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Huffington Post - The Tinker Bell drone that Disneyland almost got

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Huffington Post - The Tinker Bell drone that Disneyland almost got

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The Tinker Bell drone that Disneyland almost got

Over the past week or so, there have been a number of stories out there about media companies and drone technology. With TMZ insisting that it wasn't really in the market for a celebrity-seeking missile, Mid-Missouri NPR affiliate KBIA revealed that it had in fact launched its own drone program. Which Scott Pham, KBIA's content director said that he hoped to " ... use this technology to tell stories."

Well, as it turns out Pham wasn't the only one who saw the dramatic possibilities in remotely controlled aircraft. Back in the early 1980s, Walt Disney Imagineering actually test flew a drone-like device that -- if the company's lawyers had actually allowed this thing to take to the air nightly over Disneyland Park -- would have brought Peter Pan's pixie pal Tinker Bell to life in a whole new way.

Tiny Kline, Disneyland's first Tinker Bell. This 71
year-old circus vet flew over the Happiest
Place on Earth from 1959 through 1963.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

You see, ever since June of 1961, the nightly fireworks display at the Happiest Place on Earth has been kicked off by Tink dramatically appearing high in the sky above Disneyland. Only that's not really a fairy flitting around Sleeping Beauty Castle, but, rather, an undersized stuntwoman dressed in a Tinker Bell costume who's sliding down this cable that's been strung from the top of Matterhorn Mountain to a backstage area between Fantasyland and Frontierland. This brave woman's nightly "flight" ends as she smashes into this full-sized mattress that's being held up by two burly Disneyland cast members who are just out of sight of the thousands of tourists below.

Well, after 20 years of having a smallish stuntperson try and pass herself off as a petit pixie in this nighttime show, the Imagineers began looking for other ways to send Tinker Bell soaring through the skies over Disneyland; some other sort of technology that would then allow this Disney Fairy to look as though she really was flying around and above Sleeping Beauty Castle rather than sliding down a pretty obvious piece of wire.

One of Disneyland's early Tinker Bell holding the piece of wire that connects the Matterhorn
to the place where this human-sized pixie will eventually come in for a landing between
Fantasyland & Frontierland. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And what with all of those small gas-powered helicopters that came on the marketplace in the early 1980s, the Imagineers got an idea. They then hot-glued one of these remote controlled flying machines to the back of an acrylic shell that had been previously used in a small female Audio Animatronic. (To be specific, the Imagineers had taken the diminutive Alice in Wonderland AA figure which used to appear in the "Mickey Mouse Revue" attraction at WDW's Magic Kingdom. And then -- after pulling out all of her high-tech inner workings -- they also removed Alice's classic costume, long blonde hair and flesh-colored outer covering, leaving only this Audio Animatronic's empty, hard clear plastic shell).

The Imagineers now filled the body cavity of this see-through plastic female form with Christmas twinkle lights. They then turned all of those lights on, powered up the remote control helicopter which had been glued to this AA figure's back and sent this crudely crafted faux Disney Fairy aloft.

The Alice in Wonderland AA figure as she appeared in the "All in a Golden Afternoon"
number in the Mickey Mouse Revue attraction at WDW's Magic Kingdom.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

If you want to learn more about what happened once this Tinker Bell drone took to the skies over Disneyland, you're either going to have to click on the headline above or go straight to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jim-hill/the-tinker-bell-drone-tha_b_2234136.html.

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  • I fondly remember The Mickey Mouse Revue at WDW. Is it still playing at Tokyo Disneyland? The Huff. Post article is great. I especially liked the hints at where they may use remote controlled characters in the future.

  • Hello Jim - hope you're well!  Just wanted to clarify -- the Tinker Bell photos featured above are of Judy Kaye who was the 3rd aerialist to portray Tinker Bell at Disneyland in the late 60's/early 70's.  Tiny was a much older woman - in her early 70's - when she flew at Disneyland for 3 years in the mid-60's.  Cheers!

  • My sister and I saw something that we thought was Tink when we were kids and I've been chasing the memory for years trying to figure it out. Seems to me that it was in the 70's though and didn't look like a flying bunch of christmas lights. It did have sound. We knew it was Tink and it disappeared almost as soon as it appeared buzzing around us near Carnation Gardens when it served burgers. I wish I had a clearer memory. I've been chasing this memory and answers for years. It was awesome and made our night.

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