flying won’t you?’ I said, ‘No, I love to fly.'”
When she couldn’t convince her daughter to give up her hobby, Mrs. Trout, who remembered that her daughter had once told her that the Jenny “glided like a streamlined brick,” vowed to get her a “better airplane.”
Six weeks after the accident, on April 30, 1928, Trout soloed, and shortly after that, she became the owner of an International K-6, a four-place biplane, which her mother purchased from Burdett.
That summer, Trout and other aviators watched as a barley field, known as Mines Field, was slowly converted into an airfield with three 7,000-foot paved runways and a grandstand. The site, now Los Angeles International Airport, was to be used for the National Air Races & Aeronautical Exposition, scheduled to take place September 8 through 16. Cliff Henderson was promoting the race.
Trout attended the show, where she met Charles Lindbergh; she says he had a “very weak handshake.”
She had arrived in a leather helmet and a beautiful custom leather, electrically heated flying suit; both had been given to her as gifts. Later, she received a call from Lindbergh’s secretary. He was impressed with the flying suit and wanting to have one made for him and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh. He needed to see hers again to see how it had been made. Soon, Lindbergh and his wife were sporting similar suits, but made of waterproof canvas.
Trout now began looking for business ventures to help fund her expenses. She was in luck when a representative from the May Company department store approached her, asking if they could display her aircraft in an aviation exhibit. The plane was hoisted onto the store roof in Los Angeles, and quickly became the most popular of the show.
The exposure created an opportunity for sponsorship and Sunset Oil Company offered Trout fuel and oil in exchange for permission to paint its logo on the side of her K-6.
Later, Trout met R.O. Bone, the builder of the Golden Eagle monoplane. Upon spotting her at an airfield, Bone approached her and asked if she wanted to demonstrate his aircraft.
“I think I said, ‘Well, when do I start?'” Trout said. “We went over to the factory, and the next thing I know I’m in coveralls, helping to build airplanes. As soon as we got one together, I started going to different fields and letting the fellas fly it to see how nice it was.”
On Dec. 14, 1928, Trout flew the Golden Eagle in the official dedication of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Airport (now Van Nuys Airport), which Waldo Waterman designed and originally managed. Trout flew the Golden Eagle to a first-place finish in a race that day.
Between her various trips to demonstrate the aircraft and her work at the Golden Eagle factory, Trout’s International K-6 sat unused at the Walter M. Murphy Aircraft Airfield at Atlantic Boulevard and Telegraph Road in Los Angeles. She eventually sold it. (A few weeks later, the new owner totaled it.)
When aviatrix Viola Gentry set an eight-hour endurance record, Trout set out to break it. On Jan. 2, 1929, she flew out of Metropolitan Airport, where she would return 12 hours and 11 minutes later.
“I broke into headlines,” she said of her new record. “That was pretty good for those days for a woman.” Not only had she beat the record, but she had also made her first night landing.
While Trout was up in the air, the U.S. Army was intent on establishing a military endurance record as well. The “Question Mark,” a Fokker C-2A tri-motor, left Metropolitan Airport on January 1. During the flight Major Carl Spatz (who later changed his surname to Spaatz) dropped Trout a note that read, “The crew of the Question Mark sends warmest regards to the woman flyer and hopes she will set a high record for others to aim at.” (The Air Corps set a world flight endurance record of 150 hours, 40 minutes, and 14 seconds; it was refueled 42 times, landing on January 7.)
Trout says that not everyone was happy for her to be up in the air, and that the crew of the Question Mark was asked to “get the girl out of the sky.”
“What do you want us to do, shoot her down?” was the reply.
After the flight, Trout left on another demonstration trip.
On January 31, Elinor Smith bettered her record by one hour, and on February 10, after larger gas tanks were installed in the Golden Eagle, Trout took off from Mines Field (named for real estate agent William W. Mines, later to be named Los Angeles International Airport), at 5:10 p.m., and, at 10:16 a.m. the next morning, glided the aircraft to a perfect landing. Her new records (five in all) included the first all-night flight by a woman and a new 17 hours 5 minutes and 37 seconds women’s solo endurance record. Media and movie stars, including the humorist Will Rogers, joined in on the hoopla when she landed.
On Feb. 22, 1929, Trout flew the Golden Eagle in the official opening of Glendale’s Grand Central Airport, where onlookers included Jean Harlow, Gary Cooper and Wallace Beery. Among the events were the first recorded women’s pylon race; the women made two laps from the field to Metropolitan Airport. The Golden Eagle, powered by a 60-hp LeBlond engine, raced against Pancho Barnes in her 225-hp J-5 Travelair biplane and Margaret Perry in a Siemens-Halske 150-hp powered Spartan biplane. Trout came in third.
Trout now accepted a $1,000 offer (plus oil and gasoline) made by the Richfield Oil Company to advertise their company logo on her aircraft.
On June 16, flying a new 90-hp Golden Eagle Chief, Trout climbed the aircraft to 15,200 feet, shattering the existing light class aircraft altitude record and making headlines around the globe.
The “Powder Puff Derby”
August 18, 1929 was a banner day for women in aviation. Although women had found their place among their male counterparts doing stunt and test flying, parachuting, ballooning, barnstorming and promoting, and had participated in endurance tests, they had never had their own full-blown air race. Trout and several other women would be competing in the prestigious National Cleveland Air Races in the first Women’s Transcontinental Air Derby. The women were to fly from Clover Field in Santa Monica, Calif., to Cleveland, Ohio. Their eight-day course, navigated by dead reckoning and road maps, would begin on Sunday, August 18, 1929. Prize money totaled $25,000.
The 20 women who entered were Louise Thaden, Margaret Perry, Gladys O’Donnell, Blanche Noyes, Ruth Elder, Neva Paris, Mary Haizlip, Opal Kunz, Mary von March, Vera Dawn Walker, Ruth Nichols, Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie, Edith Foltz, Jessie “Chubby” Keith-Miller, Marvel Crosson, Claire Fahy, Thea Rasche, Florence “Pancho” Barnes, Amelia Earhart and Trout. They were allowed to fly aircraft “appropriate” for women; it was decided that Kunz could not fly her 300-hp Travelair, which was “too fast for a woman to fly.”
Onlookers at the race included Will Rogers, Wiley Post and Howard Hughes. Rogers, after seeing several of the women checking their compacts and powdering their nose, dubbed the race the “Powder Puff Derby,” and news reporters quickly picked up the phrase.
For the race, Trout’s Golden Eagle Chief had been newly equipped with a 100-hp Kinner engine. Capable of flying 120 mph, it was registered in the light plane class.
“We didn’t get that ship until the night before we took off,” Trout says. “It got over to the Santa Monica Airport at midnight. After a problem had been fixed with the compass (nothing a piece of steel and wood couldn’t fix temporarily) Trout was assigned her space. Just before the race began, a large oil company asked Trout if she would use its oil during the race, and she agreed.
The race officially began at 2 p.m., with a radio-relayed pistol shot and the drop of a flag. Nineteen fliers were off, seven flying Beech Travel Airs. Other aircraft included Earhart’s Lockheed Vega, a Rearwin, a Curtiss Robin and an Alexander Eaglerock. Haizlip would try her best at catching up the next day.
Shortly after take off, Trout checked her instrument panel; the oil pressure gauge was at zero. Instead of taking a straight course over Los Angeles City Hall toward San Bernardino, she deviated slightly south over the city, in case she needed to make a forced landing. She was relieved when halfway to the city (after the oil warmed up) the oil pressure went up.
“We had an air bubble in the oil line,” she said.
Trout watched as her aircraft was refueled in San Bernardino, and then dashed off to a banquet at their hotel, where friends, fans and media were gathered.
During the course of the evening, Barnes suggested that the next leg of the route be changed, but a decision hadn’t been made when Trout headed off to bed. When she awoke the next morning, after not receiving a requested wake-up call, she hurried to the lobby to find that Rasche was in the same boat. Unbeknownst to the two, the route had changed; they were to check in over Imperial Airport, and fly on to Yuma, Ariz. Even with the delays, Trout bettered Omlie’s time by eight minutes. But five miles outside of Yuma, she ran out of fuel.
“I was going full force,” she said of why she might’ve ran out of fuel, but speculated that someone could have taken gas out of her plane. Trout made a forced landing in a large field in Mexico.
“As soon as I got over the field I saw deep rows that had been plowed by the biggest plow ever made,” she says. “The minute my little wheels hit the rows, over I went on my back. We had to take the plane and repair rips in the wing.” The plane was hauled to Yuma for repairs and three days later she was off again.
When Trout reached Kansas City, after “giving it the gas,” she learned that many of the participants had already checked in, but several other pilots had run into trouble. Marvel Crosson, overcome with carbon monoxide poison, had fatally crashed her Travelair in the mesquite jungle of the Gila River Valley. Rasche was forced down at Holtville, Ariz., when her engine quit (she found sand in it). Fahy, in another Travelair, was forced down in Calexico with broken wire braces. Her husband, who at the time held the solo endurance record for men, said that he found evidence that the wires had been burned with acid. He and others, concerned about sabotage, tried to get the race called off. Throughout the race, problems included accidental sightseeing over Mexico, nose-overs resulting in prop damage, sunburn, damaged landing gear, maps mistakenly lost over the side, unfriendly bulls, collisions with steamrollers and cars on runways, sleep deprivation, in-flight luggage fires, dirty oil lines, low visibility, unexpected illnesses, and engine failure and overheating.
When Trout left Kansas City, she proceeded at “full speed.”
“All of a sudden, 70 miles west of Cincinnati, Ohio, I had a dead stick,” she said. This time, the ignition switch had failed. “I made a ground loop to keep from running into a fence.”
During the ground loop, the aileron on the right wing caught on a fence post, tearing a large hole in it.
“I found some old tin and bailing wire and fixed it,” she said. An electrician from town arrived to install a new ignition switch. On August 22, Trout set out again.
“When I got to Columbus, the girls had gassed up and were just taking off. Officials saw the plane and said, “Bobbi Trout, don’t you ever let us see you fly a plane like this again!’ But it flew beautifully! Good thing I had a 100-hp engine; if I had a smaller engine I don’t think I’d have been able to get out of that field,” she said.
Trout at last arrived in Cleveland, finishing ahead of two of the pilots in spite of her problems. Thaden had taken first place in the “DW,” or heavy aircraft class, with a time of 21 hours, 21 minutes, and 43 seconds, averaging a speed of 127.52 mph. She dedicated her trophy to Crosson. O’Donnell was second and Earhart was third. In the “CW” light plane class, Omlie took first, with a time of 25 hours, 10 minutes, and 36 seconds, traveling at 118.19 mph. Foltz took second and Miller came in third.
After the race, the participants attended another banquet in their honor.
[photo”I lost my clothes somewhere along the line,” so I went to the banquet that night in flying togs and a white shirt I borrowed from Elinor Smith,” she recalled.
After a luncheon in Cleveland, conversation turned to future plans. The pilots had come from all over. How would they to stay in touch?
“We were underneath the grandstand,” said Trout. “Amelia and I and about four other girls. We were talking about the races and the people who were flying and this and that and someone said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if all the women could get together now and then and talk, and, oh yeah, why don’t we have a women’s organization?’ I spoke up and said, ‘Yes, that means now we’ve got a lot of red tape to do and by-laws to work on and so forth.’ Amelia said, ‘Bobbi, how about you letting us do it back east? I thought a minute and said, ‘Hell, why not.'”
A few months later, each woman that wanted to join a little organization called the Ninety-Nines handed over a dollar and signed the bylaws.
On the flight home, Jack Helm, a Golden Eagle distributor, asked to fly back with Trout. She flew from Cleveland to East St. Louis, where they spent the night. Helm then asked if he could fly.
“We got about three quarters of an hour west of St. Louis and here’s this huge black cloud,” said Trout. It was the beginning of a blinding rainstorm. Helm attempted to land and ground looped the aircraft, which got stuck nose-up in the mud. Although neither was hurt, the beautiful red and gold plane, which was left lying crumpled in a muddy field, was finished. Trout and Helm finished the trip home by train.
Within a few weeks, the stock market crashed, and Bone ended up selling his business. Trout was sad to see their partnership end, but she was already making plans for a new adventure. During the race, Trout had found a partner with whom to make a refueling endurance flight, the first ever made by women. It would be made with Smith.
“When Elinor came out to fly with me, she came over ‘in the daytime by plane, at nighttime by train, daytime by plane, by nighttime by train,'” said Trout. “In the early aviation days, that was the way they came across the continent.”
For the flight, Trout and Smith would fly a Sunbeam bi-plane, powered by a 300-hp Wright Whirlwind engine and provided by promoter Jack Sherrill. In order to decide in the fairest way who the pilot would be, Smith and Trout flipped a coin; Smith won.
To refuel, Trout would need to lead the gasoline nozzle into a pipe that lead to the cabin gasoline tanks.
During “practice,” the first time it was tried, Trout says they turned on the gas, and, just about that time, the aircraft parted, the hose flipped out of the pipe and trailed across her open mouth. She was taken to the hospital after swallowing gasoline.
“They put me under an oxygen tent,” she said. But the next morning she was up and about and ready to get back to work. The ship was re-rigged several times before it was ready.
The women took off on November 27, 1929, from Metropolitan Airport.
A Curtiss Carrier Pigeon, powered by a Liberty engine and capable of transferring 185 gallons of fuel in four minutes during refueling contact, refueled the plane twice a day.
To receive supplies, Smith positioned the Sunbeam under the Pigeon; the Pigeon would lower a bag containing food, oil and mail.
“They’d put a bag of stuff on the end of a 25-foot rope and then I’d pull that in around my legs,” she said. “If I got caught I might be hanging out in the air.
After being up 39 hours, while refueling, the Pigeon began trailing black smoke. Trout immediately tossed the fueling hose over the side. Smith maneuvered the aircraft away from the Pigeon. They had survived their first and only mishap. After 42 hours, and three and one-half minutes, and three and one-half refuelings, the women landed the plane.
On Jan. 4, 1931, Trout and starlet Edna May Cooper took off, again from Metropolitan Airport, to break Trout’s previous record. Their plan was to stay up for a month. This time, they flew a Curtiss Robin Challenger monoplane. Originally, the Pigeon was going to be used again, but after several delays, due to problems with the aircraft, it was decided to use a Curtiss Robin Thrush.
Trout celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday in the air with a chocolate birthday cake sent up by a good friend.
On January 9, the women ran into trouble.
“I got up and went to the front to fly and the air was beautiful,” she said. “No clouds in the sky. We were just gliding along peacefully and all of a sudden the engine started spitting oil all over the windshield and everything. The revs would die down then build up. It did that all day long, and was getting worse and worse–the altitude getting less and less. By nightfall, I had to land.” They had been in the air for 122 hours and 50 minutes and had covered 7,370 miles at an average speed of 60 miles per hour. This took 1,138 gallons of fuel and 34 gallons of oil. There were 22 contacts with the refueling ship.
“The first night I let Edna May take control,” she said. “She was gonna stall, and I said, ‘Forward on the stick! Forward on the stick!’ Then, it would be, ‘Edna May, pull back on the stick! You’re in a dive!’ About half of the night, I’m doing that with Edna May Cooper; she had just gotten her license. She finally got so she could see the horizon. Then when the oil was all over the windshield and you couldn’t see a thing, she couldn’t see the horizon.”
Bathroom breaks were less than an ideal situation. Trout tells of one hilarious occasion when she told Cooper that she’d “better get up here” because she had to “go to the bathroom.”
“In those days, you know, anything that you put in the air, by the time it got to the ground, it was supposed to dissipate,” she said. “Well, we didn’t have a container or anything. It went right into the air. I went back and undid my pants; let nature take it course. The same thing’s happening up in front! ‘Edna May! Edna May! Go back on the stick. You’re in a dive.’ Then she’d keep pulling back and back. ‘Edna May! Forward on the stick or you’re going to stall!’ Well, I tell you. I’ve never been so full of giggling. I was hysterical. I could just imagine this on the screen, with a big audience. I finally got my pants up and went up and got her out of the pilot’s seat.”
Trout continued to race, winning several, and with Pancho Barnes and others, founded the Women’s Air Reserve, whose principal purpose was to aid in disasters.
In 1931, she became an instructor in Los Angeles at Cycloplane Company Ltd.
“I taught Mary Wiggins, my real good friend, how to fly,” said Trout. “She paid her way around the world by jumping from high places into a tub of water. She hit the bottom with her head and wrecked her spine. She was our drillmaster” ‘Hut, two three, four, to the right!'”
Throughout the mid-1930s, her flying was intermittent; for a time she owned a J-5 Stearman, which sported the Gilmore Oil Company insignia, the red Gilmore lion, and was painted “Gilmore yellow” with red trim.
“It had been used quite a bit,” she said. “Maybe as a duster. I loved that airplane. That was in the middle of the Depression; not much way to make money with it that I knew, so I sold it. It broke my heart. But it flew beautifully.”
In 1937 and 1938, when flying jobs were still scarce, she took up photography, and received her commercial photographer’s license.
When Trout learned that aircraft companies were scrapping thousands of unused rivets every day (it was too expensive to sort them), she and a partner invented a rivet-sorting machine and established the Aero Reclaiming Company.
“I’ve invented things but I never made much money off of it,” said Trout. “During the war I had two defense businesses. We sorted rivets for all of the aircraft companies in and around L.A., except Lockheed–even Consolidated in San Diego. We had quite a business. I sold out to my partner in the middle of the war. Then I started a deburring service to smooth out the edges of machined metal. It’s a great big business now over on San Fernando Road. I sold it to my brother and he had it for years and finally sold it.”
Around 1949, she got her real estate broker’s license and opened a real estate office. In later years, she took a turn at offset printing and opened a life insurance and mutual funds office.
For a time, she worked as an aero-policewoman.
“I shot with police women and got second place,” she says. “I’ve tried about everything.”
The last time Trout commanded an airplane was in 1939, when she piloted an Ercoupe.
“It was the first time I had flown a tricycle landing gear,” she said. “Boy, it was just wonderful; easy to fly. Thank the Lord I didn’t have any bad cross winds. But anyway, I flew it; took off and landed perfectly.” The flight lasted an hour.
Trout’s thrill seeking didn’t stop with aircraft. She also developed an affinity for motorcycles.
“I bought one (an Indian Pony) in 1931 or ’32,” she said. “My folks didn’t know about it for a while. I kept it at a friend’s garage. The clutch was always going out on it. I had to sit on the curbs on the road many a times working on that darn clutch getting it to work.”
She also had a Honda.
“When my friend in San Diego and I would travel, we carried them on the front of our motor homes,” she said.
Trout’s need for speed prompted her to purchase a Porsche 914, red, of course, in 1976.
“I loved that little car! It’s a little cutie,” said Trout of the sports car that she drove until about three years ago and still owns. “I put 200,000 miles on it and it went to pieces.” She also has an Acura.
One need that Trout never felt was the need to marry.
“I have men friends but they’ve always been at arm’s length,” says Trout, and adds with a laugh, “I’m a virgin. I told my doctor that and they laughed and said, ‘You’re the only one that we know of.'”
Over the years Trout has received many aviation awards, including the Federation Aéronautique Internationale’s Federation’s Medallion and a Royal Decree of The Aviation Cross, which was presented to her by a representative of King Carol of Romania. The award, presented to pilots of record flights, also went to Lindbergh and Earhart.
In 1976, she was awarded the OX5 Pioneer Woman of the Year Award and in 1984 she was inducted into the OX5 Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame.
In 1986, Trout celebrated her 80th birthday in the air as a passenger. She answered questions during an interview as she hovered over the Golden Gate Bridge in a helicopter. That same year, Trout was honored during the “Gathering of the Eagles” at Maxwell Air Force Base (Alabama).
She received the Elder Statesman Award in 1989 and in 1993 was nominated into the Women in Aviation’s Hall of Fame. On Jan. 18, 1997, she became the first woman to receive the Howard Hughes Memorial Award for her lifetime contributions to aviation.
Trout’s escapades were featured in a now out-of-print book titled “Just Plane Crazy,” written by Donna Veca and Skip Mazzio. The book, filled with memories, newspaper clippings, and letters, was published in 1987.
In July 1999, the city of Los Angeles honored Trout with a proclamation stating how much she had done over the years for the advancement of aviation.
Four years before that, in 1995, Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, the first woman to pilot the space shuttle, took Trout’s international pilot license (signed by Orville Wright) into space. Collins and Trout, who met years ago, are friends.
Collins videotaped a greeting for Trout, which she proudly played when we visited her.
“Hello Bobbi, this is Eileen Collins,” Collins says with a smile. “I wanted to take this opportunity to say hi to you. I still have your book next to my bed.”
Then Collins makes a statement that many women have thought over the years since Trout began her journey.
“You’ve been a great role model for women like myself who can look to women like you–who did it for the first time.”