BACKSTORY (Aug. 6, 1961–Aug. 6, 1966): The last attraction to open in the “original” Tomorrowland. From August 6, 1961–August 5, 1966 The Flying Saucers floated in a 16,000 sq. ft. arena. Designed to hold one large guest or two small ones, with 16 saucers flying at once while the other 16 were being loaded. As the ride began, air valves pushed the saucer upward so that it was floating just inches above the ground. Guests shifted their body weight to fly across the arena and tilt their saucer (imagine a giant air-hockey table). Just like bumper cars, guests could crash into each other with their saucers. The Flying Saucers were very popular and even made the cover of National Geographic. However, they suffered numerous mechanical problems which often were in direct proportion to the weight of the guest; if too heavy, the saucer just sat in the same place; if too light, it was hard to tip the saucer, so it just stayed in one spot, bouncing. The collision of the saucers also made the ride a natural for back injuries. In addition, they sometimes wedged into each other causing the saucers to flip. Don DeFore’s son, David, was one of the original testers of the ride, back when the saucers were made of plywood and there was very little regulation over their speed. David said that the attraction was much more fun at this stage! David was so light that they had to put a keg of nails on his saucer to get it balance and work properly.
The Saucers were replaced by the Tomorrowland Stage in 1967 and Space Mountain in 1977.
FLYING SAUCERS AT DISNEYLAND
It took a little longer than anticipated by the Disneyland Flying Saucers finally went to work the middle of last month and started to tak in some "E" coupons
After a period of testing with many Disneylanders having the opportunity of playing like an Astronaut, the latest Magic Kingdom attraction opened with the proper ceremonies. On hand to celebrate the occasion were the Disneyland Band playing "Come Josephine in My Flying Saucer" and other appropriate tunes, the Space Man and the Space Girl and, of course, Pluto in the person of Tony Barksdale. (Honest)
Without taking anything away from the other celebrities who were on hand, it must be admitted that Pluto was the hit of the show. Jack Lindquist, Eddie Meck, Marty Sklar and Bud Nagle gave him constant insturctions as to which way he looked best for the flock of photographers who were on hand and he took it in stride, never missing a flash bulb.
Donna Fox, the Space Girl who landed in Tomorrowland after a short flight from Coke Corner recently, never looked more raidant or charming with her long blonde hair cascading majestically over the seltzer bottles she wears on her back. The Space Man costume was ably filled by handsome Gordon McClymont and both he and Donna ran a good second to Pluto to see who could use up the most Kodak negative.
Also on hand for the first official Flying Saucer flight were children of some of the nation's finest jet pilots who are stationed at El Toro Marine Base and Los Alamitos Naval Air Station. Two of the pilots also came along for the ride. They were Lt. Comdr. Larry Hauser and Lt. Col. Jay Willcox. The wives of the flyers also came but declined Pluto's invitiation to take one of the first rides. Either they couldn't understand what he was saying or they were wearing full skirts.
Disneyland guestrs practically ringed the entire Saucer area while the edication was going on. They thoroughly enjoyed the thrilled expressions on the children's faces as well as the puzzled looks on the faces of the two jet flyers who were both overheard to say to themselves, "Now how do you suppose they make this thing work?"
As an added attracition for the guests as well as the participants was the few minutes that the Band rode the Saucers and played one of their famous tunes at the same time. Jim Whitsett, who was directing because of Vesey Walker's absence, had no trouble leading the Band as they turned and skimmed in their Flying Saucers. After all, he's had years of experience on the Fantasyland Tea Cups.
It was a great dedication, according to all the spectators, and the Flying Saucers were successfully on their way.
When the saucers were built (what a pain for the engineers), they had to test them for weeks on end. They never seemed to get the balance right. So, like Disney always did, they asked as many employees as possible to come and ride them while they did the adjustments. I was one of the first people to get on one. Each little circle in the deck is a pressure sensitive cylinder. Below the flying deck is a large air filled chamber, with huge fans keeping the pressure up. As the saucer rides over them, a negative pressure is created, and the cylinder drops down to let in the air, which makes the saucer float. In order to get the thing going, the ride operators would have to give the individual saucers a kick at one side to tilt them, and that would start the process of flying. You can imagine how all the little circles had to be adjusted individually.
After your time was up, the big swing arm would come around and slam everyone up to the side, while the other arm was letting go. My butt was sore for days!