by Paul F. Anderson
WED Concept Art, 1956. Features a more decked out version of the off-the-shelf ride, complete with a
communication device atop the ride pointed towards the stars and the heavens (another idea that
was reused later with Tomorrowland 1998 where the Rocket Jets atop the PeopleMover was
converted to a more grandiose communication device).
(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!

For the opening ceremony of the Astro Jets the publicity folks at Disneyland came up with the brilliant idea of inviting aviators from three branches of America’s armed forces to participate–the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines Corps (Semper Fi!), and the U.S. Air Force. On hand also was the “Disneyland Air Force” (who knew? how do I join?)! It was a great promotion that both honored those serving their country and heralded the opening of this new ride to Walt’s magic kingdom. Of note, is that so wonderful was this Walt inspired concept that four decades later Disneyland would revisit the idea when they opened the new Tomorrowland of 1998 by inviting Astronauts of America’s Space Program to kick off the re-Imagineered land.

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:

The idea for a futuristic rocket or jet ride in the manner of Dumbo had been kicked around in early planning for Tomorrowland, but with time and money in short supply, it never materialized. So what happened after Disneyland opened? And why did Walt not decide to just use another Dumbo ride system for Tomorrowland? Several reasons.

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.

The only option left to Walt, was the simplest one, and that was to purchase a standard off-the-shelf ride system and then give it the Disney touch. What Walt’s team located was an amusement park ride that was relatively new, known as Roto-Jets (later also known by Strato-Jets and Satellite Jets). The idea was similar to Dumbo,  but the entire base, which was a converted World War II German artillery gun, rotated. On top of the rotating base was a central vertical axis with twelve articulated arms each supporting a jet capable of seating two people, and thus increasing capacity over Dumbo by 50%. So Walt ordered one “Super Roto-Jet” ride from the firm of Kaspar Klaus of Bavaria, and with that Disneyland would receive its first major new attraction the Astro Jets ride.

Unique view of the central rotating axis on top of the rotating base, spring 1962.

Walt’s WED designers got to work in attempting to make it something over and above your atypical amusement park ride. As seen in the Imagineering artwork at top, all sorts of adornments were proposed in order to give it a more futuristic appearance that would be in themed harmony with its surrounding land. Most likely due to funds still being in short supply, the Astro Jets that opened on April 2 lacked much of this futuristic bric-a-brac. Leave it to super Imagineer John Hench to propose a bit of Disney dazzle for the Astro Jets to help add to its futuristic glory. One month after opening, in a May 1, 1956 Inter-Office communication, Hench suggested names for each of the 12 jets. They were: Canopus, Vega, Sirius, Castor, Regulus, Pica, Capella, Arcturus, Rigel, Spica, Procyon, Altair, and Antares. To those observant Institute readers, like your author, you will notice that Hench actually suggested 13 names. Such a minor fact as this, typically lost on less-than-diligent Disney Historians, caused quite the uproar in our morning DHI editorial board meetings (Todd and I do actually talk about what we intend to write about). Yes, only at the Institute could something like an extra name for an Astro Jet create such a fracas of historical inquisitiveness! Many theories were bandied about, with the most popular being that an extra vehicle would need to be on hand for any potential serious maintenance issues; say a jet had an accident, and the entire balance of the ride system is predicated on having 12 jets, you have a spare! Of course, we are DHI historians, and we couldn’t simply let this go … oh no! We wanted to know what was the odd jet out! So, with apparently nothing better to do with my time, this intrepid Institute investigator (CSI) pored through DHI’s photo collection to see how many of the names could be identified on the ride vehicles. This is no easy task, as with our DHI slide collection, photograph collection, and video holdings, that was a surprisingly enormous amount of material to sort through! Happy to report that twelve of the thirteen names were positively identified as having been emblazoned on the side of an Astro Jets vehicle that was in use. The one that could not be found, was (drum roll!), Pica! So we here at the Institute are offering a reward, for anybody with a real photo of the Pica Astro Jet! If you have one in your collection, share it here at the Institute, and we will find some uniquely vintage Tomorrowland item to award to you along with an Honorary Historian at the Disney History Institute certificate!

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!).

Another rare name, the Procyon; this being the only known photograph of this Astro Jet.
From Spring 1962, during the First National Newspaper Boys convention and competition (more on this
fun event in a future DHI essay). No telling if the Procyon is blue, but our educated guess … yes!

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!


**In the comments link the always helpful Major Pepperidge points out a stunningly clear B&W image of Procyon (so now two images for that).


(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 “” 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

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