MEMORIES OF SKY KING!
Sky King and I met on a black and white television in the 50’s in Tularosa, N.M. I met him in person later, in a compelling memory, which still brings a lump to my throat. I was one of four parachute jumpers crammed in a plane that day, but for a second, on that Las Cruces airfield, I was special. Heck, I still feel special when I think of it.
A kid growing up on the other side of the tracks in Tularosa needed heroes. Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize that dad was the greatest hero of that time, because I always had a roof over my head and I never went hungry. But that’s another story. My 50’s TV heroes were Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Zorro, and Sky King.
I knew that when I heard, “Out of the clear blue of the western sky…comes Sky King!” I knew that for the next half hour all would be right with the world. Oh, there would be a ranch in trouble, or some such, and owl hoots might kidnap Penny. But even trouble seemed so much simpler in those days. On that 19-inch television, there was no problem to big for Sky King to handle. In the end, Sky King, played by actor Kirby Grant, would take to the air in the Songbird, and save the day. My mother got so frustrated with me saying, “Alan, don’t talk to the TV,” when I rooted for Sky King to get the bad guys!
I met Sky King again in the early 70’s. But the story is still about that little boy and that crime fighter from that earlier time. I was in college and felt the “call of the sky” myself. A jump master friend had persuaded most of us to skydive. I am still proud I was one of the few friends who didn’t break something trying Bob’s sport. Anyway, I had jumped once, but the pilot had been nervous flying jumpers, so I came away edgy from that experience. But I decided to jump at least twice: once to prove I could do “it” and a second time to prove I could do it even after I knew what “it” was.
Well, I’m glad I did. Organizers had advertised the event as the Sky King Air Show. Bob and I worked at the local radio station KGRT, so we finagled permission to join the air show as participants. Four of us would jump during the show. I was still on static line so the plane would drop me from about 2,000 feet and then the others would go up to a more impressive altitude and free fall before they opened their chutes.
We had elbows in backs; boots against thighs, the crowd clapped, whistled, and cheered in the stands and the propeller blasted the air. I was still nervous from my previous jump, but what happened next is one of those memories that never fail to give you a lump in your throat. Sky King had taken the microphone earlier in his trademark cowboy hat and was announcing the various events: planes flying upside down, belching red or yellow smoke, or wing walkers. And now, these young skydivers rolling up the runway for take off. I stare out of the plane (the door removed for jumping) to where Sky King holds the mike. I can’t hear him for all the noise, but I can see what he does next.
My childhood hero, the familiar of all the Saturday mornings, Sky King, raises his hand and, as if by magic, I’m five again. They have just cut back from a Nabisco commercial and there he stands. I can see he has a few more years on him now and he is in color. He’s a thinner, with some wrinkles. But it’s Sky King. And he’s raising his hand…he’s raising his hand and smiling—and he’s signaling me? My friend and I turn to each other with grins wide enough to cause definite wind resistance if we hadn’t been inside the cockpit. The rest of the flight has faded into history, because we were too busy
dealing with those first distance down the runway when: Sky King gave us the thumbs up! Out of the clear blue of the western sky…comes Sky King!