By Di Freeze
Evelyn “Bobbi” Trout, up until recently the last living participant of the inaugural “Powder Puff Derby,” passed away on Jan. 24, 2003.
Evelyn Trout was born on Jan. 7, 1906, in Greenup, Ill, and lived in various parts of Colorado, Missouri, Canada, and California.
The tomboy, who gave herself the nickname of “Bobbi” when she faced teasing from family and friends after bobbing her hair, as stage and screen star Irene Castle had done, developed a passion for aviation when she saw a plane fly overhead on a spring afternoon in 1918. She took her first airplane ride at Rogers Field in Los Angeles in December 1922, in a Curtiss Jenny.
She took flying lessons at Burdett Air Lines Inc., School of Aviation, owned by “Pop” Burdett. Her first lesson was on New Year’s Day, 1928, in one of Burdett’s five Curtiss Jennies. She soloed in April 1928, and was soon flying an International K-6, a four-place biplane her mother purchased from Burdett.
Trout had the opportunity to meet Charles Lindbergh, at the National Air Races & Aeronautical Exposition, held that year at what was known as Mines Field, but is now Los Angeles International Airport.
That same year, after her aircraft was displayed on the roof of the May Company during an exhibition, she found a sponsor, the Sunset Oil Company, and the company logo was painted on the craft. Later, she began demonstrating aircraft, as well as working on some, for R.O. Bone, the builder of the Golden Eagle.
On Dec. 14, 1928, she flew a Golden Eagle in the official dedication of Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Airport, now Van Nuys Airport. On Jan. 2, 1929, in a flight out of Metropolitan of 12 hours and 11 minutes, she broke an earlier 8-hour endurance record set by Viola Gentry.
After Elinor Smith had bettered her record by one hour, on Feb. 10, 1929, she set out from Mines Field, returning 17 hours, 5 minutes and 37 seconds later, holding five new records, including the first all-night flight by a woman and the new women’s solo endurance record. One headline read, “Tomboy Stays in Air 17 Hours to Avoid Washing Dishes.”
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.
On Aug. 18, 1929, Trout, flying a newly revamped 100-hp Golden Eagle Chief, and other women including Amelia Earhart took off from Clover Field in Santa Monica, Calif., heading toward Cleveland, Ohio, in the first Women’s Transcontinental Air Derby, during the prestigious National Cleveland Air Races.
Their eight-day course would be navigated by dead reckoning and road maps, and would result, when conversation between Trout, Earhart and others later turned to how to stay in touch, in the creation of the Ninety-Nines.
Onlookers at the race included Wiley Post, Howard Hughes and Will Rogers who, after seeing several of the women checking compacts and powdering noses, dubbed the race the “Powder Puff Derby.”
On Nov. 27, 1929, with Elinor Smith, while flying a Sunbeam biplane, Trout took off from Metropolitan Airport to attempt the first refueling endurance flight by women. The task was accomplished through a Curtiss Carrier Pigeon, which refueled the plane three and a half times, during a period of 42 hours and three and a half minutes.
On Jan. 4, 1931, Trout went aloft for another refueling endurance flight with starlet Edna May Cooper. They were in the air for 122 hours and 50 minutes.
During the thirties, Trout instructed and took up photography. Later, during the WWII years, she founded a rivet-sorting company and deburring service. Following that, she opened a real estate office, took a turn at offset printing and opened a life insurance and mutual funds office.
Her thrill seeking throughout the years included motorcycle riding and driving around north San Diego County in her red Porsche 914.
Trout’s numerous honors include being awarded the OX5 Pioneer Woman of the Year Award (1976), induction into the OX5 Aviation Pioneers Hall of Fame (1984) and nomination into the Women in Aviation’s Hall of Fame (1993), and receiving the Howard Hughes Memorial Award for her lifetime contributions to aviation (1997).