Fly the Branded Skies

Jingle: “Fly Cessna” (1980)

Fly Cessna: The world's number 1 business airline.

Listen: Cessna: “Fly Cessna”

This jingle breaks all the rules. For one, it’s not really a jingle; it was almost certainly never used in broadcast advertising. And for another, it’s not actually for an airline, no matter what Cessna says. But it’s still an interesting example of a strange, largely extinct genre: the industrial musical.

In the late seventies, Cessna launched a campaign targeting business travelers. The airplane manufacturer anointed itself “the world’s number 1 business airline” — with a fleet of 100,000 planes that could land at any of 29,000 destinations worldwide. You too can avoid the hassle of modern airline travel! All you have to do is buy your own airplane, learn how to pilot it, find a place to keep it, learn how to maintain it, fill it with gas, check the weather reports, and file your own flight plans. What could be simpler?

Like car manufacturers, Cessna depends on a network of dealers to sell its airplanes. Depending on dealers means being at their mercy. If they’re happy, they’ll sell more planes. If they’re not happy, you’re in trouble.

So from November 13 to 14, 1980, Cessna brought their dealers together at company headquarters for a two-day bash in Wichita, Kansas. (Remember: what happens in Wichita, stays in Wichita.) The event was called Expo ’80, and everything I know about it, I learned from the pictures on the cover of its souvenir album.

Expo ’80 featured an enormous exhibition space, decorated like an airport with a fake control tower and everything. Visitors wandered around examining Cessna’s aircraft and booths explaining Cessna’s advertising strategy and ways dealers can boost profits.

It also featured an all-singing, all-dancing revue: Fly Cessna. An industrial musical.

Industrial musicals used to be a common way to rouse the team spirit of employees and sales staff. Even by 1980, industrial musicals were on the way out. Nowadays, companies produce lavish corporate videos to inspire the troops. But in the middle of the 20th century, they commissioned actual musicals, often from Broadway composers and lyricists.

These musicals had songs, they had characters, they had a plot. Just about the only ways they differed from Broadway are, first, they usually weren’t that great, and second, they were all about a company. They were big business, too: one composer recalls that the 1957 Chevrolet Extravaganza had a budget, $3 million, that was six times the budget of My Fair Lady, which opened on Broadway the same year. That kind of money often attracted serious talent.

The companies that employed that talent ran the gamut of the Fortune 500. General Electric staged “Go Fly a Kite,” in which GE uses its electrical equipment to literally turn Hell into Heaven. Coca-Cola staged “The Grip of Leadership,” a paean to brown fizzy sugar water as the very embodiment of the American Century. Exxon staged “The Spirit of Achievement,” the Broadway musical Ayn Rand wishes she had written.

Wilson Stone, one of the most prolific composers of industrial musicals, said later, “It’s an easy thing to write a song about love. It’s hard to write a song about spark plugs.”

It was Stone who wrote the music for Fly Cessna; David Blomquist wrote the lyrics. Fly Cessna didn’t reach quite so high as some of the more notorious industrial musicals, but that’s a good thing: it means it doesn’t sound quite so ridiculous today. Don’t worry, though: it still sounds pretty ridiculous.

All I know about Fly Cessna is what I can hear on the record and see on the album cover; it has left no trace on the Internet. Thankfully, the music is anything but subtle. The show had two strategic objectives, evenly divided between the sides of the album. The first was introduce dealers to the idea of “the world’s number 1 business airline.” The second was to make dealers feel the Cessna love. (It seems these may have been separate shows on separate nights of the expo — unfortunately I have no way of knowing for sure.)

On the album, the title song (above) is followed by “One of a Kind,” a song that is, ironically, actually pretty generic.

Listen: Cessna: “One of a Kind”

Then a medley of “One of a Kind” and “Fly Cessna” in “First Day Finale”:

Listen: Cessna: “First Day Finale”

Okay. Cessna is great. Got it. Then the musical takes an interesting turn. The next four songs seem to be a dramatic re-enactment of the sales process. It starts with an appraisal of all the terrible options a business traveler faces, “The Mad World of Transportation”:

Listen: Cessna: “The Mad World of Transportation”

Then, our hero finds a kindred spirit in “The Business Travel Blues”:

Listen: Cessna: “The Business Travel Blues”

Then, a miracle! Cessna arrives to solve all of their problems, with a little ditty that may or may not be loaded with clumsy innuendo: “Cessna Can Do It.” For the business travelers, owning a Cessna is the key to seizing back control over their lives. One by one, the singing Cessnettes knock down the business travelers’ objections: “That’s not all we offer you, gents/You must know Cessna also rents…”

Listen: Cessna: “Cessna Can Do It”

Of course, there’s one last objection, and it’s a doozy: you have to know how to fly, and our hero doesn’t even know how to dance! But Cessna has a solution for that too: CPC, Cessna Pilot Centers. You just have to take “That First Step.”

Listen: Cessna: “That First Step”

Having helped its dealers understand their customers, Cessna now tries to prove that it understands its dealers. The flip side of the record starts with “More,” an acknowledgement of how much harder it is to sell airplanes than it used to be.

Listen: Cessna: “More”

The next song, “Growing Pains,” is a curious mixture of apology and apologia from Cessna: sure, the company screws a lot of things up, but that’s just what you’d expect from a growing company and besides it’s all over now.

Listen: Cessna: “Growing Pains”

Having admitted all its faults, Cessna tries to make up to the sales and service departments, with “Super Cessna Selling Team,” a song about how awesome they are and how much better they are together:

Listen: Cessna: “Super Cessna Selling Team”

Then a ballad, “Home,” because wherever you go, “you’ve got a home with Cessna”:

Listen: Cessna: “Home”

And a truly heartbreaking song, sung by a dealer, who asks, “Who Cares About the Dealer?”:

Listen: Cessna: “Who Cares About the Dealer”

But hold on there, Cessna dealer! Somebody does care about you… It’s Cessna! And they wrote a bizarrely meta song about it, a spectacular finale: “The Star is You!”

Listen: Cessna: “The Star Is You”

That’s the song that brought the dealers to their feet. At least, it certainly sounds like it from the applause they added to the studio recording. And that’s why, on November 15, 1980, 800 Cessna dealers left Wichita determined to sell more planes.

Airline: Cessna Aircraft Company

Title: “Fly Cessna”
Agency: The Kerbawy Company, Detroit, Mich.
Written By: Wilson Stone (music), David Blomquist (lyrics)
Year: 1980

Come ride on board.
We’re revving up to run.
We got an airline
that’s number one!

Did we say airline?
Yes indeed!
The one for everybody’s
business need!

So fly Cessna!
Fly Cessna!
With business, how we’ll shine!
Fly Cessna!
Come fly Cessna!
The world’s number one business airline!

Let’s move it now!
The tune is new this year.
We got a different
airline here.

We say no one
but Cessna can
do so much for the
nation’s businessmen.

So fly Cessna!
Fly Cessna!
Business is looking fine!
Fly Cessna!
Come fly Cessna!
The world’s number one business airline!

A hundred thousand airplanes in the sky
have got to impress ya.
A half a million seats and that is why
nobody but nobody beats Cessna!

Come join with us.
We’re setting out to see
A world of

The 1980s
are on their way.
And all our plans are made
to make ’em pay.

So fly Cessna!
Fly Cessna!
In business, how we’ll shine.
Fly Cessna!
Come fly Cessna!
The world’s number one business airline!


  • Charles Spratt

    I was explaining to my grandson about the Cessna expos recently, and as I was cleaning out some records, I came across the Fly Cessna album. I was in the marketing department then, and the next year, we took an around the world-marketing trip, in a last ditch effort to move some aircraft. Great times, not for the industry, but for the creative types trying to sell product.