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Icon ‘Songbird III’ Still King of the Skies

The twin Cessna 310D, made popular on the ‘Sky King” show of the 1950s, remains a photo magnet to this day.

“Songbird III”, the Cessna 310D used in the television show “Sky King”. [Credit: Stephen Yeates]

At larger fly-ins and air shows like Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo and EAA AirVenture, there are certain airplanes that are selfie magnets. One of those is Songbird III, the Cessna 310D used in the television show Sky King.

Sky King was one of the first radio adventure serials to make the jump to TV in the 1950s. It featured the adventures of Schuyler “Sky” King and his niece, Penny, and nephew, Clipper, living on the Flying Crown ranch in Arizona. King was a former military aviator and was often called upon to catch the bad guys and save the day, which usually involved fancy flying in a twin-engine Cessna named Songbird. The show was sponsored by Peter Pan peanut butter and later Nabisco.

Sky King incorporated several aircraft during the show’s run, starting with a Cessna T-50 Bobcat. Later, several models of the Cessna 310 were used. Each airplane had a crown and the name of the ranch painted on the fuselage.

Today, Songbird III is privately owned. Although it was not flown during the show it was used for publicity photos. At AirVenture it was parked in the vintage area. If you wanted a clean photograph, you had to get there at sunrise because this airplane is a rock star. So many people want to pose behind the left wing, recreating the shot used in promotional stills where Uncle Sky is helping Penny off the rear of the wing.

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For so many aviators, Sky King wasn’t just entertainment—it was an inspiration. The show spoke to a generation. Proof of this can be found at AirVenture at lunchtime: Go into the crowded burger kiosk in the vintage aircraft area and shout the opening line of the program at the top of your lungs: “Out of the clear blue of the western sky…” And do not be surprised if a great many people shout back, “…comes Sky King!” It will mortify your teenagers and possibly your spouse, but oh, boy, will it make a lot of people smile.

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