Arty Trost and her Maxair Drifter experimental light sport aircraft, which she flew 3,611 miles from Oregon to Sun ’n Fun.
How far would you fly to attend a fly-in like Sun ’n Fun, taking place this week in Lakeland, Fla.? Arty Trost flew 3,611 miles from Sandy, Ore.—in her single-seat 1984 Maxair Drifter, which in calm air cruises at 55 to 60 mph. The former ultralight, which she has registered as an experimental light sport aircraft, has an empty weight of 320 pounds. It took her 18 flying days to make the journey.
She made 47 landings and burned 241 gallons of gas on the way to Florida. Her flying partner, Randy Simpson, couldn’t leave when Trost wanted to depart and caught up with her in Arizona. “I was kind of loafing, flying two or three legs—maybe 300 miles—per day. I had promised my husband I wouldn’t fly to Florida myself, but Randy was coming.”
Trost, 65, camped with her airplane each night, and sometimes didn’t get airborne until late morning. “We got a lot of teasing about that on my blog,” she laughed. She updated her blog from the road, and a link on the right side of the page allowed others to track her progress on a map of her route.
Trost and Simpson averaged two legs and four hours of flying each day. “We weren’t really pushing ourselves,” she said, adding that several days offered turbulence and terrible headwinds.
She said her reception at Sun ’n Fun has been astounding. “People are so entranced, whether they’re pilots or not, with the idea of flying an airplane like the Maxair Drifter this far,” she said. “Then they find out I’m a woman—and 65 years old.” Her experience motivated a pilot from Alabama, who had always driven to Lakeland for the event, to fly himself this year. “People say, ‘Wow, if you can make that trip, I can make it,’” she said.
Trost will speak about her experience at 11 a.m. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in Sun ’n Fun’s Learn to Fly tent, which is sponsored by AOPA.
Trost, left, talks with a group of pilots at the fly-in.
“I really hope it encourages people to try to get in the air. Until you see the world from 100 feet or 500 feet, you haven’t seen it.” Trost chooses cruise altitudes based on where she can land below. For example, flying over the Siskiyou Mountains, she flew at 9,500 feet; over parts of Texas while following highways, 5,500 or 7,500 feet; and over fields or farmland, she might be as low as 300 to 500 feet.
Although she’s been talking about flying to Lakeland for six or seven years, it was far from her first long trip. “Every year since 2000, I’ve made at least one multi-week, multi-thousand-mile trip,” she said. She’s been to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Southern California, Idaho, and Washington—some of them multiple times. “In 2007, I was trying to get to San Antonio but got weathered in in Las Cruces [N.M.],” she said. That trip took 29 days and covered 4,500 miles round-trip.
“This trip to Florida is by far the longest I’ve done,” Trost said. She picked this year to fly to Sun ’n Fun because the event started later in April than usual. “I never really believed we could get out of Oregon in the middle of March,” she explained.
Trost picked up the nickname “The Wandering Wench” on a flight from Oregon to Nevada. “A guy said, ‘My word, you are a wandering wench.’ I liked that and picked it up as my handle.” She uses the medieval use of the word “wench,” which means a feisty or uppity woman, and doesn’t worry if someone applies the contemporary, somewhat derogatory definition.
She soloed May 23, 1989, in a Sunburst ultralight. “It cruised at 32 miles per hour,” she recalled. All her pilot-in-command time has been in ultralights and light sport aircraft: She transitioned into sport pilot after the new category was created. She commuted to graduate school in a Cessna 150 for two and a half years and has done other flying, but none of it as pilot in command.
On the way home she plans to stop in Monument Valley, Utah, for a Kolb fly-in; cross the Bonneville Salt Flats; and follow the Snake River through Idaho and then the Columbia River to Oregon. “I will definitely be home by Memorial Day, and it would be great to get home before then,” she said.
Trost also promotes a Web site, the Penelope Pilot Project, intended to help girls learn about aviation and the opportunities it has to offer them.