The first female B-29 pilot in the history of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) was in the right seat of the cockpit when FIFI landed at Central Flying Service in Little Rock. Debbie King is not only the first woman to pilot the world’s last flying B-29, but also one of only three female pilots ever to fly the aircraft. Little Rock was the second stop on the
B-29’s five city fall tour in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Making the event even more special; the aircraft commander for the flight was her father, long time CAF pilot Tom Travis. Father and daughter, who both also fly the CAF B-24 Liberator, have shared a passion for aviation ever since Tom taught Debbie to fly years ago. When asked what emotions he feels as he shares his daughter’s latest accomplishment he said, “Heck, when I first met her she couldn’t even walk and look at her now! Besides pride, I feel very comfortable flying with her. We’ve flown together so much that we think alike and that makes it easier. She keeps me humble. Best copilot I ever flew with.”
Debbie is just one example of the Commemorative Air Force’s commitment to diversity among its members; although she dismisses any comments about gender when talking about flying airplanes. “It has taken a long time waiting in the wings and paying my dues as a pilot,” Debbie says. “The CAF has promoted a dramatic change in attitudes and opportunity over the last few years and I foresee a wonderful future for the coming generations.”
B-29/B-24 Squadron Operations Officer David Oliver has this to say about the squadron’s newest B-29 copilot, “Debbie is more qualified and has more hours than many of our male copilots. We absolutely needed to give her an opportunity to fly the airplanes. She has seniority in the organization and has spent many more volunteer hours than a lot of the pilots flying CAF airplanes today.”
CAF president Steve Brown is leading the effort to actively recruit a more diverse membership to the warbird community. “We must move on to that new generation and become more representative of America – men and women of different ethnicities and backgrounds,” says Brown. “We must have a better representation of the audiences we are talking to.”
Debbie will be the first to tell you this experience is not about her. Rather she wants to tell a story about the airplane and the generation of people who flew in them under much different circumstances than she does today. Debbie tells us what flying this airplane means to her, “My grandfather died in World War II and my great uncle, his brother, worked on them during the war as a mechanic. My great uncle became my grandfather figure and I adored him. He was the epitome of the greatest generation; he came home from the horrors of war, raised a family and went on with his life.
“My Grandfather had just died and my great uncle was gearing up to move for the attack on Japan when the bombs were dropped. The B-29 represents a bit of salvation for my family. It saved American lives and it has allowed me to connect a bit, I believe, with my grandfather and uncle — to see and touch what changed the course of their lives, of all of our lives.”
For more information about the CAF B-29/B24 Squadron visit www.cafb29b24.org. To learn more about the national CAF organization visit www.commemorativeairforce.org.