Where’s Sky King when we need him?


songbirdfromdiFor 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

2/28/12 Read about the flying constable who inspired Sky King…

18 Responses to “Where’s Sky King when we need him?”

  1. Glenn Kresge Says:

    Gregg, I have been investigating the claim that Kirby Grant was not a pilot; my investigation has revealed this: no faa records on Kirby. However, I have discovered that many famous flyers have no FAA records also, like Jimmy Stewart who was a Gen. in the USAF and a military pilot. My investigation has covered many areas of Grant’s life, and many people who knew and flew with him state that he was a great pilot. Why no faa records on him? Moreover, this site list states that there are no records listing these famous pilots including Jimmy Stewart. Everyone knows Jimmy was a pilot why no FAA record? In closing, this would make for a good investigative story for your articles.

    Johnny Carson (Talk Show Host) 1925-2005
    Danny Kaye (Actor) 1913-1987
    Arthur Godfrey (Actor) 1903-1983
    Bob Cummings (Actor) 1908-1990
    Edgar Bergan (Actor) 1903-1978
    Kirby Grant (Actor) 1911-1985
    Jimmy Stewart (Actor) 1908-1997
    Gene Autry (Singer) 1907-1998
    Harry Houdini (Illusionist) 1874-1926
    Sam Walton (Businessman) 1918-1992
    Howard Hughes (Businessman) 1905-1976
    Ted Williams (Baseball) 1918-2002
    President Dwight D Eisenhower 1890-1969
    John Denver (Singer) 1943-1997
    MEL TORME (Singer) 1925-1999
    PRIVATE PILOT 03/16/1966
    AIRPLANE SINGLE ENGINE LAND

    John Thomas Walton (WalMart Billionaire) 1946-2005
    COMMERCIAL PILOT
    AIRPLANE SINGLE ENGINE LAND & SEA
    AIRPLANE MULTIENGINE LAND
    INSTRUMENT AIRPLANE
    Type Ratings: CE-525S

    • paperjet Says:

      Hey Glenn,
      Thanks for posting this! Last I heard, “Brownie” Brown, the examiner I wrote about in my “Sky King and the Old Apache” story who flew with Kirby Grant, was still in good health. You might try contacting him through Sky King Airport, Terre Haute, Indiana, for his take on the topic. Please post the results here if you learn anything interesting!
      Sincerely,
      Greg

      • Glenn Kresge Says:

        Greg, Thank you. I will try to make contact with him (Brownie). I also find a 2006 interview conducted with Airport Journals Jan. 2006 interview with Gloria Winters. Winters stated Grant and her late husband were both pilots. She stated twice in the interview that Kirby Grant was a pilot, and her late husband (Dean Vernon)was a crop duster and the sound engineer on Sky King.
        I also interviewed Kirby Grant III (Kirby Grant’s son). He stated his father was a pilot, and he flew with him many times. He stated his father stop flying in 1978 after he sffered a massive heart attack. I also located an article in General Aviation News in reference to Kirby Grant’s flying experience with the T-50 and the 310b Cessnas. In the article dated March 1981; it states Kirby Grant was a multi-engine pilot with 6,000 hours of multi-engine experience. The article shows Kirby Grant standing by a 1981 310R. In closing, if anyone has any additional information on Sky King, it would be nice hearing from them. As Sky used to say, “Happy Landings.”

  2. David L. Barber Says:

    It’s amazing how much false information there is on Kirby Grant. Writtedn articles use other previous articles to validate information of which is incorrect. I have collected much documentation over twenty years and would love to contact Carolyn if she is still living if anyone can provide that info

    • Kip Grant Says:

      My mother died in 1989 but I would like to hear from you. I am Kirby Grant III, Sky King’s only son. thanks

      • David Barber Says:

        Hello Kip,
        Would love to talk with you about your father. Call me anythime at 801-631-6381.
        Dave

      • Kip, I am glad that you are willing to talk with Mr. Barber in reference to all the so called false information concerning your dad. I guess he did not want to post what he has, and I am sure he did not know that we are friends. I still like to see his documentation. Mr. Barber, you can call me if you would like-I would love to hear from you. 410-392-5534

  3. Glenn Kresge Says:

    Dear David:
    I have the article written by Guy Maher who personally interviewed Sky King (Kirby Grant Hoon) for the General Aviation magazine.Kirby Grant stated in the interview that he was a multi-engine pilot with over 6,000 hours of experience. I also have in my possession, a DVD made by Guy Maher who covers the last five years of Kirby Grant’s life (which by the way shows Guy and Kirby flying a 310R). It stated also in the DVD that Kirby was a pilot. In addition, I have also interviewed Kip Grant (Kirby Grant’s son), who personally told me that when he was a boy he flew with his father on several occasions. Gloria Winters also stated in an interview with Airport Journals that Kirby Grant was an accomplished pilot. Her husband was the sound man for Sky King and was also a pilot and flew as a crop duster. In addiiton, the official website for Missoula, Montana has posted Kirby Grant’s resume which clearly states he was a multi-rated pilot and corroborates all of what has been said above (Kirby Grant’s Home State). Carolyn (Kirby’s wife) is now deceased. David, If your information does not corraborate this-please post it with your references.

  4. Den Andrew Says:

    For all of you “Sky King” fans out there: Please be informed that I learned, from a major newspaper obituary just a few days ago, of the death of Gloria Winters, who played Sky King’s “Penny”. Another TV regular from the 1950s is gone.

  5. Jan Dwyer Says:

    I remember Kirby Grant and his wife at the Terre Haute Elks Country Club poolside with admiring kids (myself included). it was many years ago but I thought that his wife was from Terre Haute and they were frequent visitors. I recall “Sky King” as being a great guy and enjoyed the throng of admiring and incredulous kids who were thrilled with his appearance I thought that he would “fly into Terre Haute then back to Hollywood” or wherever the TV series was filmed.

    • Greg Brown Says:

      Thanks Jan. I always wondered what Kirby Grant’s Terre Haute connection was, outside of Brownie piloting for him.

  6. glenn kresge Says:

    Kirby Grant Hoon’s (Sky King) wife’s name was Carolyn Gillis; she was from Brockton, Ill. She died in 1989. I had a chance to talk with Brownie’s son; he told me that Brownie never flew Kirby Grant around. However, he stated that he did fly with him, and he offered to turn the plane over to him. Borownie’s son stated that Grant refuse the controls stating that he Grant could fly it and even land it-but he was not a pilot. It all kinda sounded like a tongue and cheek remark to me. The conection to Brownie was the airport. Kirby suggested that Brownie name it Sky King Airport, and Kirby help with the legal side of naming it “Sky King”. Again, I have investigated Grant’s pilot status; I thought this would be a very simple investigation-its been very interesting and not a simple task. However, I have so much credible information, and statements from people who have seen him fly. At one time he live in a pivate aviation community where he kept a 310 at his home; and many folks witness him flying the plane-along with a news paper reporter’s article about him and his plane.

  7. Sharon Brand Says:

    Can anyone verify if Kirby Grant ever owned a farm in eastern Illinois, very close to Terre Haute? As a child I visited my aunt and uncle in Illinois and they took me to a neighboring farm to ride “one of Sky King’s horses”. I was only about 4 yrs old but I have always wondered if it was true.

    • Hi Sharon, I don’t have a direct answer for you, but if you read my column, Sky King and the Old Apache, you’ll see that Herman Brown from nearby Terre Haute used to fly Kirby Grant to personal appearances. So Eastern Illinois would certainly make sense. Where are you from? I went to school at Champaign.

      • Sharon Brand Says:

        Hi Greg. Actually I’m from Terre Haute. My dad was a pilot and knew Brownie very well, since dad kept his plane at Sky King airport. My great-aunt told me that the horses I mentioned previously were owned by Kirby Grant and that his farm adjoined my great-aunt and uncle’s property. I was hoping someone could provide a little more information for me.

        • Brownie was some character, eh Sharon?! (I assume he’s passed away. Last I heard he was in his 90s.) Wikipedia says, “In the early 1970s, the Grants moved from California to Florida.” But Brownie was in Terre Haute, so there must be more to the story.

  8. Sharon Brand Says:

    Well this would have been in the late 1950s. It would be really nice to confirm the story, but I may never know. Thanks for responding, Greg.

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