Disney fans Alan Fuller and Joe Bremgartner of Rancho Mirage remember seeing Walt Disney's Grumman Gulfstream I plane while it was on display from 1992 to 2014 on the backlot tour of Disney's Hollywood Studios Orlando. They described the plane as looking "weathered and worn."
"It looked like it had just been placed there for storage purposes outside in the Florida weather," Fuller said.
In celebration of Walt Disney's 121st birthday on Monday, the Palm Springs Air Museum unveiled the restored plane purchased by Disney in 1963, marking the opening of an exhibit displaying items such as a cabin seat and window, flight operations manual, beverage dispenser and more. The museum has a 40-year agreement with The Walt Disney Co. to house the plane.
While looking at the restored Gulfstream I, Fuller said it's "beautiful."
"Knowing this is Walt's original design for the plane and this is how it looked when Walt flew in and took delivery of it, I think it's pretty special," Fuller said.
The plane, also referred to as "The Mouse," was added to the museum's collection in October after traveling to the desert in October from Anaheim after it was presented during the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center.
During a presentation, Palm Springs Air Museum Director Fred Bell described Disney as "one of my heroes" and told a story about seeing the plane 30 years ago at Walt Disney World.
"I said to my wife at the time and my children who were running all over Orlando, 'That airplane should be in a museum,'" Bell recalled. "To think about the fact it's here 30 years later and it's Walt Disney's airplane, it's amazing. With every airplane we've restored, we have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to millions of Disney fans, The Walt Disney Company and everybody that put time and effort to get the airplane to where it is."
Walt Disney and his family have ties to the Palm Springs area and owned vacation homes at Smoke Tree Ranch. While building Disneyland in Anaheim, Disney sold his Smoke Tree Ranch home designed by architect Bill Cody after exhausting all his credit.
Becky Cline of the Disney Archives used the word "serendipity" to describe the plane being housed at the Palm Springs Air Museum because of Disney's history in the area — and the climate.
"It's perfect because it's close enough to Disneyland, it's in Southern California, and it's less than a two-hour drive to come down here, do events or work on the exhibit," Cline said. "The kicker was the connection to Disney history here in the Palm Springs area with Smoke Tree Ranch. The perfect place to store an airplane is in a dry, hot location. This plane had been in the Everglades of Florida for many years, so it needs to dry out and have some time in the sun."
The plane was essential in the construction of Walt Disney World
A short documentary screened at Monday's event detailed many of the aircraft's historical milestones, including traveling back and forth to New York before and during the 1964-1965 World's Fair, and Disney's flights over the El Morro fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico during the planning of the 1967 Disneyland attraction "Pirates of the Caribbean." The plane was essential in the construction of Walt Disney World and was used to fly over the site during planning and development stages.
After Disney's death in 1966, the company continued using "The Mouse" for promotional purposes and during the construction of the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World. 83,000 passengers flew on the plane, including former U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, before it was grounded. Aircrafts are grounded when they require modification or repair before being ready for flight again.
"The plane was really cutting edge," Bell said. "Most of the executive airplanes (at that time) were repurposed World War II planes. These aircrafts started coming in because they were faster and had more range. They were designed to be passenger airplanes, so they're comfortable."
The cockpit windows are covered with images of pilots inside, and each passenger window is covered with a sky setting, except for one in the rear left, which features a silhouette of Walt Disney where he always sat while onboard the plane. On both sides of the tail, the registration number of N234MM is visible, which references the initials of Mickey Mouse.
For those who want a tour of the inside, there will be a two-year wait while the museum and Phoenix Air Group complete an interior restoration. Bell said the museum is restoring the plane at a shared cost with The Walt Disney Co. and Phoenix Air Group is donating the materials. The plane is also retired, its mechanics and Rolls Royce engines have been removed and it won't be taking any flights.
"The plane had 20,000 hours on it when it was retired," Bell said. "It's not an airplane I imagine we would ever offer. Some of the airplanes we fly are very rare, but this would be one of the rarest airplanes in the world if you were to fly in it."
In April, Disney broke ground on Cotino, Disney's new Storyliving master-planned development on 618-acres off Bob Hope Drive, between Frank Sinatra and Gerald Ford drives, and across from the entrance to Sunnylands Center and Garden in Rancho Mirage. The project will include a resort with a 400-room hotel and 24-acre swimmable lagoon on the former Annenberg Estate property. Thomas Mazloum, president of Disney Signature Experiences, told The Desert Sun in April that home sales are expected to open in early 2023 with the anticipation that by early 2021, the first residents will begin moving in.
This article includes previous reporting by former Desert Sun staff reporter Sherry Barkas.
Desert Sun reporter Brian Blueskye covers arts and entertainment. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @bblueskye.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Disney plane exhibition unveiled at Palm Springs Air Museum