Evelyn "Bobbi" Trout was born in Greenup, Illinois, on January 7, 1906 and got her name when she had her hair bobbed ala screen star Irene Castle. At the age of twelve she saw her first airplane flying overhead and it was love at first sight. "Some day I'll be up there. Someday I'm going to fly an aeroplane." She took a big step toward that goal on December 27, 1922 when she had her first ride in a Curtiss Jenny at Rogers Field in Los Angeles (coincidentally, it was the same site that Amelia Earhart took her first airplane ride). On New Year's Day 1928, Bobbi began her flight training at Burdett Air Lines, Inc., School of Aviation in Los Angeles with Burdett Fuller. She soloed on April 30, 1928, two weeks later completed her training and was issued license number 2613. She was the fifth woman in the USA to obtain her transport license.
Making and Breaking the Records
At 6:25 AM on the morning of January 2, 1929, Bobbi took off from Van Nuys Airport on an endurance flight that would last for twelve hours and eleven minutes and beat Viola Gentry’s eight hour endurance record. She had set a new solo endurance record for women. But the record was only to last until January 31, 1929 when Elinor Smith beat her time by an hour. And the race was on!
On February 10, 1929 Bobbi took off at 5:10 PM from Mines Field to beat Elinor Smith’s time. She wanted to extend the time by four hours just as she did for the earlier record. She expected to land at 10:30 AM but at 10:05 AM her engine started cutting out from fuel starvation and then died completely. She glided the Golden Eagle to a perfect landing at 10:16 AM. Her new records now included the first all-night flight by a woman and a new seventeen hours, twenty-four minutes solo endurance record for women. One of the local papers had the headline, "Tomboy" Stays in Air 17 Hours to Avoid Washing Dishes.
Four months later, on June 16, 1929 she climbed into a new ninety horse-powered Golden Eagle Chief, climbed to fifteen thousand two hundred feet and shattered an altitude record for light class aircraft.
Women’s Transcontinental Air Derby
Will Rogers dubbed the race the "Powder Puff Derby" and the name stuck. Any qualified female pilot who had a license and a plane could enter the long and difficult race from Santa Monica to Cleveland. On the morning of August 18, 1929 Bobbi was the fifth racer flagged off to start the race with her 100 horsepower Golden Eagle Chief. The first day of the race went well - it wasn't until day two that disaster struck and Bobbi had to do a dead stick landing in a field about six miles from the Yuma, Arizona Airport, that day's destination. Her airplane suffered some damage upon landing and took several days to repair. Undaunted, she continued with race, catching up with the many of the fliers in Kansas City. Other contestants had problems as well - Claire Fahy, in an OX5 Travel Air was forced down near Calexico with broken wire braces, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega nosed over upon landing and damaged the prop, Thea Rasche was forced down at Holtville, Arizona and Marvel Crosson had a fatal crash in the Gila River Valley, east of Yuma.
Bobbi ran into trouble days later when her engine quit again and she was forced to make another dead-stick landing that ended with the plane ground-looping this time. She was able to make the airplane repairs herself and on August 22, even though she knew she was out of the running in the official race, she took off again. In Columbus, Ohio she found out that it wasn't as bad as she thought when a few of the other racers were just departing for Cleveland. She pushed hard and completed the course.
After the air races, while standing under the bleachers and discussing the events, several of the women pilots came up with the idea of forming a woman's flying organization. Bobbi, Amelia Earhart, Phoebe Omlie, Louise Thaden, Blanche Noyes and several other women decided to create by-laws and get the group started. And that was the start of The Ninety-Nines!
More Records and Races
During the Powder Puff Derby, plans were made for Bobbi to join forces with Elinor Smith and go for setting another endurance record. This time it would be the woman's endurance record and they planned on being airborne for a month. After many, many hours of preparation and test flights, they were able to stabilize the plane long enough for Bobbi to grab a bag of food, oil and mail hanging from the refueling plane. This refueling routine would take place twice a day with the fuel plane being able to transfer one hundred eighty-five gallons of fuel to the receiver aircraft in only four minutes. Bobbi would grab the bag which was tied to a rope and lead the gasoline nozzle into a pipe that lead to the cabin gasoline tanks.
On November 27, 1929, Bobbi and Elinor started the run. They alternated four hour shifts of sleeping and flying with the routine going smoothly for the first two days. In the thirty-ninth hour there was a refueling mishap and the refueling plane had to do an emergency landing and while it sustained minor structural damage, the engine had to be overhauled. With the transferred fuel, the women were able to stay flying until 3:47 AM when they were almost totally out of fuel. The official time was forty-two hours, three and one-half minutes and they had refueled three and one-half times. They set a world record.
For the next few months, Bobbi won several air races, including the Women’s Air Race at the official opening of United Airport, now named Burbank Airport, May 1930. She also agreed to go for another refueling endurance record with Edna May Cooper.
After one failed attempt on January 1, 1931, Bobbi and Edna May took off from Mines Field again on January 4th, hoping to stay up for at least a month. Once they were aloft long enough to break Bobbi’s first record, there was airplanes flying all around them cheering them on. Bobbi celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday two days later by eating a chocolate birthday cake (minus the candles) sent up by a good friend. Day three brought on bad weather and they relocated to Imperial Valley Airport, about two hundred miles away. Later that day, they returned to Mines Field when the weather cleared. On January 9, with Bobbi at the controls, trouble struck again. The engine started coughing and spewing out oil. With great effort, the plane was kept airborne for several more hours but it was only a matter of time until they would be forced to land. As night came on, they were forced to land but they had set a new women’s refueling record. They had officially been airborne for 122 hours, 50 minutes; covered 7,370 miles at an average speed of sixty miles per hour; taken on 1,138 gallons of fuel and 34 gallons of oil; and received food and supplies during 22 contacts with the refueling ship.
Women's Air Reserve and Beyond
Bobbie continued to be very active in aviation. She joined with Pancho Barnes to form the Women's Air Reserve, W.A.R., whose principle purpose was to aid in disasters, where it was impossible to reach people in need of medical attention, except by plane. They had uniforms and trained in first aid, navigation and military maneuvers. W.A.R. consisted mostly of doctors, nurses, pilots and parachutists who could go directly to the scene of a disaster by air and help.
Bobbi had an active and full life. 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. She was a director of Aviation Archives, a California nonprofit corporation, to preserve aviation history. Lt. Col. Eileen Collins took Bobbi's international pilot license (endorsed by Orville Wright) into space when Eileen became the first woman to pilot the shuttle.
Bobbie went on to new horizons on January 24, 2003. We will miss her greatly.
Visit her website: www.bobbitrout.com
Veca, Donna & Mazzio, Skip. Just Plane Crazy, Osborne Publishing, Inc., Santa Clara, CA 1987.
Earhart, Amelia. The Fun of It. Brewer, Warren, &Putman, New York 1932.
Boase, Wendy. The Sky's the Limit. Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc. New York 1979.
The Ninety-Nines. The Ninety-Nines History Book; Yesterday - Today - Tomorrow. Turner Publishing Company 1996.