Today the Palm Springs Air Museum celebrated Walt Disney’s birthday with a VIP party and 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 for visitors to the Palm Springs Air Museum. 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 more. These items are on long-term loan from the Walt Disney Archives to the museum.
During the event, 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. 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.”
The restoration and recreation are anticipated to take approximately two years.
Walt Disney’s Grumman Gulfstream I plane journeyed from D23 Expo 2022 in Anaheim, California, to Palm Springs, California, in September. The aircraft, which is on a long-term loan from the Archives, is now displayed alongside the Palm Springs Air Museum collection. 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.
In 1963, Walt acquired the iconic Gulfstream. The interior of the plane, initially designed with creative input from Walt and his wife, Lillian, 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, including matchbooks and stationery adorned with a silhouette of Mickey Mouse. Mickey’s initials were eventually included in the tail number of the plane, too, as N234MM, in 1967. 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.
When they visit the Palm Springs Air Museum, guests will have the opportunity to learn about the role this iconic plane has played throughout the company’s history, such as:
- In 1963, Walt, members of his family, and company executives took off on a demonstration Gulfstream aircraft to explore potential locations, including Central Florida, for a proposed development often referred to as “Project X.” After Walt received his own Gulfstream in early 1964, he made several trips to Florida that ultimately laid the foundation to bring the magic of Walt Disney World Resort to life.
- 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, an event that 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 as he flew over the El Moro fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while conducting research for the now fan favorite.
- “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 of which starred Disney Legend Kurt Russell, who has ties to the desert. 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.
- 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.
To learn more, visit PalmSpringsAirMuseum.org or call 760-778-6262 during business hours.