Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Flying Saucers, November 1964

One of the most intriguing "extinct attractions" from Disneyland's past is the Flying Saucers in Tomorrowland. Images (and footage) of the single-passenger (or double, if the people were small) saucers scooting and bobbing across the cobalt blue expanse as if by magic make many people wish they'd experienced it for themselves. Saucer riders almost always have big smiles on their faces, which only adds to the appeal. 

This young woman is clearly having a good time. I wonder if she has figured out how to control her spacecraft yet? Apparently it was tricky. Look at all those empty vehicles! What gives? 

The ride mechanism was ingenious (you can read about it in more detail at the wonderful Yesterland webite), but sadly it was also frought with technical issues. And the ride had a low rider capacity; those two problems doomed the Saucers, which closed in September of 1966 after only five years of operation.

Disney tried to update the concept at DCA with "Luigi's Flying Tires", but the vehicles were much larger and moved very slowly, and technical problem still plagued it. That ride lasted 2.5 years before they were removed.


Nanook said...

Interesting, it appears that both gals are wearing identical shoes. (Perhaps that explains the lack of 'lift' of their respective Flying Saucers).

My own experiences with these hovercraft in-the-round were also less than stellar - but still fun.

Thanks, Major.

"Lou and Sue" said...

I do have fond memories of my mom and me riding together on the Flying Saucers. Mom could lean and get that saucer to "swoop" across large open areas - maybe because she was lightweight - petite and in her 20s (and I was a little kid) at the time.

I never got the chance to ride on Luigi's Flying Tires and I can't imagine them moving gracefully - especially if they were much larger - and most people are much larger nowadays, too. The tire would probably "bog down," I'd assume. I would love to hear experiences from Jr. Gorillas who rode on it.

Fun pictures, fun times! Thanks, Major!


K. Martinez said...

Flying Saucers of Luigi's Flying Tires. A ride that looked better than the actual ride experience. I rode Luigi's Flying Tires and found it quite boring. Of course I never understood the thrill of bumper cars either. It was slow and the ride duration (time setting) was too short to really get into it and do anything. I was not impressed. Loved the look of the attraction though. Too bad too, because I really wanted to like it.

Thanks, Major.

Stu29573 said...

Fun Fact: The Flying saucers at Disneyland were ACTUAL interstellar craft pieced together from parts found at Roswell NM. Unfortunately, many parts were damaged which prevented the craft from actually flying more than a few inches above the ground. Also, being alien technology, when they broke down there was no way to fix them. Strangely, Disney never formally closed the ride. One day at park opening, the entire fleet was found to be missing with the platform glowing a faint green. Now you know! And remember, it's a "Fact," so you don't have to Google it!

Melissa said...

Vrooooooooooooooooooom! Good catch on the twin shoes, Nanook!

DrGoat said...

Never got to ride Luigi's Tires but I remember having a great time on the Flying Saucers. I didn't weigh much either. Still don't for that matter, so Vroooooooooooom is was. I think it was too much work for my parents. I don't remember them doing that ride. I was sorry when our next trip came along and no Saucers.
Those have got to be Keds if I'm not mistaken. I think every kid on our block had a pair. I wore out a few pairs doing things that I can't do anymore.
Love that blue color of the riding surface.
Thanks Major. Hope everyone had a good long weekend. It was 106 degrees here, so it kind of put the kibosh on outdoor stuff.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I’m sure they bought their shoes at the same store, but don’t they look like pretty standard “Keds”-type sneakers? I would think a lot of people wore those! I think that at least half of the appeal of the Flying Saucers is that they looked so darn cool.

Lou and Sue, sounds like your mom had the knack for that ride! The swooping across large open areas sounds a lot more fun than bumping into the neighboring saucers. I can’t say I was surprised that Luigi’s Flying Tires closed so quickly - in spite of the larger vehicles, they still hadn’t figured out what to do about the low rider capacity.

K. Martinez, I’m with you, bumper cars might be a classic amusement park experience, but I quickly learned that it wasn’t much fun to have somebody (usually a much bigger kid with a sadistic grin) deciding that YOU were the person to crash into. I’ve seen videos of Luigi’s Flying Tires, and they move so slowly, and the vehicles are so big and lumbering, that it really doesn’t look like much fun.

Stu29573, I’m afraid you know far too much about the classified origins of the Flying Saucers. Men in dark suits (and very shiny shoes) will be knocking at your door later today! I heard from my Uncle Jasper that not only did the platform glow green, but there was a faint smell of ammonia too. Some say that they didn’t fly away, but that they just vanished. And you’re right, now it’s on the Internet, so it’s definitely true.

Melissa, imagine if each saucer actually made a loud “Vroooooooom!” noise! Like a bunch of Harleys passing by. I guess it would be impressive, even if you couldn’t hear yourself think!

SunnieDaze21 said...

My family had a chance to ride Luigi's Flying Tires in 2012. The ride vehicles were definitely larger (they had us sit two to a vehicle, side by side, and we're adults). You could get moving, but if you leaned too far in any direction, the tire would stop. I remember the duration also being noticeably short. We had a lot of laughs crashing into our parents and taking pictures, but you could tell the tech still had flaws. Still, I was disappointed when it was removed. It gave us Jr. Gorillas who had daydreamed about riding the flying saucers a chance to (mostly) experience what it would have been like!

Anonymous said...

I remember one ride on the flying saucers. I was a little kid, I had to go with my Mom, since I was too small to ride alone, and she was smaller than Dad. Mom had a sweater exactly like the one on the young lady in photo 2.

It wasn't much of a ride, it broke down while we were riding and we spent most of our sequence just sitting. I never went on it again because by our next trip, it was gone.

It was a good-looking ride, and looked like fun, but too many variables made it less enjoyable. One thing to point out, the handgrips, which are visible in today's pics, were shaped like gearshift knobs, but were fixed in place and could not be moved. They were just grips so you could throw your weight against the seat and tip the saucer in the direction you wanted to go. There was no other steering.

There were four ride bays, separated by a boom that moved like a windshield wiper. The boom would swing across and pen all the saucers up against the dock when your turn was over. This would allow the saucers in the other bay to roam around the ride surface until the boom came back.

You can just see the booms in photo 1, they are a different warmer gray than the dock. Each of them are now parallel to the main dock, you can see the saucers penned in two double rows, you either exited on the dock, or the boom.

I never rode the flying tires, it came and went between visits. I'm surprised that the concept was resurrected after the initial try.

Great photos of people having fun at the Park. Thank you, Major!


Anonymous said...

@SunnieDaze21, thanks for your memories of the Flying Tires. I'm glad you had a good time with them!

I just noticed that the young lady in photo 1 may be visible near the top of photo 2. We can't see her face, but the sleeveless dark green shirt looks the same. Now that I look again, both girls are visible in both photos, pink sweater girl in the lower right of photo 1.

Also visible, the CM's holding their "boathooks" that were used to poke the saucers to get them to line up.


Omnispace said...

I'm pretty sure it was not only the novelty of the floating saucers but the design of the attraction that made it appealing. Just that amazing deep blue to set off the white of the saucers and the orange accents is enough to make one want to jump-in.

I did get to ride Luigi's and while the vehicles were larger you could really get it to move around if you could get to an open space. As with bumper cars, it's difficult to do anything where everyone is all bunched-up. With two riders you really had to coordinate which way to lean. I really enjoyed it.

Major Pepperidge said...

DrGoat, when I see the original Flying Saucers scooting across that blue surface, it really does look like fun. The Flying Tires moved at a snail’s pace at best, like a version of the ride made for grandmas and grandpas. I agree, those shoes are probably Keds (see my comment to Nanook)! We had one day that got up to 117, but today has cooled off quite a bit. It’s still humid as all heck though.

SunnieDaze21, I think (but am not sure) that, just like the Flying Saucers, if you leaned a Flying Tire too much in any direction, the air that was trapped beneath your vehicle - the “cushion” that you floated on - escaped and the vehicle would temporarily sink to the ground. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it! I’m glad you and your family had fun, that’s the thing that matters ultimately, no matter what somebody else thinks about it. The ride that replaced it, “Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree” looks like one of the lamest rides I have ever seen in my life.

JG, Bob Gurr wrote about how the Saucers would regularly break down, in fact he described one problem in technical detail - I think I only sort of got it. It was definitely one of those rides that enhanced the park, even if you didn’t ride on it yourself. Kind of like the Skyway or the Peoplemover - just having it moving around the land added color, movement and energy. I’ve always wondered how people managed to get to and from their saucers without stepping on that blue expanse; I believe that the holes where the air came up were spring-loaded. I’ve never heard about any issues with that, so whatever they did, it must have worked fine. I did a post where I tried to show the different booms and platforms, but I have to run out the door in a few minutes so I don’t have time to look for it. I think that John Lasseter wanted to bring the Saucers back in some form, it was a personal thing for him, but they obviously had not worked out all the kinks.

JG, yes, the two young ladies were part of a larger group, we’ve seen some of them in photos before. Good catch on the “boathooks”, which I have never seen before!

Omnispace, I think you are right, it’s amazing how important color could be in making an attraction… well, attractive. You know what would be even better? If the thing had bold pinks, deep blues, and yellows and purples! That’s the Disneyland “look” these days, or so it seems. Maybe throw in some metallic gold or sparkly gems. Thanks for your memories of Luigi’s… it sounds like it could be fun if the riders had some patience and skill.

Anonymous said...

Note that the color pallat (sic) of the flying saucers was mostly duplicated in the interior of Space Mountain. Must be some kind of interstellar combination.

dennis said...

"Luigis Rollikin' Roadsters" replaced "Flying Tires". A definite improvement. Corny but fun. And 'Mater's Junkyard" is kind of fun. Not the worst ride in the world by any means.

Anonymous said...

One thing you can't miss...the smiles on those riding the Saucers. It remains one of my favorite rides. And Major...i was a 'glider', and not really interested in bumping into others. The feeling of freedom scooting across the entire length of the surface was wonderful for this 12 year old. Yes, it seemed to break down every visit I was there but it would also go back operational before the close of the day. :) KS

SunnieDaze21 said...

LFT was actually replaced by Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters. Mater's Junkyard Jamboree is a separate ride. I didn't love Rollickin' Roadsters. It was intriguing to see the cars "dance" on their own and marvel at the tech necessary for such a feat, but being lurched to the side and spun about in said cars without any control was not so marvelous.

Mater's Junkyard Jamboree was a little more fun. It reminded me of the Tea Cups, but without the joy of spinning the center wheel and making those in your party regret that last Dole Whip.

Major Pepperidge said...

Anon, I definitely remember NASA’s orange jumpsuits, as well as the lining of their spacesuits (at least around where the helmets attached). Rockets are always white, and the blue… well, maybe that’s just the blue, blue sky!

dennis, ah yes, that’s the ride I was thinking of that is so lame! Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters. Really, an improvement? Maybe it’s more fun than it looks??

KS, it’s recollections like yours that really make me wish I’d been able to experience the Saucers! I know I would have loved it, assuming I could have figured out how to move. Did they tell you what to do when you were in line? Or did they assume that folks would suss it out?

SunnieDaze21, you and dennis are right, I got the rides mixed up. The Rollickin’ Roadesters really looks dull to me. Again, hard to tell from a YouTube video, maybe it’s actually very fun. I see that Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is described as a “whip ride”, so I’ll need to check out what that was about!

Irene said...

The saucers! I was a teen during the time of its run and I did ride them a few times. Was disappointed when they were removed because I enjoyed them. I was pretty darn good at them and could really get mine to zoom.

I rode the tires a few times and agree they were not the same. Too big and clunky but on one of those trips I really got that tire to zoom just like the old days. Never could replicate again though sadly.

Melissa said...

The original Tomorrowland in Florida was all blue and white; it was like walking into a city in the sky. Very effective! It’s been returned mostly to that in 2020, with some strong orange accents (blue and orange being complementary on the color wheel, as Howard Johnson will attest).

Anonymous said...

Hi Major, yes the blue floor was "no step".

You can see a guest crossing the Rubicon in photo 1, getting out of his saucer and heading to the dock.

I wish I had the fun time on the saucers that so many of you did, but it was a great trip anyway. From other photos and souvenirs I have, it must have been 1965, and the source of many of my earliest memories of Disneyland. It made a tremendous impact on me as a kid and I love it to this day.


"Lou and Sue" said...

Am enjoying reading everyone's experiences with the saucers and the tires. Irene, you were soooo fortunate to have had the opportunity to ride BOTH!

Howard Johnson's...I miss their milk chocolate suckers (with different pictures on the front) that they sold at the cash register - probably in the 60s and early 70s. Does anyone else remember them?


Kathy! said...

My dad has told me about his ride on the saucers as a child. I rode Luigi’s tires a few times, and as everyone says, they were very slow and you had to coordinate with your ride-mate or you didn’t really move. If you were in a far corner and had a good clear path, you floated pretty good. They also had signage everywhere not to step on your inflated tire part of the vehicle, I guess not to deflate it (or to prevent you from falling if the air pushed back more likely)


MAJOR: Bob Gurr used to mention the air compressors failing when they would go into a unified “HUM” and then all three would shut down at the same time. The system and the idea otherwise seemed to work great. One think he USED to mention that in later years he stopped being up were the number of accidents of guests ( children mostly) that world step onto a air circle whose plate failed close after the saucers came to a stop. The accidents tended to be mostly children as there foot would cause the circle plate to lower and result in scraping the persons leg up pretty bad as the hole edge scrapped agains the leg sliding into the the opening. Wearing shirts or a skirt , this probably would have been fairly painful. In later years these accidents are not mentioned by Bob or any articles by Disney - I’m sure Disney had these detail omitted from writings and presentations in later years.

The Flying Saucers were planned to return to Tomorrowland as part of TOMORROWLAND’68 the phase two of New Tomorrowland 1967 , but this time indoors on a raised level under the canopy of SPACE MOUNTAIN. The original saucer design was to be used in 1968.

In the early 1990’s a revised MAG LEV version of FLYING SAUCERS was proposed to replace the Carousel of Progress in Florida. This time guests were taking a test drive of the newest SAUCERS in a futuristic “ Saucer dealership”. This attraction featured a rotating arena divided into two sections. A center elevated guests viewing tower slowed guests to watch the fun. This version too was all indoors.

Had the Luigi’s Tire attraction worked well it would have gone to Florida revised as the Little Green Aliens flying saucers from Toy Story . The reason the Luigi’s Tire theme was left out of the Florida concept because prior to the WDW New Fantasyland there was a proposal to replace ToonTown Fair with a version of Radiator Springs but it’s big attraction was a water raft ride in giant tires going through a junk yard - the ending was a whirlpool “slide/drop” that everyone at WDI called the “giant toilet bowl ride” THANK THE GODS ABOVE that this was NEVER built!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Major... I don't recall but I think there were instructions on how to move the Saucers. KS

Major Pepperidge said...

Irene, my older brother says that he thinks that we might have gone on the Saucers, but I would have been a very little kid, so I probably would have had to sit with a grownup. He also thinks we saw the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea walk-thru - another thing I have zero memories of.

Melissa, you can’t really go wrong with blue and white - see the fa├žade of It’s a Small World (although that does have some gold highlights)! I’ve always liked the look of Howard Johnson’s restaurants. Orange and blue are also the theme colors for the New York World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1964.

JG, I wonder how they dealt with the “no step” zone for Luigi’s Flying Tires? Maybe exactly the same way. 1965, you just managed to ride the Saucers before they were removed forever.

Lou and Sue, milk chocolate suckers? I mean, what’s not to like, although I don’t remember them personally. Were they hard candy, or actual milk chocolate? Because I know I would just bite one and not have the patience to lick. I liked the orange sherbet!

Kathy!, I remember that for a while, they tossed in inflatable beach balls (for the Flying Tires), presumably to add some excitement. But that ended, my guess is that some jerks probably spiked the balls right into other people’s faces. This is why we can’t have nice things!

Mike Cozart, YES, that was the phenomenon I was thinking of. I still don’t really understand the physics behind it, but then again, I don’t understand the physics behind a lot of things. Interesting that Bob has had to self-censor - no real surprise there. I guess that as long as he wants to be included in official Disney TV shows and other events, he has to tow the line. I can only imagine stepping onto one of those spring-loaded plates and having it give way. Even if you didn’t scrape your leg, it could hurt in other ways. I remember your description of the revamped saucers inside the Space Mountain canopy (wasn’t there going to be a Nautilus in there too?), that sounds super cool. And mag-lev saucers sounds REALLY cool! Expensive though, and still with a low rider capacity, that’s probably why it never happened. I agree, thank goodness the “giant toilet bowl ride” was not realized. I’m not crazy about water rides that soak you anyway, who needs soggy sneakers for the next four hours?

KS, I’m trying to remember if there is a recorded spiel from the Flying Saucers queue that had instructions? Part of me almost thinks I’ve heard such a thing.

"Lou and Sue" said...

Lou and Sue, milk chocolate suckers? I mean, what’s not to like, although I don’t remember them personally. Were they hard candy, or actual milk chocolate?

Major - they were actual milk chocolate.

Anonymous said...

Major...the verbal instructions don't register with me. The Saucers were noisy so I don't think verbal instructions could be easily heard. KS