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 says, 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 a second theme park.
I’ve always been intrigued by this airplane and the important role it had in Disney history. After digging through our archives, it turns out the story behind this aircraft is actually much bigger than I ever thought.
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. (Remember, this was 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 and air-speed gauge, which Walt added to satisfy his endless curiosity about flying.
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 New York World’s Fair. Later that year, Walt (pictured above, center) began surveying land in Central Florida, considering the site a possibility for his second theme park.
The plane also led Walt (literally) to find inspiration for the look of one classic Disney attraction. According to Mark Malone, son of 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, which at the time was still in the planning phase.
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.
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 for all to enjoy.
A friend forwarded this article to me. I believe that I flew on this plane when I was 11 years old along with some other lucky kids that won a trip to a dude ranch (Triangle X Ranch) in Wyoming. I won on YMCA day. This article brought back so many memories. I wasn’t sure about the plane since the one I flew on had orange and I believe some brown on it. The picture of the interior looked the same as I remember. I have some old 8mm film transferred to video of us kids boarding the plane and when we returned from the trip. What a great experience!
Loved the article, I am extremely interested in any sort of Disney history, especially any off-the-map tidbits like this one. I was always curious of this plane after seeing it on the Backlot Tour and had never really heard anything else, so thanks for posting this incredible and really significant article. Does anyone have any books on Disney history that are really good? I’m always looking for more information on Disney!
A great book to start with is “Walt Disney” by Bob Thomas. That has a lot of great info on Walt’s entire life, including the building of Disneyland and the Walt Disney World Resort.
Great article! I knew about Uncle Walt’s plane but I never knew the history behind it. Thanks for posting!
Our family are huge Disney fans. Every morning, my husband and I walk our dog, Captain Jack. We were surprised to discover several years ago that a gentleman we encounter on the walks (and who always has a dog treat for Jack) is Frank Gamble, who was the copilot on many of Disney’s flights. This morning we took the iPad to show him your article – he was very excited to see the pictures of the plane, especially the interior. He has shown us pictures of the plane from when he was flying (and it had the orange paint job). When we return from a visit to WDW, he always checks to find out how the plane is. Thanks for a great article; it definitely has a special meaning for us!
Wow, what a small world! I’m so glad you liked it and were able to share it with your friend.
@Peter and @Dan, thanks for the info. That’s cool stuff to know !! Have a great day !!
Thanks Jennifer ….. I really appreciate you posting this ‘Outstanding’ article about “The Mouse”! Our family loves WDW and we have been visiting every year for the last 38+ years and I always enjoy reading about Disney’s history!
Thanks so much. There always seems to be more to learn about Disney, no matter how much you know. (At least in my case!)
Thank you so much for sharing this! There are just so many interesting history tidbits to learn. I hope we see more stuff like this at the D23 Destination D event next weekend at WDW!
I’ll be there, too! Hopefully we’ll get some great ideas for content from the event and its speakers!
First, what a great article with some wonderful nuggets of information for us to chew on. I would suggest that the backlot tour be redone as the canned audio really diminishes the “behind the scenes’ feel of the attraction. I would suggest a live announcer again, with interactive screens in each row that could give you more information on items on the tour similar to the information and pictures contained in this blog entry. What a great way to enhance the attraction and keep the experience ever changing for the guests.
Wow! What a terrific article! I’ve always wished they spent some more time on the Backlot Tour talking about the plane; it’s always been the highlight of the tour for me. Thanks so much for sharing these pictures and stories!
What a fascinating story! My family and I have been on the back lot tour and I was curious as to what it looked like inside. It was very interesting to see the picture of the inside of the plane and read about the history behind it. Thank you for posting this story and the pictures of the plane!
The picture of the plane’s interior was actually a postcard that passengers got, proving they’d flown on “The Mouse.” We were lucky enough to have one in our archives!
Truly one of the best articles I’ve read on The Disney Parks Blog. I am always intrigued by the photo of Walt standing on the future Walt Disney World site, but also saddened to think he never saw his Florida Project realized.
Really enjoyed this post, as it was great to get a peek inside something that was important not just for its connection to Disney history, but its personal connection to Walt. Seeing inside the plane and its arrival on World Drive were wonderful surprises. Thank you!!
Thanks so much, Lou!
I believe it is grounded for good, and that the interior’s were stripped upon arrival at Disney-MGM Studios by former archives chief Dave Smith? The company could no longer afford to keep a private jet as it was much cheaper to buy public airline tickets then fly ‘The Mouse’ (Business Class to parallel the luxury of a private jet no doubt!) The Mouse always brings joy when I see it on the now Disney’s Hollywood Studios Backlot, it is after all where she belongs.
Do we know when that aerial photo was taken? Looks pretty awesome!
The aerial shot was taken in the 1980s, by our long-time photographer (and Disney Parks Blog contributor) Gene Duncan!
I loved seeing this airplane at Hollywood Studios! Does the Walt Disney Company have any sort of jet or private plane now that this one is retired?
Hi Steve, I remember seeing that plane and the Jet also when I was working on EPCOT in 1982 on the Mexico Pavilion. Did Disney keep the original Jet? I believe it was a Gulfstream I ?
What’s with the Tron signage? Is Lights, Motor, Action about to change? HMMM?
I love reading about Disney history. If only we could see the inside of the plane on the tour.
I love this plane. I love its history. I would love to see a full restoration. It deserves a larger stage. Imagine what could be done with it. Just Imagine. Great article.
As a Gulfstream employee and a huge Disney fan, I love reading about this history!
And I’ve been told that it will never fly again because it’s completely stripped inside. Too bad!
Thanks for posting this 🙂 I’ve always wondered what it looked like inside. The parks blog should do more of this kinda stuff.
It would be great to see this plane back in the air. Why is the plane no longer in use?
Thanks for posting this, I have always wanted to know more about this plane. Every time we go by it, I can imagine Walt sitting up in the cockpit smiling.
I’m glad there was so much cool detail to the plane’s story.
@Eddie – it is still has a valid FAA certificate until September 30, 2011.
You can catch a glimpse of the plane in the 1972 movie “Now You See Him, Now You Don’t” with Kurt Russell.
That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing!
I love the unique history of Disney. Great story!
i really wish they would bring back the signs like in the background. was really neat to see mickey show up over then signs when i was younger
Awesome post and pics!! Love the behind the scenes things like this.
I’ve always wanted to know more about this aircraft. Thanks for posting this article.
It’d be great if DHS offered a guided tour that included a look at the interior of the plane.
What a wonderfully written piece! Thanks for adding such a fascinating article to the blog ….
Thanks so much!
Wow! what a great piece of history to have! I always wondered how they got the plane to DHS
My father took that picture of Walt in Florida in 1964 that you posted above. I remember the Mouse plane too…….thanks for sharing a little history from the past……
How interesting! So glad we could bring it to life again!
One of my favorite things to see on the backlot tour!! 🙂
I wonder if it’s grounded for good. It would be so cool to see it fly again!!
I flew back and forth on this plane several times when we were working on Epcot in 1982. It was quite pleasant to be able to sit at a table for four and play bridge all the way! Even though there were only a handful of passengers, there was a stewardess, and the on-board wines were top notch. The only downside was that it took much longer than a commercial flight, and when flying from Florida to California the headwind meant stopping in Texas to refuel.
Thanks for sharing, Steve! Sounds like you have some great memories from the early days of Epcot.
Great stuff! I would love to see more posts like this on the Disney Parks Blog.