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Walt Disney’s Plane at Air Museum

walt disney plane over Palm Springs

The Palm Springs Air Museum celebrated Walt Disney’s 121st birthday with the opening of a new exhibit to accompany Walt Disney’s Grumman Gulfstream I airplane. Rarely exhibited items from the interior of the aircraft—also known affectionately as “The Mouse”—are now on display at the Palm Springs Air Museum.


A Brief History of Walt’s Plane

Walt Disney acquired the Gulfstream I airplane in 1963. The interior was initially designed with creative input from both Walt and his wife, Lillian. It seated up to 15 passengers and included a galley kitchen, two restrooms, two couches, a desk, and nods to the mouse who started it all.  It also included matchbooks and stationery adorned with a silhouette of Mickey Mouse.

walt disney plane interior drawing

walt disney-plane-interiror

In November of 1963, Walt Disney and several of his top executives were in the plane flying over Florida trying to determine where they might build an east coast entertainment venue and a community of tomorrow. The ended up touring Ocala as well as other regional sites. They then boarded the plane and flew over the Orlando area. That’s it,” said Walt peering down at the spot where his vision would become a reality. Upon return to California on Nov. 22, 1963, they just learned President Kennedy had been shot.

In 1967 the FAA gave the Disney plane special call letters: N234MM–the N denotes a plane, and the MM is short of Mickey Mouse. Walt’s pilots would initially use the proper form of identification when they approached an airport, “two three four metro metro.” Then they would try “two three four Mickey Mouse.” It did not take long until F.A.A. controllers routinely called N234MM “Mickey Mouse.” That’s how the plane got nicknamed just “The Mouse”.

walt disney plane n234MM

Throughout its 28 years of service to The Walt Disney Company, the plane flew 20,000 hours and transported an estimated 83,000 passengers before it was decommissioned.

walt disney plane postcard
Walt’s postcards for passengers

Disney-gulfstream postcard interior

Safety First! Original Briefing pamphlet. Credit: Mark Malone (son of pilot)
Safety First! Original Briefing pamphlet. Credit: Mark Malone (son of pilot)

Plane’s Multiple Uses

Walt’s plane flew a total of 277,282 miles back and forth between Burbank and New York to oversee preparations before and during the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair. They brought iconic attractions such as “it’s a small world” to an East Coast audience and, later, to Disneyland.

The plane also took Disneyland to new heights as Walt found inspiration for the look of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.  It happened as he flew over the El Moro fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while conducting research for the now fan favorite.

In just eight days during the fall of 1965, the Gulfstream logged 8,300 miles in 26 flying hours carrying actor Dean Jones, Disney executive Card Walker and others of the Disney sales operation to seven cities pitching the movie That Darn Cat.

“The Mouse” has a star-studded past, having been used for promotional tours for Disneyland as well as for classic movies such as The Jungle Book (1967).

The aircraft also made appearances in The Walt Disney Studios films The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) and Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972). Both films starred Kurt Russell, who also has ties to the desert.

walt disney plane with kurt russel

The aircraft has also transported notable guests including Disney Legends Julie Andrews and Annette Funicello, as well as former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, also frequent visitors to the Palm Springs area.

The plane had a wide orange stripe along the windows, a small orange circle with a Mickey Mouse head on the tail, and no company name or theme park name. At the time that Walt used the plane, it looked like any other plane, with no distinct Disney markings or artwork. It was painted blue and white in 1985.

Walt’s plane embarked on goodwill tours and character visits to children’s hospitals, adding to the company’s history of giving back to the community.

Off to Neverland. Credit: Mark Malone. Disneyland Peter Pan tour group.
Off to Neverland. Disneyland Peter Pan tour group. Credit: Mark Malone (son of pilot)
Heigh Ho! tour. Credit Mark Malone. Disneyland's Snow White tour group.
Heigh Ho! tour. Credit Mark Malone. Disneyland’s Snow White tour group.

It was retired on Oct. 8, 1992 and was on the backstage tour at Disney MGM Studios.

It spent many years beginning in 1993 as an exhibit on the backlot tour in the green area behind Residential Street. When the area was converted into the Lights, Motors, Action attraction, it was relocated to behind the bleacher seating where guests could still view it as they filed into the venue.

However, with the area being transformed into Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the plane was removed and no one seemed to know what happened to it or if it had even been completely dismantled.

In March 2018, the plane was located, thanks to aerial photography done by Nearmap, over a restricted backstage area near the water treatment plant off of Western Way.

walt disney plane hidden in woods

New Walt Disney’s Plane Exhibit

This new exhibit highlights the history of the plane, showcasing its significance to The Walt Disney Company’s history and its relevance to the Palm Springs area.

Items include a customized instrument panel originally located near Walt’s favorite onboard seat that allowed him to monitor flight conditions. A telephone handset that gave Walt a direct line of communication to the pilot in the cockpit. A flight bag featuring an image of Mickey Mouse sitting on the tail of the iconic plane, and much more. These items are on long-term loan from the Walt Disney Archives to the Palm Springs Air Museum.

walts-plane-interiror wall panel instrument

walt disney plane and chair

Disney Plane Restoration

Rebecca Cline, director of the Walt Disney Archives, announced that the Palm Springs Air Museum, in conjunction with Phoenix Air, will restore and recreate the interior of the Gulfstream I to resemble what it looked like when Walt flew it in the 1960s. “We are so happy to have Walt’s plane make a landing at the Palm Springs Air Museum, just a few miles from where Walt and his family had vacation homes at Smoke Tree Ranch. It is an ideal setting for this incredible icon.”

The restoration and recreation are anticipated to take approximately two years.

Museum Vice Chairman Fred Bell said, “We are so thrilled to partner with the Walt Disney Archives on this amazing restoration project. The Palm Springs Air Museum has restored over 60 aircraft in its 26-year history. Phoenix Air Group out of Cartersville, Georgia, has offered to donate any parts we need. Phoenix Air Group is a worldwide provider of aviation services, and at one point, owned and operated 20% of the world fleet of Gulfstream I’s flying at the time. We know that we have a special responsibility to Walt Disney, to the Archives, and to the millions of Disney fans around the world to do this work as accurately as possible so that the airplane can be enjoyed for decades to come.”

walt disney plane

About the Palm Springs Air Museum

The Palm Springs Air Museum is a living history museum that contains more than 75 vintage airframes, including those from the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. The museum is also home to airframes from across the spectrum of military aviation: World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the F-117 Stealth Fighter. The planes are housed inside 91,000 square feet of open hangars and on the tarmac at a 10-acre facility.

To learn more, visit PalmSpringsAirMuseum.org

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How Walt Disney Enchanted Palm Springs

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