Bobbi Trout (1906-2003)

Eve­lyn ‘Bobbi’ Trout com­pleted her train­ing and was is­sued with a li­cence to fly, be­com­ing the fifth woman in the United States to be ac­com­plish this feat!

SP's Aviation - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - — Joseph Noronha

NOWA­DAYS AN HOUR OF fly­ing is rou­tine. Spend­ing a whole day in the air be­fore land­ing can be an en­durance test. But what about tak­ing it in turns with a co-pi­lot to fly a small, flimsy air­craft con­tin­u­ously for sev­eral days? That’s what Bobbi Trout loved. She was the first to set an of­fi­cial non-re­fu­elled en­durance record for women. She even wanted to remain air­borne for a month with­out land­ing – some­thing her air­craft re­fused to do. Eve­lyn ‘Bobbi’ (the nick­name came from her dis­tinc­tive bobbed hairdo) Trout was born on Jan­uary 7, 1906, in Greenup, Illi­nois, United States.

As a child, she heard an air­craft fly­ing over­head and this trig­gered a life­long fas­ci­na­tion with flight. She shunned the tra­di­tional girl­ish ac­tiv­i­ties like cook­ing and sewing, pre­fer­ring to tinker with greasy ma­chines. She even whee­dled her par­ents into buy­ing her a mo­tor service sta­tion which she ran her­self. She first flew at 16 but had to ac­cu­mu­late money for flight lessons. Fi­nally she saved ap­prox­i­mately $2,500 and joined a fly­ing school on Jan­uary 1, 1928.

In the course of her train­ing in forced land­ings she al­most met her end when the young in­struc­tor made her ex­e­cute a tight turn through 270 de­grees at low height. Sec­onds later the plane spun out of con­trol and crashed into the ground. When her mother saw the ac­ci­dent re­port on the front page of the news­pa­per she rushed to the hospi­tal. She was greatly relieved to dis­cover that Bobbi only needed a few stitches for a gash on the fore­head, while her rather im­pru­dent trainer was un­harmed.

All at­tempts to make Bobbi aban­don fly­ing failed and she made her first solo flight six weeks later on April 30, 1928. In an­other two weeks, she com­pleted her train­ing and was is­sued li­cence num­ber 2613, be­com­ing the fifth woman in the United States to be awarded a li­cence to fly. Her mother fi­nally came to terms with her ob­ses­sion and bought her an In­ter­na­tional K-6, a four-seat bi­plane. And within months, Bobbi was back among the head­lines, but this time for a good rea­son — record set­ting.

It was a year af­ter she started flight train­ing that Bobbi Trout set her first record. The Fédéra­tion Aéro­nau­tique In­ter­na­tionale (FAI) had just laid down that en­durance records had to be bro­ken by at least an hour to be recog­nised. She flew into the pre-dawn sky on Jan­uary 2, 1929, and did not land till dark­ness set in. By then, her Golden Ea­gle air­craft had spent 12 hours and 11 min­utes in the air. This con­sti­tuted a new solo en­durance record for women, im­prov­ing on the pre­vi­ous record by over four hours.

Within days, how­ever, the record was snatched by Eli­nor Smith. By now Bobbi was grow­ing in con­fi­dence that she could remain air­borne for much longer pe­ri­ods. So she per­suaded the man­u­fac­turer to in­stall aux­il­iary tanks and in­crease the fuel ca­pac­ity of the Golden Ea­gle. On Fe­bru­ary 10, 1929, Bobbi took off a lit­tle be­fore dusk, mean­ing to fly through the night. But the monotony of an un­event­ful flight can be ex­tremely so­porific and drowsi­ness soon set in. She later re­called rub­bing her neck and singing loudly in an at­tempt to stay awake.

A cou­ple of times she fell asleep, but was alerted by the change in the en­gine sound as it went into a dive and woke up in time to re­cover. Around 10 am, a lit­tle short of her planned com­ple­tion time, the plane ran out of fuel and she landed. How­ever, she had al­ready set a new women’s solo en­durance record of 17 hours, 24 min­utes and be­come the first woman to fly through the night. If the news­pa­pers were im­pressed by these feats they did not show it. A typ­i­cal head­line went: “Tomboy Stays in Air 17 Hours to Avoid Wash­ing Dishes”.

Next, Bobbi tar­geted the women’s al­ti­tude record for light air­craft. On June 16, 1929, she climbed to an al­ti­tude of 15,200 feet in her more pow­er­ful Golden Ea­gle Chief, set­ting a new al­ti­tude record for women and at­tract­ing both fame and adu­la­tion. Later that year she took part in the first Women’s Transcon­ti­nen­tal Air Derby com­pet­ing with other pi­lots in­clud­ing Amelia Earhart in the gru­elling race. Although en­gine trou­ble put her out of con­tention to win a prize she showed great de­ter­mi­na­tion in com­plet­ing the race.

Next, she teamed up with arch ri­val Eli­nor Smith in an at­tempt to re­peat­edly re­fuel a plane in mid­flight and keep it air­borne for a month. Fol­low­ing in­ten­sive preparation and train­ing, they fi­nally took off on Novem­ber 27, 1929. How­ever, af­ter al­most two days went by in al­ter­nat­ing four hour shifts of sleeping and fly­ing, a re­fu­elling mishap dam­aged the feeder plane and the women were forced to land be­fore they com­pletely ran out of fuel. They had set a world record, re­main­ing air­borne 42 hours, 31/2 min­utes.

On Jan­uary 4, 1931, Bobbi Trout took off for her fi­nal en­durance record. This time it was with star­let Edna May as her part­ner, in an ef­fort to at­tract pub­lic­ity and spon­sor­ship. Within a cou­ple of days, they broke Bobbi’s ex­ist­ing re­fu­elled en­durance record. How­ever, early on the morn­ing of Jan­uary 9, the en­gine be­gan to misbehave. Soon it started cough­ing and spit­ting oil. They re­mained air­borne as long as pos­si­ble, but were forced to land around dusk. Although they had fallen well short of their planned time, they set a new women’s re­fu­elled en­durance record of 122 hours, 50 min­utes. And the FAI awarded Bobbi its high­est hon­our – the FAI’s Medal­lion.

Bobbi Trout never married. She was able to de­vote her en­tire life to fly­ing and died on Jan­uary 24, 2003, fol­low­ing a heart at­tack.

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