|Theme music composer||Milton Raskin|
|Composers||Herschel Burke Gilbert|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||72|
|Executive producer||Stuart E. McGowan|
|Running time||25 minutes|
|Production companies||Jack Chertok Television Productions|
|Original network||NBC; ABC,|
|Picture format||Black and white|
|Original release||September 16, 1951 –|
March 8, 1959
The series had strong Western elements. 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. The 310's make and model type number was prominently displayed during the closing titles.
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.
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. Jack Bivans played Clipper, and Beryl Vaughan portrayed Penny.
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. 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.
The television version starred Kirby Grant as Sky King and Gloria Winters as Penny. 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.
Many of the storylines 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 intelligent and believable, rather than as two-dimensional. 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.
- Kirby Grant as Schuyler "Sky" King
- Gloria Winters as Penny King
- Ewing Mitchell as Sheriff Mitch Hargrove
- Ron Hagerthy as Clipper King
- Gary Hunley as Mickey (final season)
- Norman Ollestad as Bob Carey
- Chubby Johnson as Jim Bell
- Monte Blue as Sheriff Hollister
- Terry Kelman as Davey Wilson
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|1||1||"Operation Urgent"||Hollingsworth Morse|
(as John H. Morse)
|Unknown||April 5, 1952|
|2||2||"Carrier Pigeon"||Unknown||Unknown||April 19, 1952|
|3||3||"Stagecoach Robbers"||John H. Morse||Unknown||May 3, 1952|
|4||4||"Deadly Cargo"||John H. Morse||Unknown||May 17, 1952|
|5||5||"Jim Bell's Triumph"||John H. Morse||Unknown||May 31, 1952|
|6||6||"Designing Women"||John H. Morse||Unknown||June 14, 1952|
|7||7||"One for the Money"||John H. Morse||Unknown||June 28, 1952|
|8||8||"Danger Point"||John H. Morse||Unknown||July 12, 1952|
|9||9||"Desperate Character"||John H. Morse||Unknown||July 26, 1952|
|10||10||"The Man Who Forgot"||John H. Morse||Unknown||August 9, 1952|
|11||11||"The Threatening Bomb"||John H. Morse||Unknown||August 23, 1952|
|12||12||"Speak No Evil"||John H. Morse||Unknown||September 6, 1952|
|13||13||"Two-Gun Penny"||John H. Morse||Unknown||September 20, 1952|
|14||14||"Formula for Fear"||Unknown||Unknown||October 4, 1952|
|15||15||"The Giant Eagle"||Unknown||Unknown||October 18, 1952|
|16||16||"Blackmail"||John H. Morse||Unknown||November 8, 1952|
|17||17||"Wings of Justice"||John H. Morse||Unknown||November 22, 1952|
|18||18||"Destruction from the Sky"||Unknown||Unknown||December 6, 1952|
|19||19||"The Porcelain Lion"||John H. Morse||Unknown||December 20, 1952|
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|20||1||"The Neckerchief"||Unknown||Unknown||January 2, 1956|
|21||2||"Man Hunt"||Unknown||Unknown||January 2, 1956|
|22||3||"The Plastic Ghost"||Unknown||Unknown||January 9, 1956|
|23||4||"The Rainbird"||Unknown||Unknown||January 9, 1956|
|24||5||"The Crystal Trap"||Unknown||Unknown||January 30, 1956|
|25||6||"The Red Tentacle"||Unknown||Unknown||January 30, 1956|
|26||7||"Boomerang"||Unknown||Unknown||February 6, 1956|
|27||8||"The Geiger Detective"||Unknown||Unknown||February 6, 1956|
|28||9||"The Golden Burro"||Unknown||Unknown||February 27, 1956|
|29||10||"Rustlers on Wheels"||Unknown||Unknown||March 5, 1956|
|30||11||"The Silver Grave"||Unknown||Unknown||March 5, 1956|
|31||12||"Uninvited Death"||Unknown||Unknown||March 12, 1956|
|32||13||"Fish Out of Water"||Unknown||Unknown||March 19, 1956|
|33||14||"Diamonds on a Sky-Hook"||Unknown||Unknown||March 26, 1956|
|34||15||"Flood of Fury"||Unknown||Unknown||April 2, 1956|
|35||16||"Rocket Story"||Unknown||Unknown||April 2, 1956|
|36||17||"Rodeo Roundup"||Unknown||Unknown||April 23, 1956|
|37||18||"Showdown"||Unknown||Unknown||April 23, 1956|
|38||19||"Land o'Cotton"||Unknown||Unknown||April 30, 1956|
|39||20||"Dust of Destruction"||Unknown||Unknown||April 30, 1956|
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|40||1||"Mystery Horse"||Unknown||Unknown||December 29, 1957|
|41||2||"Double Trouble"||Unknown||Unknown||December 29, 1957|
|42||3||"Note for a Dam"||Unknown||Unknown||January 5, 1958|
|43||4||"Bad Actor"||Unknown||Unknown||January 5, 1958|
|44||5||"Fight for Oil"||Unknown||Unknown||January 12, 1958|
|45||6||"Lost Boy"||Unknown||Unknown||January 12, 1958|
|46||7||"The Brain and the Brawn"||Unknown||Unknown||January 26, 1958|
|47||8||"The Feathered Serpent"||Unknown||Unknown||January 26, 1958|
|48||9||"The Circus Clown Mystery"||Unknown||Unknown||February 22, 1958|
|49||10||"Dead Man's Will"||Unknown||Unknown||February 22, 1958|
|50||11||"Cindy, Come Home"||Unknown||Unknown||March 9, 1958|
|51||12||"Rodeo Decathlon"||Unknown||Unknown||March 9, 1958|
|52||13||"Abracadabra"||Unknown||Unknown||March 9, 1958|
|53||14||"Triple Exposure"||Unknown||Unknown||March 9, 1958|
|54||15||"The Haunted Castle"||Unknown||Unknown||March 16, 1958|
|55||16||"Manhunt"||Unknown||Unknown||March 16, 1958|
|56||17||"Danger at the Sawmill"||Unknown||Unknown||March 16, 1958|
|57||18||"Sleight of Hand"||Unknown||Unknown||March 23, 1958|
|58||19||"The Runaway"||Unknown||Unknown||March 23, 1958|
|59||20||"Stop That Train"||Unknown||Unknown||March 30, 1958|
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|60||1||"The Wild Man"||Unknown||Unknown||December 28, 1958|
|61||2||"Sky Robbers"||Unknown||Unknown||December 28, 1958|
|62||3||"A Dog Named Barney"||Unknown||Unknown||December 28, 1958|
|63||4||"Bullet Bait"||Unknown||Unknown||December 28, 1958|
|64||5||"Money Has Wings"||Unknown||Unknown||January 4, 1959|
|65||6||"Frog Man"||Unknown||Unknown||January 4, 1959|
|66||7||"Terror Cruise"||Unknown||Unknown||February 1, 1959|
|67||8||"Runaway Truck"||Unknown||Unknown||February 1, 1959|
|68||9||"Bounty Hunters"||Unknown||Unknown||February 1, 1959|
|69||10||"A Mickey for Sky"||Unknown||Unknown||February 22, 1959|
|70||11||"Dead Giveaway"||Unknown||Unknown||March 1, 1959|
|71||12||"Ring of Fire"||Unknown||Unknown||March 1, 1959|
|72||13||"Mickey's Birthday"||Unknown||Unknown||March 8, 1959|
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.
The series was set in Arizona, but actually filmed in the high desert of California. 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 and the nearby San Bernardino Mountains, George Air Force Base, and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. Interior filming was done at the General Service studios in Hollywood.
It was expensive for a children's show, but most of the budget (about $9,000 per episode) 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 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.
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.
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.
King originally flew a Cessna T-50 Bobcat, a twin-engine wooden-framed airplane some called the "Bamboo Bomber". The craft was a World War II surplus UC-78B, owned by legendary Hollywood pilot Paul Mantz and flown by employees of his Paul Mantz Aerial Services for filming the flying sequences. 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 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. Cockpit sequences were filmed using the static test fuselage, also provided by Cessna. The original 310B was eventually destroyed in a crash at Delano, California, in 1962, which killed its owner-pilot. A 1962 310D took its place. 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.
The television show was first broadcast on Sunday afternoons on NBC-TV between September 16, 1951, and October 26, 1952. 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. 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.
All 72 episodes of the TV series have been released on DVD in North America, available from Sky King Productions.
- Hyatt, Wesley (1997). The Encyclopedia of Daytime Television. Watson-Guptill Publications. pp. 396–397. ISBN 978-0823083152. Retrieved 22 March 2020.
- Godlewski, Meg."Flying Songbird III", General Aviation News (September 22, 2009).
- on YouTube
- 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.
- "Freckle-Faced Pair" (PDF). TV-Radio Life. March 2, 1951. p. 2. Retrieved April 9, 2021.
- Sky King Memorabilia Archived 2007-10-22 at the Wayback Machine
- 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.
- 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.
- (2) 1956 Sky King Character Nabisco Cereal Prize Play Set Toy Figures – TPNC.
- Rob Word (December 12, 1976). "Kirby Grant as still active pilot has fond memories of Sky King". The Ledger. p. 46.
- Cessna production record, s/n 35548; Cessna 310B sales brochure.
- FAA aircraft registration file, NC67832.
- Aircraft logbook, NC67832.
- Interview of Bill Fergusson, 1996.
- Article from Cessna Cessquire magazine, issue unknown.
- National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accident Database.
- 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.
- 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.
- "The Official Sky King Website". Sky King Productions.
- Missoula City Website states Kirby Grant was a pilot
- Official website
- Sky King at IMDb
- Celebrity Pilots, Famous Pilots, Darren Smith, Flight Instructor, CFI Homepage This Web site list famous actors that were pilots with no FAA records on file; Kirby Grant is listed as a pilot with no FAA records on file.
- Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
- Sky King's Final Landing