|By Keith Mahne|
If you’ve ever experienced The Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, chances are you’ve seen “The Mouse” – a white airplane with a Mickey Mouse icon on its tail. As the tour states, this airplane was used to fly Walt Disney on secret scouting missions over Central Florida when he was looking for the perfect spot to build Walt Disney World. Over the course of its history, Walt's Gulfstream 1 was filled with so many legendary passengers and magical memories that make it a vital piece of Disney history. Join me today as we take a look inside Walt Disney's plane and recall a few special flights along the way...
I’ve always been intrigued by this airplane and the important role it had in Disney history. Walt purchased the Grumman Gulfstream 1 (G1) in 1964, and worked with his wife, Lillian, to select the plane’s interior design and color scheme. Check out that 1960s fashion...
The plane seated 15 and featured a galley, two couches and a desk. Walt even designed his own special seat in the plane, which was in the rear left cabin. The seat was equipped with a special altimeter, air-speed gauge, and Mickey Mouse clock which Walt added to satisfy his endless curiosity about flying.
|Walt's seat equipped with a special altimeter, air-speed gauge, and a Mickey Mouse clock of course!|
|Walt's seat belt with his initials engraved.|
|A rare photo of Walt (sitting in his special seat), wife Lillian (in red), Herb Ryman (far right) and others aboard Walt's airplane|
The plane’s first trips took Walt and his Imagineers to and from California and New York to oversee the final preparations for Disney’s contributions to the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. Later that year, Walt began surveying land in Central Florida, considering the site a possibility for his second theme park. (On a side note, the picture of Walt below is one of the only times Walt walked on WDW property!)
|Rare photo of the newly purchased WDW property taken from Walt's plane.|
The plane also led Walt to find inspiration for the look of one classic Disney attraction. According to Mark Malone, son of Walt's Pilot Chuck Malone, Walt spotted El Morro fortress while flying over San Juan, Puerto Rico, and remarked that it would be the perfect look for his new Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, which at the time was still in the planning phase.
|Flight Log from January 1966|
Pictured above is a rare look at one of the flight logs used during a trip Walt embarked on for a cross country effort to enlist industry participation in his Epcot dream project in January 1966. He gathered up seven Disney Legends to fly with him on the company plane. The list included Joe Fowler, Joe Potter, Marc Davis, Roger Broggie, Bob Gurr, Lee Adams, and Steve Mulle. Could you imagine being on the plane that day? What a dream come true that would be!
In addition to taking Walt on his secret trips, the plane also took Disney characters on goodwill tours and visits to children’s hospitals around the United States. An estimated 83,000 passengers have flown aboard the plane, including Disney animators and several famous faces, including former Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, as well as Disney Legends Julie Andrews and Annette Funicello, just to name a few.
The airplane’s last flight took place Oct. 8, 1992, when it touched down on World Drive, west of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and was added to The Backlot Tour. Now that Disney has announced major changes coming to this area of the Park, I wounder what will happen with Walt's storied Grumman Gulfstream 1. Whatever its fate may be, let's hope it finds a home where guests can continue to be reminded of the importance and fond memories that once took place in this legendary aircraft...