As a bit of humor, yesterday I posed the question of Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie knowing one another. By the time I finished writing at the end of the piece, I realized the true answer to the question would determine the age of the reader. If you are a Baby-Boomer, you know Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie; if you were born after 1970, probably not.
The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin, The Whirlybirds, Ripcord, Lassie, and Sky King were a few of the television series available to young kids in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Whirlybirds, Ripcord, and of course, Sky King, influenced more young girls and boys into aviation than probably can be counted.
Rin-Tin-Tin and Lassie were just good dog stories and who could say no to watching a television show about dogs? The aviation shows, however, sparked the imaginations of many of the baby boomers living in the shadows of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.
The show, Sky King, told the story of an Arizona rancher who used his airplane to help others. In the beginning, Schuyler “Sky” King flew an old Cessna T-50 which was later upgraded the Cessna 310B. Occasionally, he would allow his niece Penny to fly the Songbird. In the show, she was an accomplished pilot in her own right, holding a multi-engine rating with experience as an air race pilot.
Kirby Grant played the part of Sky King, a former Naval Aviator from World War II. Grant was born on November 24, 1911 and had a very interesting background. As a young child, he leaned toward a musical career as an accomplished violinist. His film career actually began with a bit part as the unaccredited violinist in the musical comedy-romance, I Dream Too Much. He would later go on to become a full-fledged actor as well as a pilot. The technical representative from Cessna aircraft commented that Grant flew the 310B as well as any professional pilot.
After the Sky King series ended, Grant retired from both the big screen and little. He moved from California to Florida in the 1970s with his wife, Carolyn. He and Carolyn had visions of creating a nonprofit organization called the Sky King Youth Ranches of America. The organization was to provide for abandoned and orphaned children. Unfortunately, the Grants were unable to realize this dream before his death.
In recognition of his contributions to aviation, NASA invited Grant to the Kennedy Space Center where the astronauts of the Space Shuttle Challenger were to honor him for his efforts in promoting aviation. The mission was STS-61-A, which launched on October 30, 1985. This was the ninth mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the last full mission before the disaster of January 28, 1986.
On the way to the Kennedy Space Center, Grant died in a car accident on Florida’s Beeline Expressway near Titusville. He was 73.
Gloria Winters, his co-star who played the part of Penny, died at 77 in Vista, California on August 14, 2010.
© 2011 J. Clark