Sunday, May 20, 2012

TPE: The Flight Circle

It may be forgotten today, but the Flight Circle was a vibrant part of Tomorrowland in its early years. Young pilots gave demonstrations of U-control aircraft hourly, doing some fancy flying and teaching others how to fly. Leroy Cox managed quite an advertising coup when he got his aircraft and employees chosen for these demos, seen by hundreds of thousands of Disneyland guests. The “Flight Circle” had operated initially by flying club members and then by the Wen-Mac company, but Cox’s reputation as a more reliable manufacturer got them into the premium Tomorrowland space starting in the summer of 1958 until it closed in 1965.

The young flyers would sometimes fly two or three aircraft at a time or bring people from the crowd in to try their hand at flying Cox aircraft. Many thanks to “Cox Pilot” for all of the information and photos that he has allowed me to use over the years. Without him, I never would have known about this attraction.

From Cox Pilot: This badge was issued to me by mistake because they were in such a rush to get me signed in and off to work. Normally, only WED employees were issued these badges. The backside has a pin, and a loop for a lanyard. The badges and ID cards were to be turned in upon leaving employment at the park, but since we really didn't work for WED, Bart Klapinski and I just left at the end of that last day in September (I never wore the badge while working). “Wally Gets His Wings”

We all wore the wings along with a very small tie pin made from Cox’s smallest engine which was tied in with a promotional film called “Wally Wins His Wings.” It played on TV a little. I was in the film teaching “Wally” how to fly.

I wasn't sure who was in the Flight Circle in this August 1965 photo, so naturally I sent it to Cox Pilot for I.D.

From Cox Pilot: "I'm not positive, but I think it's me. By August of '65, Bart Klapinski and I were the only ones working the Circle. The company (L.M. Cox) had informed us that Disney would be ripping out all of Tomorrowland, so they cut the crew down. Keith Palmer had already transfered into the sales department at Cox (Santa Ana, CA), and I was to transfer to the research and development lab after September (we called it the skunk works because it was sealed off with special combination locks. The security there was better than when I worked at Hughes Aircraft Co in Fullerton."

Here are some shots taken on the last day of the Flight Circle's operation. The first shot shows Bart Kapinski:

And Cox Pilot himself:

Here's Bart clowning around backstage on the same day:

Many thanks again to CP for all his assistance!

Follow my Daveland updates on Twitter and view my most recent photos on Flickr. See more vintage Flight Circle photos on my Flight Circle web page.


Snow White Sanctum said...

Interesting post. Didn't know much about the Flight Circle before now. Cool wings.

K. Martinez said...

I appreciate that you provide great background information on your posts. I love that whole “land, sea and air” aspect of the Flight Circle, but I’ve never seen images of the model boats running in the pond.

Anonymous said...

The boat was called a Water Wizard. You can see it running in the Wally Wins His Wings video on Daveland. It had an adjustable rudder and was set to run in a circle like the cars, and we usually ran four at a time.

When you figure how many engines we stared during the half hour show, it was a lot. 8 cars, 4 boats, 9 or 10 planes.

Cox Pilot

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dave, for the great shout out.


D. McEwan said...

I remember the Flight Circle vividly but not fondly. I was glad when they finally got rid of it. It was deafeningly noisy, an assault on the ears, and it STANK! It filled Tomorrowland with the stench of gasoline and exhaust fumes. Many, many people HATED it!

It kept my mother and grandmother out of Tomorowland altogether, as they could not bear the horrible noise and the foul stench.

It does look nice in photos, where you can't hear it or smell it.

HBG2 said...

I can close my eyes and still hear the low, loud buzzing. I loved it when I was a kid.

Anonymous said...

Mr. McEwan is "right on" when he describes the noise and the smell, but it was a HUGE hit with the kids, and wish-they-were kids. However; the "suits" hated the place. It did not fit the super-clean atmosphere of Disneyland (as they saw it). Add in the heat of the summer, and you had a real recipe for discomfort. It was also the only true ACTION going on in Tomorrowland.

The fuel (nitro methane and alcohol) was mixed with castor oil as a lubricant (just like WWI combat planes), and it smelled. And the Autopia added to the stink. The oil had a couple of side effects too. I had great skin in those days because of it, but breathing it in was a natural laxative. Opps!

Uncle Walt loved it. In fact, he was the reason it originally was there. Early in his pre-animation career, he tried (unsuccessfully) to build and market a model engine. (The Disney) No examples exist today, but Walt loved them.

One of the main reasons for the demise of the gas powered planes was the noise, and the expense. Mufflers were designed, but it was too late. People had already made up their minds. Todays model engines are mostly electric.

Cox T.D. Pilot

HBG2 said...

Remember too that a hefty percentage of the population smoked back then, and Anaheim was one of the smoggiest places in the country. Bad air? What bad air? Man up. Fresh air is for sissies.

JG said...

As we used to say during my time in LA basin...

"Never trust air you can't see."

Terrific post, great to hear from CoxPilot, as always. I'm sure he's the nice man I remember flying the model plane.

I still remember my Cox Piper Cub toy, and the odd smelling exhaust.

Thank you.


Sandy_Claws said...

Just found this. My Dad was a stunt flyer and hired by Disney to fly demonstrations. Not sure what year. But he was one of the best, and won the nationals one year.