Already a member? Please login below for an enhanced experience. Not a member? Join today

Pilots: Like father, like daughterPilots: Like father, like daughter

Debbie King followed her dad into aviation

They walk alike, talk alike, can finish each other’s sentences.
Photography by John Derryberry

They fly together on the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) B–29 Superfortress named Fifi and live two houses apart in a northern Dallas suburb called Farmers Branch. After Tom Travis retired from American Airlines in 2001, his daughter Debbie Travis King ended up getting him flying jobs on business jets, where they also flew together.

If ever a daughter imprinted on a father, Debbie is a prime example. Another sister, Leigh Ann Travis, and mother Cheryl never got into flying and don’t like the Thanksgiving table monopolized by aviation talk. Yet we have Leigh Ann’s air-conditioning contracting work to thank for keeping the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport cool in summer, and Cheryl proved adept at helping stitch Piper Cub wings in the couple’s garage. A Pietenpol—an open-cockpit aircraft with a single, strut-supported upper wing—is under construction there now. Cheryl has warmed to the flying community, going with her husband on B–29 tours and selling ride tickets.

Travis estimates Debbie was three when he first took his two girls flying. The Cub was designed to be flown from the back, but with both of them in the back as ballast, he could fly from the front. He also had a floatplane at nearby Addison Airport.

“My interest in flying was always there,” said King, now 50. “It was more like driving. We always had airplanes. We were always in airplanes. It wasn’t that there was this deep passion. It was just a regular part of my life. There was an airplane in the garage. We’d take an airplane to go see a friend. It was just always there.”

She was soloed by her dad in a Cessna 150 while still in high school. Her private and commercial certificates and instrument rating came while she attended Texas A&M University. Her flight instructor certificate was achieved mostly at American Flyers at Addison Airport, while her air transport pilot certificate came later during her checkride in a Dassault Falcon 20 jet.

She started out flying an Israeli Aircraft Industries Westwind jet—sometimes with her dad—but later flew a Dassault Falcon 900 for ranchers, television personalities who filmed their shows in Vancouver, Canada, and businesspeople.

“I used to teach in a Falcon 900 and am rated in the 20, 50, and 900. Dassault is super easy to fly and has an artificial feel unit that makes it a fingertip airplane. It is extremely stable. Very reliable. It’s like a Bonanza—very stable and very predictable.” She has cut back her flying to travel more with her husband, Carl King, CEO of NeuHealth Holdings in Leawood, Kansas, but still tours with the CAF.

Travis likes to joke that he has failed retirement multiple times. One of the activities he enjoys in retirement is flying and instructing in the CAF’s Consolidated B–24 Liberator and Boeing B–29 Superfortress. King started her career on the B–29 after CAF managers wanted to celebrate the role women played in the Superfortress: Pilots assigned to then-Lt. Col. Paul Tibbets during World War II were afraid of the B–29’s reputation for engine fires, so Tibbets trained two women from the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) to fly it. They toured Army bases and their job was to surprise local military pilots when they emerged from the aircraft.

Travis works part-time as a flight instructor at Dallas-area simulation company CAE, from which his daughter retired. He flew with his daughter for a special occasion at the end of 2018: He was a little more than an hour away from 10,000 hours of instruction given, and King needed a flight review. That put him over his goal. Father and daughter also both renewed their flight instructor certificates in December 2018.

“It’s just a lot of fun and satisfaction to have a kid that shares a passion with you. We’re on the same page as far as aviation,” Travis said. “It’s something we bond together with, and have an interest in. I really enjoy it.”

Alton Marsh

Alton K. Marsh

Freelance journalist
Alton K. Marsh is a former senior editor of AOPA Pilot and is now a freelance journalist specializing in aviation topics.

Related Articles