The big airplane at Lowry Park was a U.S. Navy P2V-3 Neptune; a patrol bomber used by the Navy to detect  enemy surface ships and submarines. 

The Neptune was the primary U.S. land-based anti-submarine patrol aircraft developed near the end of World War 2 and was intended to be operated as the hunter of a "Hunter-Killer" group, with destroyers employed as killers during the Korean and early Cold War years.  It was eventually replaced by the P3 Orion in the mid-1960s. 

This particular airplane was serial number 122944 and flew submarine bomber command patrol training missions out of the Jacksonville Naval Air Station during the early 1950s.  It was armed with 20 mm cannon, bombs, torpedoes, depth charges, mines and rockets, and carried a crew of eight.  It had a 100-foot wing span, was 77 feet long and had a max speed of 267 mph.


By the late 1950s, this type of airplane was becoming obsolete--submarines were getting more sophisticated and could stay underwater for a month, and it was not feasible for the Navy to spend the money to keep this type of aircraft maintained.


Dennis Cole, former president of the Yesterday's Air Force Museum which was located at the St. Pete-Clearwater Airport, recently shared his knowledge of the history and restoration of this airplane with TampaPix.
"The aircraft was on loan to the City of Tampa from the U.S. Navy.  They [Tampa] were responsible for its display in accordance with Navy directives; the aircraft was still Navy property, not the property of the city, the park or any other entity."


The big airplane arrived in Tampa from Corpus Christi, Texas, on April 15, 1959 and was presented to Fred Clampitt (Mayor Nuccio's administrative assistant) and Buford B. Bradley, Tampa's city parks superintendent.  Clampitt took over this position in 1958 after D. M. Allison "failed to measure up to the job" according to the mayor.

It is not yet known what the circumstances were that led to the Navy sending the airplane to Tampa, but Mayor Nick Nuccio probably played a major role.

The plans were to have actor Kirby Grant, the "Sky King," dedicate the airplane at its display location, Lowry Park.  Contrary to some local unofficial Tampa tales, this wasn't Sky King's airplane and he didn't fly it to Lowry Park.



"From out of the clear blue of the western sky comes Sky King!"

This was the familiar opening to television's premier aviation program. Sky King was an American radio and television series whose lead character was Arizona rancher and aircraft pilot Schuyler "Sky" King. 

The radio show began in 1946 and was based on a story by Roy Winsor, the brainchild of Robert Morris Burtt and Wilfred Gibbs Moore, who also created Captain Midnight. Several actors played the part of Sky, including Earl Nightingale and John Reed King.

The television show was first broadcast on Sunday afternoons on NBC-TV between September 16, 1951, and October 26, 1952. These episodes were rebroadcast on ABC's Saturday morning lineup the following year from November 8, 1952 through September 21, 1953 when it made its prime-time debut on ABC's Monday night lineup. It was telecast twice a week in August and September 1954, before ABC cancelled it. New episodes were produced when the show went into syndication in 1955.

The last new episode, "Mickey's Birthday", was telecast March 8, 1959. "Mickey" was a kinsman of Sky King portrayed in three 1959 episodes by child actor Gary Hunley. Thereafter, Sky King surfaced on the CBS Saturday schedule in reruns until September, 1966.

The television version starred Kirby Grant as Sky King and Gloria Winters as Penny. Other regular characters included Sky's nephew Clipper, played by Ron Hagerthy, and Mitch the sheriff, portrayed by Ewing Mitchell. Mitch, a competent and intelligent law enforcement officer, depended on his friend Sky's flying skills to solve the harder cases. Other recurring characters included Jim Bell, the ranch foreman, played in four episodes by Chubby Johnson, as well as Sheriff Hollister portrayed by Monte Blue in five episodes, and Bob Carey, portrayed in ten episodes by Norman Ollestad.

Songbird III, a 1960 Cessna 310D, from Wikipedia

King and his niece Penny (and sometimes her brother, Clipper) lived on the Flying Crown Ranch, near the fictitious town of Grover, Arizona. Penny and Clipper were also pilots, although they were inexperienced and looked to their uncle for guidance. Penny was an accomplished air racer, rated as a multiengine pilot, whom Sky trusted to fly the Songbird.

Operating from his ranch, Sky King, Penny and their airplane "Songbird" were constantly involved in one adventure after another. King usually captured criminals and spies and found lost hikers,  with the use of his airplane. Two twin-engine Cessna airplanes were used by King during the course of the TV series. The first was a Cessna T-50 and in later episodes a Cessna 310B was used till the series' end. The 310's make and model type number was prominently displayed during the closing titles. Viewed by many children in the 1950s, this program was responsible for inspiring many later aviation careers.  
(Wayne Coleman, IMDB, and Wikipedia)

A Cessna T-50 was used in the Sky King
episodes 1 to 39, in 1951 to 1956.

When the Cessna T-50 became unsafe to fly, a Cessna 310B replaced it. The 310B was used from 1956 to 1959, in the  televised episodes 40 to 72.

Photos courtesy of the Sky King website.



The airplane was towed from the Tampa airport to a location just outside the amusement rides at Fairyland.  In 2001, Richard Long, son of James D. Long, said that his father gave visiting dignitaries a tour of the airplane and was the one who  towed it from Tampa International Airport at Columbus Drive and Westshore Blvd. to the park.   At the dedication, Mayor Nuccio bent down and kissed Richard's sister, Barbara Long, on the cheek.

Actor Kirby Grant, star of the popular Sky King television series, signs autographs for Tampa children after his arrival at Tampa International Airport from Orlando in the Songbird, his own airplane, shown in the
(near) background.  Sky King would visit Fairyland that afternoon and speak on safety at the Ybor City Boys Club that night.  The next day was planned for him to visit schools in the area.  His TV series at the time was being shown at 6 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 8. 
(The Tampa Times - Apr. 20, 1959.)


Youngsters crowded around TV star Kirby Grant, whom they knew as Sky King, when he appeared at Tampa's Fairyland Park yesterday to dedicate a surplus military aircraft acquired by Mayor Nuccio last week for the children's park.  It was appropriately named the "Fairyland Song Bird" after Sky King's TV airplane, the Songbird.   (The Tampa Tribune - Apr. 21, 1959)

"Sky King" Kirby Grant entertaining a group at Cesar Gonzmart's Rocky Point Beach Restaurant.

Kirby Grant having lunch at Cesar Gonzmart's Rocky Point Beach Restaurant after having been presented with a key to the City of Tampa by Mayor Nick Nuccio (not pictured.)






(Above) Among those visiting the Fairyland Song Bird around 1961 was the Plouff family, including Merrill Friend, 3rd from left, and his wife, Patsy Plouff Friend, right.  Photo provided by Merrill Friend. 


(From The Tampa Tribune, July 8, 2001"The Bomber in the Park," by Leland Hawes.)






The christening date on the airplane appears to be incorrect (April 21, 1959).  According to the two 1959 newspaper photos (Tribune and Times) and the 2001 "Bomber in the Park" article by Tampa journalist Leland Hawes, the airplane was dedicated the same day Kirby Grant arrived in Tampa--April 20.

A young Jay Wisler, who didn't live far from Lowry Park, was at the dedication on April 20, 1959.  Wisler, then 13, was a friend of the superintendent of parks' (Buford Byron Bradley's) son.  In 2001, Wisler told Leland Hawes about the adventures they had on the Fairyland Song Bird.    "We would spend weekends inside the aircraft.  We would play like we were camping out."  One night they were in the airplane when some older boys climbed a nearby tree and tried to break into the park.  Wisler and Bradley were petrified until the intruders gave up their fruitless efforts.

Little did Wisler realize that years later, he would again play with this airplane, that is, play a role in its future.


This screen shot from a YouTube video collection of short episodes of "The Ferris Wheel Caper" filmed at Lowry Park in 1962 starring "Barney Bungelupper" and "Uncle Bruce" shows the airplane in its original condition and named the FAIRYLAND "Song Bird" after Sky King's airplane. 









Alan and Karen Gordon at the big airplane, May 1963.
Photo provided by their younger brother, author and Hillsborough High School historian Rex Gordon.





By the late 1960s to early 70s, the airplane was covered in graffiti and sorely needed some TLC.
Photo contributed to "Memories of Tampa" by Robert Floyd
and provided to TampaPix by Kimi Lau Costanzo



May 19, 1965
Notice the P2V-3 Navy airplane at far left.
TBT archives photo



The airplane seen here recently painted deep blue, circa 1972.
Photo and date from eBay postcard seller BondgirlFL


Photo and date from eBay color slide seller Midnwl





Seen here around 1976, sporting a patriotic color scheme and "76" logo to celebrate the Nation's upcoming bicentennial, sits the big airplane that for many years was a drab, fadded blue-gray "jungle gym" for adventurous kids yearning to climb something.  Notice on the far left; the muscle-powered swinging cages.
Photo by Art Walker provided by his daughter.




Mark Elmore with the airplane, early 1980s.
From The Tampa Tribune, July 8, 2001"The Bomber in the Park," by Leland Hawes.



The Navy bomber at Lowry Park in 1981
The pool with scenery at the bottom right was a place to pilot remote-control boats.

Photo and date from eBay postcard seller BondgirlFL





The 1980s brought about some major changes at Lowry Park, especially at the zoo.  In the early 1980s the plan to start a multi-million dollar major improvement of the zoo began to be discussed.  Eventually, the airplane, then the choo-choo, would be removed.

Jay Wisler, the boy who played in the airplane along with the son of parks superintendent B.B. Bradley, was the president of "Yesterday's Air Force" which had ambitions to set up an aerial museum at the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.  The group began negotiating with the City of Tampa in 1982 to acquire the P2V Navy airplane.

On Oct. 9th, 1984 the Neptune P2V maritime patrol bomber left the nesting place it had known for 25 years at Lowry Park, to be restored.

Hank Morois, then the president of the YAF located on 49th St. on airport property, said "It will now be returned to its original color scheme, and we will do everything we can to restore it."  Morois said that the airplane will never fly again because it was so badly corroded.

Preparations for the move took months to plan and carry out.  Before the airplane could be towed, the YAF had to obtain permits from the Tampa Police Dept. and the from the municipalities through which the airplane was to travel.  Once permissions were obtained, Morois had to find the proper tools to dismantle as much of the airplane as possible.  "Some of those bolts are not made anymore and we had to have them specially made" he said.


Oct. 8, 1984 - This close up of the nose landing gear was taken just before volunteers dug it out of the sand--it had sunk down about two feet.  Photo courtesy of Dennis Cole,
Yesterday's Air Force Museum/Fla. Military Aviation Museum Clearwater


Oct. 8, 1984 - Wings have been removed.

Photo courtesy of Dennis Cole, Yesterdays Air Force Museum / Florida Military Aviation Museum Clearwater






Oct. 8, 1984 - An unidentified member of Yesterday's Air Force helps disassemble the tail (vertical stabilizer) of the airplane for its trip to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport,


Photo courtesy of Jay Wisler, from the Tribune article on July 8, 2001, "The Bomber in the Park," by Leland Hawes.


















Moving day preparation for the big airplane, wings and tail section removed, towing within Lowry park--Oct. 9, 1984.
Photo provided by Dennis Cole,

Yesterdays Air Force Museum / Florida Military Aviation Museum Clearwater





Moving day preparation for the big airplane, wings and tail removed, towing from Lowry park--Oct. 9, 1984.  A U.S. Navy P2V-Neptune maritime patrol bomber will make its final trip later this week across the Gandy bridge.  (TBT archives.)


Towed by an International tractor trailer, it took 2 hours for the airplane to travel the 3 city blocks of North Blvd. to Sligh Ave. in the wee hours of the morning, because mailboxes and street signs along the route had to be uprooted and then replanted.  Once the airplane reached Sligh the going was much easier, and on Dale Mabry Highway it was traveling at a "mile-eating rate" of 5 mph.

The 31-year-old airplane took 4 more hours to make its way from North Blvd. & Sligh in Tampa to the St. Pete-Clearwater airport, arriving on Wednesday morning. 

The post-midnight route took the airplane on a tour of Tampa, past the many bars along Dale Mabry.  Marois wondered "if anyone swore off booze after seeing an airplane go by."

At the Gandy Bridge, police closed the south span to the public for 2 hours. 

Moving night for the big airplane, midnight, Oct. 9/10, 1984.

Photo provided by Emil Joseph at the Facebook group "Memories of Tampa & Life 60s,70s,80s"

Once across the bay, the airplane inched its way to the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, arriving there shortly after 6 a.m.  Morois did not know how much money had been spent in transporting the airplane from city to city.  "It was a bunch of money, but it was mainly time spent by our volunteers, and a lot of caring." Morois said.  "It was a very long night,"





Read about the next life of this airplane, its restoration and its demise, here at TampaPix.

Continued at Plane2

Lowry Park & Fairyland

Herman - King of the Zoo


Safety Village / Children's Museum / Kids City


Dr. Bragg's Fantasia Golf


Saving Fairyland!

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