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Sky King

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Sky King
Grant as Sky King with Gloria Winters as his niece, Penny, and Ron Hagerthy as his nephew, Clipper
GenreWestern-themed adventure
Theme music composer
  • Milton Raskin
  • Herbert Taylor
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons4
No. of episodes72
Executive producerStuart E. McGowan
Camera setupSingle-camera
Running time25 minutes
Production companies
  • Jack Chertok Television Productions
  • McGowan Productions
Original release
ReleaseSeptember 16, 1951 (1951-09-16) –
March 8, 1959 (1959-03-08)

Sky King was an American radio and television series. Its lead character was Arizona rancher and aircraft pilot Schuyler "Sky" King.

The series had strong Western elements.[1] Cattle rancher King usually captured criminals and spies and found lost hikers, though he did so with the use of his airplane, the Songbird. Two twin-engine Cessna airplanes were used by King during the course of the TV series. The first was a Cessna T-50 and in later episodes a Cessna 310B was used till the series's end.[2] The 310's make and model type number was prominently displayed during the closing titles.[3]

King and his niece Penny lived on the Flying Crown Ranch, near the fictitious town of Grover, Arizona. Penny's brother Clipper also appeared during the first season. Penny and Clipper were also pilots, although they were inexperienced and looked to their uncle for guidance. Penny was an accomplished air racer, rated as a multiengine pilot, whom Sky trusted to fly the Songbird.

Radio synopsis[edit]

The radio show began in 1946 and was based on a story by Roy Winsor, the brainchild of Robert Morris Burtt and Wilfred Gibbs Moore, who also created Captain Midnight. Several actors played the part of Sky, including Earl Nightingale, John Reed King, and Roy Engel.[4] Jack Bivans played Clipper, and Beryl Vaughan portrayed Penny.[5]

Radio premiums were offered to listeners, as was the case with many radio shows of the day. For example, the Sky King Secret Signalscope was used on November 2, 1947, in the Mountain Detour episode. Listeners were advised to get their own for only 15 cents and the inner seal from a jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter, which was produced by the sponsor, Derby Foods. The Signalscope included a glow-in-the-dark signaling device, whistle, magnifying glass, and Sky King's private code. With the Signalscope, one could also see around corners and trees.[6] The premiums were innovative, such as the Sky King Spy-Detecto Writer, which had a decoder (cipher disk), magnifying glass, measuring scale, and printing mechanism in a single package slightly over two inches long. Other notable premiums were the Magni-Glo Writing Ring, which had a luminous element, a secret compartment, a magnifier, and a ballpoint pen, all in the crown piece of a "fits any finger" ring.

The radio show continued until 1954, broadcasting simultaneously with the first portion of the television version.

Television synopsis[edit]

The television version starred Kirby Grant as Sky King and Gloria Winters as Penny.[7] Other regular characters included Sky's nephew Clipper, played by Ron Hagerthy, and Mitch the sheriff, portrayed by Ewing Mitchell. Mitch, a competent and intelligent law enforcement officer, depended on his friend Sky's flying skills to solve the harder cases. Other recurring characters included Jim Bell, the ranch foreman, played in four episodes by Chubby Johnson, as well as Sheriff Hollister portrayed by Monte Blue in five episodes, and Bob Carey, portrayed in ten episodes by Norman Ollestad.

After appearing in the first 19 episodes of the show, Hagerthy was drafted into the Army; the show saying Clipper had joined the Air Force. Leaving the army in 1955, he was more interested in motion pictures than rejoining the show. Unlike Grant and Winters, he never made any personal appearances for the show.[8]

Many of the story lines would feature the supporting cast repeatedly finding themselves in near-death situations and the hero rescuing them with seconds to spare. Penny would particularly often fall into the hands of spies, bank robbers, and other ne'er-do-wells.

Sky never killed the villains, as with most television cowboy heroes of the time. Sky King was primarily a show for children, although it sometimes broadcast in prime time. The show also became an icon in the aviation community. Many pilots, including American astronauts, grew up watching Sky King and named him as an influence.

Plot lines were often simplistic, but Grant was able to bring a casual, natural treatment of technical details, leading to a level of believability not found in other TV series involving aviation or life in the Western United States.

Likewise, villains and other characters were usually depicted as reasonably intelligent and believable, rather than as two-dimensional and cartoonish. The antagonists usually had fairly logical motivations as opposed to seemingly random evil as common in many action dramas of the time. The writing was generally above the standard for contemporary half-hour programs, although sometimes critics suggested that the acting was not.

Later episodes of the television show were notable for the dramatic opening with an air-to-air shot of the sleek, second Songbird banking sharply away from the camera and its engines roaring, while the announcer proclaimed, "From out of the clear blue of the Western sky comes Sky King!" The short credit roll which followed was equally dramatic, with the Songbird swooping at the camera across El Mirage Lake, California, then pulling up into a steep climb as it departed. The end title featured a musical theme, with the credits superimposed over an air-to-air shot of the Songbird, cruising at altitude for several moments, then banking away to the left.

The show also featured low-level flying, especially with the later Songbird, highlighting the desert flashing by in the background.


Recurring cast[edit]

Guest stars[edit]


Season 1[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
11"Operation Urgent"Hollingsworth Morse
(as John H. Morse)
David P. SheppardApril 5, 1952 (1952-04-05)
22"Carrier Pigeon"John H. MorseBill Bruckner Ray WinsorApril 19, 1952 (1952-04-19)
33"Stagecoach Robbers"John H. MorseTom SellerMay 3, 1952 (1952-05-03)
44"Deadly Cargo"John H. MorseSidney Renthal Harry Poppe Jr. Don TaitMay 17, 1952 (1952-05-17)
55"Jim Bell's Triumph"John H. MorseDavid P. SheppardMay 31, 1952 (1952-05-31)
66"Designing Women"John H. MorseCurtis KenyonJune 14, 1952 (1952-06-14)
77"One for the Money"John H. MorseJoe RichardsonJune 28, 1952 (1952-06-28)
88"Danger Point"John H. MorseCharles LarsenJuly 12, 1952 (1952-07-12)
99"Desperate Character"John H. MorseTom SellerJuly 26, 1952 (1952-07-26)
1010"The Man Who Forgot"John H. MorseTom SellerAugust 9, 1952 (1952-08-09)
1111"The Threatening Bomb"John H. MorseCharles LarsonAugust 23, 1952 (1952-08-23)
1212"Speak No Evil"John H. MorseCharles LarsonSeptember 6, 1952 (1952-09-06)
1313"Two-Gun Penny"John H. MorseTom SellerSeptember 20, 1952 (1952-09-20)
1414"Formula for Fear"Paul LandresJoe RichardsonOctober 4, 1952 (1952-10-04)
1515"The Giant Eagle"Paul LandresCurtis KenyonOctober 18, 1952 (1952-10-18)
1616"Blackmail"John H. MorseDavid LangNovember 8, 1952 (1952-11-08)
1717"Wings of Justice"John H. MorseDavid P. SheppardNovember 22, 1952 (1952-11-22)
1818"Destruction from the Sky"Paul LandresHarry Poppe Jr. Roy WinsorDecember 6, 1952 (1952-12-06)
1919"The Porcelain Lion"John H. MorseCurtis KenyonDecember 20, 1952 (1952-12-20)

Season 2[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
201"The Neckerchief"Stuart E. McGowanFran van HartesveldtJanuary 2, 1956 (1956-01-02)
212"Man Hunt"Clark L. PaylowBarney A. SareckyJanuary 2, 1956 (1956-01-02)
223"The Plastic Ghost"Jodie CopelanAdrian GendotJanuary 9, 1956 (1956-01-09)
234"The Rainbird"Jodie CopelanOrville H. HamptonJanuary 9, 1956 (1956-01-09)
245"The Crystal Trap"Stuart E. McGowanBurt SimsJanuary 30, 1956 (1956-01-30)
256"The Red Tentacle"Clark L. PaylowBurt SimsJanuary 30, 1956 (1956-01-30)
267"Boomerang"Clark L. PaylowOrville H. HamptonFebruary 6, 1956 (1956-02-06)
278"The Geiger Detective"Clark L. PaylowEd ErwinFebruary 6, 1956 (1956-02-06)
289"The Golden Burro"Jodie CopelanBurt SimsFebruary 27, 1956 (1956-02-27)
2910"Rustlers on Wheels"Jodie CopelanHarry Poppe Jr.March 5, 1956 (1956-03-05)
3011"The Silver Grave"Jodie CopelanBurt SimsMarch 5, 1956 (1956-03-05)
3112"Uninvited Death"Stuart E. McGowanAdrian GendotMarch 12, 1956 (1956-03-12)
3213"Fish Out of Water"Jodie CopelanAdrian GendotMarch 19, 1956 (1956-03-19)
3314"Diamonds on a Sky-Hook"Stuart E. McGowanFran van HartesveldtMarch 26, 1956 (1956-03-26)
3415"Flood of Fury"Stuart E. McGowanBurt SimsApril 2, 1956 (1956-04-02)
3516"Rocket Story"Jodie CopelanAdrian GendotApril 2, 1956 (1956-04-02)
3617"Rodeo Roundup"Jodie CopelanJohn O'Dea Jerry ThomasApril 23, 1956 (1956-04-23)
3718"Showdown"Stuart E. McGowanAdrian GendotApril 23, 1956 (1956-04-23)
3819"Land o'Cotton"Jodie CopelanTom GriesApril 30, 1956 (1956-04-30)
3920"Dust of Destruction"Jodie CopelanAdrian GendotApril 30, 1956 (1956-04-30)

Season 3[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
401"Mystery Horse"Stuart E. McGowanTom Murray Pat CherrDecember 29, 1957 (1957-12-29)
412"Double Trouble"Stuart E. McGowanWilliam WelchDecember 29, 1957 (1957-12-29)
423"Note for a Dam"Stuart E. McGowanR.F. MauryJanuary 5, 1958 (1958-01-05)
434"Bad Actor"Stuart E. McGowanWilliam WelchJanuary 5, 1958 (1958-01-05)
445"Fight for Oil"Oliver DrakeDavid KarpJanuary 12, 1958 (1958-01-12)
456"Lost Boy"Stuart E. McGowanWilliam WelchJanuary 12, 1958 (1958-01-12)
467"The Brain and the Brawn"Ricard C. KahnTom Murray Pat CherrJanuary 26, 1958 (1958-01-26)
478"The Feathered Serpent"Clark L. PaylowDouglas JohnsonJanuary 26, 1958 (1958-01-26)
489"The Circus Clown Mystery"Oliver DrakeDavid KarpFebruary 22, 1958 (1958-02-22)
4910"Dead Man's Will"Clark L. PaylowFran HarrisFebruary 22, 1958 (1958-02-22)
5011"Cindy, Come Home"Clark L. PaylowWilliam WelchMarch 9, 1958 (1958-03-09)
5112"Rodeo Decathlon"Richard C. KahnWilliam WelchMarch 9, 1958 (1958-03-09)
5213"Abracadabra"Jodie CopelanWilliam WelchMarch 9, 1958 (1958-03-09)
5314"Triple Exposure"Clark L. PaylowJack Anson FinkeMarch 9, 1958 (1958-03-09)
5415"The Haunted Castle"Jodie CopelanWilliam WelchMarch 16, 1958 (1958-03-16)
5516"Manhunt"Herbert L. StrockDouglas JohnsonMarch 16, 1958 (1958-03-16)
5617"Danger at the Sawmill"Stuart E. McGowanDouglas JohnsonMarch 16, 1958 (1958-03-16)
5718"Sleight of Hand"Clark L. PaylowFran HarrisMarch 23, 1958 (1958-03-23)
5819"The Runaway"Clark L. PaylowDouglas JohnsonMarch 23, 1958 (1958-03-23)
5920"Stop That Train"Herbert L. StrockFran HarrisMarch 30, 1958 (1958-03-30)

Season 4[edit]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air date
601"The Wild Man"Paul LandresAlexander J. WellsDecember 28, 1958 (1958-12-28)
612"Sky Robbers"William J. Hole Jr.John Grey Del LordDecember 28, 1958 (1958-12-28)
623"A Dog Named Barney"Paul LandresDwight V. BabcockDecember 28, 1958 (1958-12-28)
634"Bullet Bait"Paul LandresBurt SimsDecember 28, 1958 (1958-12-28)
645"Money Has Wings"Paul LandresStanley H. Silverman C. Ray StahlJanuary 4, 1959 (1959-01-04)
656"Frog Man"William WitneySherman L. Lowe P.K. PalmerJanuary 4, 1959 (1959-01-04)
667"Terror Cruise"Paul LandresBudd Lesser William LivelyFebruary 1, 1959 (1959-02-01)
678"Runaway Truck"William WitneySherman L. Lowe P.K. PalmerFebruary 1, 1959 (1959-02-01)
689"Bounty Hunters"William J. Hole Jr.C. Ray Stahl P.K. PalmerFebruary 1, 1959 (1959-02-01)
6910"A Mickey for Sky"William WitneyJohn Grey C. Ray Stahl Sloan NibleyFebruary 22, 1959 (1959-02-22)
7011"Dead Giveaway"William WitneyBudd Lesser Sloan NibleyMarch 1, 1959 (1959-03-01)
7112"Ring of Fire"Paul LandresBurt SimsMarch 1, 1959 (1959-03-01)
7213"Mickey's Birthday"Clark L. PaylowJohn Grey C. Ray StahlMarch 8, 1959 (1959-03-08)


A unique introduction featured the triangular Nabisco logo flying across the screen, accompanied by the sound of the Songbird flying past. Nabisco included plastic figures of characters from the show and the Songbird in packages of Wheat Honeys and Rice Honeys breakfast cereals.[10]

The show's budget was $9,000 per episode.

The series was set in Arizona, but exteriors were actually filmed in the high desert of California at the Iverson movie ranch in Chatsworth and in the desert outside of Indio, California. Interiors were shot at General Service Studios in Hollywood.[8] Grant recalled they filmed two episodes per week on a 2 1/2-day shooting schedule.[11]

The ranch house used for exterior shots of the Flying Crown Ranch is an actual residence in Apple Valley, California, although it has been extensively remodeled since its use as headquarters of the ranch. Other locations were shot in and around Apple Valley[12] and the nearby San Bernardino Mountains, George Air Force Base, and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake.

It was expensive for a children's show, but most of the budget went into aircraft, vehicles, fuel, and sets. This meant that some standard production methods had to be abandoned, giving the series a more realistic look. For instance, in some shots, pilot Bill Fergusson actually did taxi the 310B rather than the more common (but time-consuming and costly) method of simulating movement by towing or dolly shots. Plymouth provided several 1951 woodie station wagons for the series.

The show was filmed and shown during three periods as sponsors changed: 1951–1952 (Derby Foods), 1955–1956 and 1957–1962 (Nabisco, though the copyright notices continued to name Derby Foods). It continued in syndication for years afterward, and was a staple on Saturday morning television into the mid-1960s.

The musical score was largely the work of composer Herschel Burke Gilbert[13]

Nabisco sold the series complete with all rights to Kirby Grant in 1959. In later years, Grant considered bringing back the series and even a "Sky King" theme park, but nothing ever happened on either of these projects. At least one writer has boilerplated a Sky King film, but none has been produced.


Songbird III, a 1960 Cessna 310D

King originally flew a Cessna T-50 Bobcat, a twin-engine wooden-framed airplane some called the "Bamboo Bomber".[12] The craft was a World War II surplus UC-78B, owned by legendary Hollywood pilot Paul Mantz[14] and flown by employees of his Paul Mantz Aerial Services for filming the flying sequences.[15] At least two other T-50s are known to have been used for on-ground and in-the-cockpit scenes. The T-50 was grounded after episode 39 due to rot in the wooden frame. Songbird I was de-registered by the FAA in March 2018.

The best-known Songbird was a 1957[2] twin-engine Cessna 310B used in episodes 40 through 72. It was the second production 310B (tail number N5348A), provided by Cessna at no cost to the producers and piloted by Cessna's national sales manager for the 310, Bill Fergusson. Fergusson got the job after the motion picture pilot already selected was deemed unqualified to land the airplane at some of the off-airport sites required. Some months after a library of stock footage had been compiled, additional sequences were filmed using a different airplane.[16] Cockpit sequences were filmed using the static test fuselage, also provided by Cessna.[17] The original 310B was eventually destroyed in a crash at Delano, California, in 1962, which killed its owner-pilot.[18] A 1962 310D took its place.[2] A third 310, “Song Bird III,” was used for publicity photos. It is still flying today, making appearances at airshows in a modified Sky King livery.[2]

The budget issue also forced the frequent reuse of aircraft stock footage, sometimes "flopped" (i.e., reversing the flight position) in post-production, to show airplanes banking in the opposite direction. In these cases letters and numbers (especially wing and tail numbers) read backwards.

The monotone black-and-white film disguised the actual color scheme of the Cessna 310B, which was painted in a rich multi-color pattern of Coronado Yellow, Sierra Gold, and White, with a gold interior.[19]

As opposed to rear projection showing the sky outside of the mockup airplane’s windows, the show utilised scrim on a metal frame with clouds painted on it that would be rolled past the cockpit windows. Hagerthy claimed that if the scene was long, the same clouds would pass by in the other direction.[20]



The television show was first broadcast on Sunday afternoons on NBC-TV between September 16, 1951, and October 26, 1952.[21][22] These episodes were rebroadcast on ABC's Saturday morning lineup the following year from November 8, 1952 through September 21, 1953 when it made its prime-time debut on ABC's Monday night lineup. It was telecast twice a week in August and September 1954, before ABC cancelled it. New episodes were produced when the show went into syndication in 1955. The last new episode, "Mickey's Birthday", was telecast March 8, 1959.[9] Thereafter, Sky King surfaced on the CBS Saturday schedule in reruns until September, 1966.


CBS began airing reruns of the show on early Saturday afternoons (at 12 pm Eastern/Pacific times; late Saturday mornings at 11 am Central/Mountain times) on October 3, 1959, and continued to do so until September 3, 1966. The CBS reruns were sponsored by Nabisco.

Home media[edit]

All 72 episodes of the TV series have been released on DVD in North America, available from Sky King Productions.[23]


  1. ^ Hyatt, Wesley (1997). The Encyclopedia of Daytime Television. Watson-Guptill Publications. pp. 396–397. ISBN 978-0823083152. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Godlewski, Meg."Flying Songbird III", General Aviation News (September 22, 2009).
  3. ^ Sky King - Sky Robbers * Classic episode Western TV Series on YouTube
  4. ^ Harmon, Jim (2011). Radio Mystery and Adventure and Its Appearances in Film, Television and Other Media. McFarland & Co. pp. 183–196. ISBN 9780786485086. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  5. ^ "Freckle-Faced Pair" (PDF). TV-Radio Life. March 2, 1951. p. 2. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
  6. ^ Sky King Memorabilia Archived 2007-10-22 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Woolery, George W. (1985). Children's Television: The First Thirty-Five Years, 1946–1981, Part II: Live, Film, and Tape Series. The Scarecrow Press. pp. 458–461. ISBN 0-8108-1651-2.
  8. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (1996-08-09). "High-Flying Past". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  9. ^ a b Lentz, Harris (1996). Western and Frontier Film and Television Credits 1903-1995: Section I. Actors and actresses. Section II. Directors, producers, and writers. McFarland. p. 399. ISBN 9780786401581 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ (2) 1956 Sky King Character Nabisco Cereal Prize Play Set Toy Figures – TPNC.
  11. ^ Yorke, Jeffrey (1985-09-06). "The Man Who Was 'Sky King'". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  12. ^ a b Rob Word (December 12, 1976). "Kirby Grant as still active pilot has fond memories of Sky King". The Ledger. p. 46.
  13. ^ "Film Music Society".
  14. ^ FAA aircraft registration file, NC67832.
  15. ^ Aircraft logbook, NC67832.
  16. ^ Interview of Bill Fergusson, 1996.
  17. ^ Article from Cessna Cessquire magazine, issue unknown.
  18. ^ National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accident Database.
  19. ^ Cessna production record, s/n 35548; Cessna 310B sales brochure.
  20. ^ McLELLAN, DENNIS (1996-08-09). "High-Flying Past". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2023-03-16.
  21. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle F. (2007). The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 932. ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  22. ^ McNeil, Alex (1996). Total Television: the Comprehensive Guide to Programming from 1948 to the Present. New York: Penguin Books. p. 763. ISBN 0-14-02-4916-8. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  23. ^ "The Official Sky King Website". Sky King Productions.

External links[edit]