For those too young to remember, “Sky King” was a popular 1950s television series. In it, rancher/pilot Skyler King, played by actor Kirby Grant, flew exciting missions from his ranch airstrip — nabbing bad guys, rescuing innocent victims, and performing good deeds all around.
Particularly cool was that Sky’s exploits took place in general aviation aircraft. His first “Songbird” was a Cessna T-50 Bobcat “bamboo bomber,” later followed by the hottest personal airplane of its day, a Cessna 310. Artistic merit and technical accuracy aside, Sky King’s huge prime-time popularity ultimately motivated many young people to learn to fly, including myself. (My Dad owned a 310 at the time, and my brother Alan and I could easily imagine flying such adventures in our own family airplane. Both of us went on to become pilots.)
So effective was Sky King in popularizing general aviation, that ultimately Cessna provided a new 310 for filming and for Grant’s use in making personal appearances around the country. Compare the general aviation awareness resulting from that series, versus that of today. Not only is personal aviation invisible in today’s popular media, but few people even know a GA pilot anymore. My question is, does today’s public know enough about flying to even consider it as an option? Our marketing challenge may not be so much people deciding, “I don’t want to become a pilot,” but rather that they don’t even think of it in the first place.
Where’s Sky King when we need him? Every pilot knows that once people try the controls, they’re hooked. After all, the adventure, excitement, and personal fulfillment of personal flying are as strong today as ever. We as individual pilots must make sure that people are exposed to the idea in the first place. “Sky King calling Flying Crown Ranch… Come in, Penny!”
For my own minor tie-in to Sky King, read my August, 2003 column, Sky King and the Old Apache. ©2009 Gregory N. Brown