Posted by: Brad Nixon | September 3, 2010

Out of the Blue of the Western Sky … Adios, Penny

Many years ago, children, there was a television program about the adventures of an Arizona rancher who, from his Flying Crown Ranch, flew a two-engine Cessna named “Songbird,” rounding up bad guys and representing good in stories similar to those of his contemporary TV heroes, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and Superman.

Each week, the program began with a shot of his plane zooming above the arid desert, while the announcer’s voice intoned:

“Out of the blue of the western sky … comes … SKY KING!

Sky was usually accompanied by his niece, Penny (and sometimes his nephew, Clipper). Penny was always being captured by criminals hiding treasure in the Arizona desert and stuff like that. Inevitably, Sky managed to fly Songbird in and save the day at the last minute. His secret for always finding a place to land in the desert was that they filmed at places like El Mirage Lake. Neat trick. Penny and Clipper also piloted when Uncle Sky let them.

“Songbird” might not have been quite as majestic as its contemporary hero-horses Trigger or Silver, but was still pretty darned cool. With the help of the local sheriff, Sky always managed to bag the baddies without shooting them.

For the official Sky King Web site CLICK HERE

The reason for indulging in this bit of nostalgia is the news is that Gloria Winters, who played Sky King’s niece, Penny, died this week. Ms. Winters had retired from acting after the series ended in about 1959, and so, for us, she’ll always be the perky, indominatable Penny, who, when she wasn’t being held captive by society’s ne’er-do-wells, raced airplanes and helped on the ranch.

One thing I did not know until checking the Sky King site was that the series, which started life well before I landed on the planet, began an as a radio serial, and was probably based on the real life of Jack Cones, the “Flying Constable of Twenty-Nine Palms.” That’s neat.

For Ms. Winters’ obituary in the New York Times, CLICK HERE.

I normally don’t indulge in this sort of nostalgia trip for it’s own sake, but I can’t think of any deep philosophical conclusions to draw from the hours I spent watching Sky and Superman and the Lone Ranger. A simpler, gentler world, then? Certainly. I was probably also a simpler, better person, but I was a kid. I’m not certain what the excuse is for the mindlessness of current TV programming: are there more kids? One might imagine what a contemporary remake of Sky King would be like …

AUDIO: eerie, wafting native flute music and the sound of a wind blowing across open space

WIDE SHOT: Monument Valley or some other iconic western landscape.

ANNOUNCER, VO: “The desert. Timeless. Spanned by the vast blue vault of the western sky, it holds its secrets and harbors the unknown.”

AERIAL SHOT: Zoom out from desert landscape to high-altitude view of Sky King’s Lear Jet, “Moneybird” zooming over the desert.

OK, so Sky is a billionaire rancher (think Ted Turner as played by Harrison Ford) and he’s always trying to get his niece, Penny, who works in a hospice in Phoenix to come back out and get involved with running the ranch but she won’t because he keeps drilling oil wells and digging copper mines there instead of putting up wind farms, and, of course, Penny is constantly getting involved inadvertently with evil boyfriends who are part of drug smuggling or illegal alien smuggling or terrorism or mountaintop mining, which means that Sky is always jetting off to Oaxaca or Cartagena or Kagoogistan to rescue her, and his buddy is not the Sheriff but the head of the U.N. drug interdiction …

… and I think we’ll just return to the good ol’ Flying Crown, if you don’t mind.

If you’d like to hear those timeless words of the TV intro once again, CLICK HERE.

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2016

I regret that there are no Sky King images here, but copyright is copyright, folks. The Sky King site has some photos, and you’ll find plenty more around the Web.



  1. That is good stuff. Hooray for Sky King, Penny and Fig Newtons.


  2. -A Short Tour of US Aviation History-

    As a kid growing up in the 1950’s, I always watched that show. In fact, I’d watch any show that had planes in it.

    I grew up in airports and flying in airplanes. My dad was a former US Air Force pilot, and later had a commercial license. He flew my mom around Virginia in a little single engine plane when they were dating in the 1940’s.

    So when my dad started to work for an airline in Wash D.C., I always went to the airport (then, Washington National; now, Reagan National) to watch the planes land, taxi, and take off. In those days, of course there were no security checks. You could just wander around anywhere and watch the passengers board, and then watch the planes taxi out and take off.

    Because my dad was employed by an airline, we could fly anywhere for free. We flew all over the U.S. in the 1950’s, in all sorts of planes. I’m told my first flight was at 6 months of age in 1951, when we flew from Wash D.C., to see my grandparents in California.

    So my bio of travel in the 1950’s is really a history of U.S. commercial air travel development. I flew in loud, vibrating, smoke-belching, piston-driven planes like the twin engine DC-3, the larger four engine DC-6 and DC-7, the twin engine Convair, and the four engine Lockheed Constellation (the first plane to fly non-stop across the US).

    Later, I flew in the first plane to transition to the jet age: the Vickers Viscount. This was a real beauty: four quiet, super-smooth Rolls Royce turbo-prop engines. A “whisper” jet. No cabin vibration, unlike the earlier piston engines. Large oval windows for great viewing from above. I liked that plane a lot. Then in the late 1950’s came the Boeing 707, the first modern commercial jet, and I flew in that one, too.

    My dad stopped working for airlines in the early 1960’s; but I have still continued to fly. Since then, I’ve pretty much kept up with the newer planes, from the (now aging) 747 to the newer 767 and 777. Guess it’s in the blood.


  3. oh, man, i should have read this before making that sky king comment on FB!

    loved that show, and the tales of texas rangers,
    all those shows.


    • That is a great story of your history with the airplane, Bill. My first plane ride was probably in the mid or late 1930’s. My dad and I flew around the city of Columbus, Ohio in a Ford Trimotor operating out of the airport there. I still remember how noisy it was, worse than todays turbo-props. You will have to ask Brad what he calls today’s turbo-props. I don’t believe I flew again until the jet age arrived.


      • Bill, I believe that Dad has trumped your DC-3 with a Ford Trimotor, and I doubt you’ll top that! However, the Vickers Viscount is impressive. Thanks, both of you for those great reminiscences.


  4. That’s true. The Ford Trimotor trumps my DC-3 by a long shot. Although I have actually seen a Ford Trimotor, and a DC-2.

    Also, in the 1950’s, those prop planes either didn’t have doors to separate the cockpit from the cabin, or the crew didn’t close them. So, you could see what the crew was doing during takeoffs and landings (and even look through the cookpit window on final approach).

    Sometimes, the crew would even invite me to stand behind them at the entrance to the cockpit to watch while they went through their checks. Those days are gone forever, to be sure.


Leave a Comment. I enjoy hearing from readers.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: