Historic Woman and Aircraft Land in Madison

First woman since 1944 to qualify on the B-29 to appear at Air Power tour event

Debbie King at the controls of "FIFI", the CAF's B-29. King is the first woman to qualify on the World War II bomber since 1944.

Debbie King at the controls of “FIFI”, the CAF’s B-29. King is the first woman to qualify on the World War II bomber since 1944.

Its been sixty five years since Dora Dougherty and Dorthea “Didi” Moorman became the first women to be fully qualified in the B-29, the most advanced in the World War II Allied aircraft bomber fleet. Last summer Debbie King, 44, became the first woman since that time to become a qualified pilot on the Commemorative Air Force’s (CAF) B-29 “FIFI”, the only remaining airworthy B-29 in the world.

Beginning today thru Sunday (July 26-28) in Madison the CAF will have military aircraft from that era including “FIFI” and two other bombers, four fighters and a trainer on hand for people to see and also hop rides. The Air Power History Tour is a traveling showcase of CAF aircraft that in total number 160 and are operated and maintained by the nearly 9,000 members of the organization.

In 1944 Dougherty and Moorman were selected by Colonel Paul Tibbets to fly the B-29 because it had earned a poor reputation among the male flyers due to teething problems caused mainly by its rush to the production line during the war. Tibbets sought out the women to qualify on the airplane and then tour B-29 training squadrons to show (and maybe shame a little bit) the men how easy the aircraft was to fly. A year later Tibbets would command the B-29 Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on a civilian population.

Former B-29 Pilot Dora Dougherty (left) and Lt. Col. George Hardy ret. a Tuskegee Airman flew the B-29 in Korea

Former B-29 Pilot Dora Dougherty (left) and Lt. Col. George Hardy ret. a Tuskegee Airman flew the B-29 in Korea.

Last August, Willy Street Blog produced a podcast about the two women after meeting Dora Dougherty at the Sun ‘n Fun Fly-in in Florida in March 2012.

At the time both Debbie King and another woman, Tracy Toth, had completed B-29 ground training with the CAF which groups its aircraft and pilots in squadrons.

All pilots in the squadron serve on the aircraft in other roles before applying for flight positions which are selected by senior squadron members. Later in the summer of 2012 Debbie King, whose father’s longtime involvement in the CAF drove her own interests, was selected for flight training. King, who is also a mother, completed several flights and earned her co-pilot qualification on the B-29, becoming the first woman since World War II to do so.

Take a ride with Dora Dougherty on “FIFI”:

“I like the historical significance of it, a little bit of kismet…there was Dora and Didi and I’m Debbie,” King said. “The B-29 was called the 12th man, which is the same at Texas A&M where I attended school”. King says B-29 crews called the aircraft the 12th crew member just like at her alma mater where fans of the school’s football team self-assign a similar moniker.

Because the B-29 was a military aircraft that predated the FAA, there is no official present-day type certification for the B-29 and thus King’s qualification is through the CAF’s FAA approved training program.

Crawling through the tunnel in the B-29 while in flight. This passageway connected the two pressurized crew spaces of this WW II Bomber.

Crawling through the tunnel in the B-29 while in flight. This passageway connects the two pressurized crew spaces of this WW II Bomber. Photo by: Steve Schapiro

During that March 2012 meeting, King had a chance to talk with Dora Dougherty and was most intrigued by her interactions with Tibbets.

“I was mostly interested in Paul Tibbets and their relationship, and what it was like to be in the hotel room with Didi and crisscross the country as women,” King said.

A typical Air Power History Tour stop would likely not feature eight aircraft, but this weekend’s additional heft is because all the aircraft are headed to Oshkosh for the annual EAA AirVenture Fly-in. The Madison event features ground tours of each of the aircraft as well as a chance to go aloft for an additional fee. Admittance to the event is $15.

Debbie King, who is a instructor pilot in the Falcon 900EX, will be at the event in Madison on Sunday July 28 and then travel to Oshkosh to participate in CAF events during EAA AirVenture.

Video: Thursday two Madison-area B-29 veterans got a ride in “FIFI”. Video courtesy: Madison.com


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