THE ASTRO JETS
by Paul F. Anderson
(Click on any picture for a higher-resolution image)
Today in Disney History, July 3rd (in the year 1967) the venerable Rocket Jets attraction opened in the New Tomorrowland expansion of 1967. It replaced the Old Tomorrowland Astro Jet attraction which opened on April 2, 1956 (although the official Disney Company opening date is listed as March 24, 1956). To herald that auspicious event (after all it was an actual "major" attraction in Old Tomorrowland!) The Disneyland News from April 1956 trumpeted the announcement on their front page.
|The Disneyland News April 1956 Front Page heralding the Astro Jet opening!|
|The newest members of the Disneyland Air Force.|
Within a few months after the opening of Disneyland, It became immediately apparent that expansion was desperately needed ... and not because of the often over-used Walt quote that “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” Rather, it was because Disneyland was a smashing success! Smashing!
|Astro Jet original Attraction Poster|
No where else was this need more apparent than in the neglected world of tomorrow. Shortly after “Black Sunday” Walt and his team began meeting to address attraction and ride issues at Disneyland. For every land, save Tomorrowland, the discussion focused more on improving what was already there. Each attraction went through Walt’s exacting attention to detail so that it could be refined. A perfect example of this minutia comes from a Disneyland Inter-Office Communication dated August 3, 1955 where it is recommended that when the Mark Twain leaves the dock that the guest experience would be improved by “more vocal animation from the crew”; or in the case of the Main Street Cinema “a second Nickelodeon piano to operate during time of rewind ... of first piano.” Walt was plussing what was already there; yet, with Tomorrowland, there wasn’t a lot to “plus,” so most of the suggestions concerned themselves with safety issues, such as extra pad for the steering wheels on the Autopia to “adequately ... prevent mouth and facial injuries” or the installing of “safety strap on non-driver side of car, to be used on small children.” What Tomorrowland really needed were new attractions, and as quick as possible.
|Disneyland Postcard, D-102, 1956. "In Tomorrowland is an advanced version of the roto-jet|
and the only ride of this type now operating in the United States. It was invented, developed and
manufactured by the Klaus Company of Memmingen, Bavaria."
Courtesy of my good friend Ken Eslick at: www.disneylandpostcards.net
First, Dumbo, as developed by Arrow Development, had some serious design flaws that were being worked out as late as December of 1955 when an entirely new Dumbo system replaced the opening day version. Second, Disneyland Inc., was losing money on Dumbo, because people were spending too much time in line; simply put the capacity of Dumbo was too low. Third, in 1955 Arrow Development had on staff just two engineers, and they were spending most of their time during the fall and winter of 1955/1956 on redesigning the Autopia, so there wasn’t enough brainpower to go around to create a higher capacity Dumbo-style ride (in fact, the two were at this time also spending quite a bit of time just on getting the Dumbo ride system in Disneyland working on a regular basis). And finally, and probably most important, there was very little money left for a novel and original design!
|Wonderful image giving the feeling of actually riding on this fantastic Astro-Jet attraction.|
|Unique view of the central rotating axis on top of the rotating base, spring 1962.|
|Only image known to exist of Astro Jet Regulus (the rarest of all the names ... at least as far as the|
photographic count ... and of course, it is blue!). Taken from DHI 16mm footage.
Of note is other patterns that developed based on the number of photographs that surfaced of each of the named Astro Jets (yes, I actually kept count of what were the more commonly photographed Astro Jets). Leading the list in popularity (just based on preponderance of photographs) are Arcturus, Capella, Antares, and Canopus. On the rare side (coming in with just one photographed appearance) are: Regulus, Procyon, and Rigel. It is also interesting to note, that for the most part, the popularity tended to go with the Red Astro Jets over the Blue Astro Jets (to which Todd and I in our afternoon DHI editorial board meeting decided that, “Hey, if we were kids, we’d go for the red one too!” We tackle the tough Disney history questions!).So there you have it, the kind of dedicated detail that you will not get (nor probably want) anywhere else, here at the Disney History Institute!
STILL HAVEN'T HAD ENOUGH ASTRO JET TRIVIA ....
(If you have had enough Astro Jet minutia, two additional facts: 1)While we could not find an Astro Jet in action named Pica, we did find at least one instance in which an Astro Jet had NO name. 2)This is more a note on sloppy research and how the Internet has a tendency to make people lazy ... and a plea, to “please double check your facts” if you are going to write about Disney history. The name given on the Hench Inter-Office Communication for the #3 Astro Jet is “Sirius” ... however, no where on the Internet does that appear correctly, instead, apparently the first to enter this information way back in the dawn of the internet age a decade ago, missed an “i” and entered the name as “Sirus” ... so consequently, if you do a search for these, you’ll find many respected sites that list the poor little ol’ Astro Jet Sirius, as Sirus ...and sorry, we here at DHI just can’t take that serious!
PLEASE NOTE IF YOU ARE PLANNING ON USING OUR IMAGES: We've noticed several other Disney history sites that have chosen to borrow some of our wonderfully rare DHI photographs. While we love to share the history and legacy of Walt Disney, we are not so appreciative when said "borrowing" chooses to not also "borrow" our "www.DisneyHistoryInstitute.com" watermark (strange how our Institute watermark gets cut off) or even list us as a source. We always acknowledge and list our sources, including a link, and we appreciate the same courtesy! Thank you.If you have thoughts, ideas, or questions post them up below. And for an ongoing historical discussion of Walt Disney and his creative legacy, head over to the DHI Facebook group. And make sure to check back for more essays and rare images on Old Tomorrowland. Thanks, Paul
COMPLIMENTARY MATERIAL: We had a request on Facebook to show where the Astro Jets was in Tomorrowland. I found a nice panoramic from a Disneyland U.S.A. 1957 pitch book. You can see it on our Comp Material page at: Astro Jets in Tomorrowland