Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom was a magical place. Here I am, freshly off the “If You Had Wings” Eastern Airlines attraction.
You may be too young to remember, (and you bet it both excites me to make a statement like that, as I am old enough to have made over four-decades of Walt Disney World memories, and it pains me as I have seen some of my most favorite and cherished attractions leave the parks) but the now-beloved Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin used to be occupied by an attraction called, If you had wings sponsored by Eastern Airlines.
What? Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was not always there?
No my friends: It was not.
If you had wings was my family’s park opening tradition. Before we rode anything else, before we watched any parades or ate any food, we made a straight shot, bee-line into Tomorrowland to jump onto the ride. To ride, If you had wings meant that we had arrived: our vacation could start, and we could get on with making more fun.
My family had been wrapped in the Eastern Airlines brand, from the moment we left our home to the time we arrived in Orlando. Eastern was a major partner in the cross promotion of Walt Disney World: It was the WAY air travelers got to Orlando.
As a preferred sponsor and partner, Eastern treated its little mouse-fans-in-the-making to in-flight custom plastic Mickey bags filled with coloring sheets and crayons. Airports in Eastern’s hubs were filled with bright and colorful travel posters picturing Mickey and his gang side-by-side with the company’s flight crews.
My sister and I took all the bait, and not long after our fist visit to Walt Disney World in 1975, we found ourselves as bonafide fans. We knew how to map out our days, and we would sing the overly infectious, If you had wings theme song when we anticipated our next trip.
The ride was meant as a promotion of the areas where Eastern had air service. You, as a Disney fan most likely came by car or air. In the case of air travel, you probably came by way of Eastern. So why not get this captured audience excited by all the other places that Eastern flies to? Hence, Eastern invested in an attraction in Tomorrowland, based on the tagline, “Eastern: We’ll be your wings.”
It was exotic, air-conditioned and free. As a non-ticketed attraction, it was also budget-friendly and lured huge crowds in its first years.
The ride’s omnimover car, ran around a track through multiple ovoid-shaped “theaters” that featured live action films of the travel-worthy locations Eastern hoped to promote. This track is the same now used by the famous Toy Story attraction that now occupies the space.
The car sat two people, and I remember keenly, the fantastic magic of the safety bar lowering itself onto my lap. (Anyone else ever marvel at this feature? You know you did!) The opening sequence began with projections of airplanes and seagulls, along with the sounds of bird caws, accompanied by a whoosh of wind and the highly infectious, eponymous tune “If you had wings” written by Buddy Baker and X. Atencio.
The ditty went a little something like this:
“If you had wings! If yoooouuu had winnngs! If you had wings, had wings had wings!” all sung in a rising and falling tone by a very enthusiastic chorus. (Yep, that was it.)
The omnimover made its way through showcases of the Caribbean and Mexico (See the Gran Fiesta Tour starring the Three Caballeros in Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion for the heavily influenced, If-you-had-wings-style) and onto 180-degree, round projection theaters that felt as enveloping as 360 degrees to a novice rider.
The magic of the ride was the multi-sensory experience.
Now before any nay-sayers begin trashing the ride and saying things like; “The resolution on the projections was poor!” “You could always hear the sound of the projectors!” “It was shameless self-promotion!”
I really didn’t care about any of that.
Yes, I am sure the technology was underdeveloped and in its infancy…well, so was I!
My sister and I (my Disney ride partner in crime) had never experienced anything like it before. The rush of the wind and the speed of the projection in the theaters made us feel like we were flying over snow capped mountains, racing across fields and even Soarin’. (Yes, I do believe the round-screen technology eventually developed into one of my family’s current favorite attractions in Epcot.)
We felt speed, and lift and excitement: all the the things you need to lay the groundwork for adventure.
The ride concluded with the deep tones of Orson Welles as he bellowed:
Eastern Airlines agents stood by to take any prospective reservations as riders exited the attraction. If you had wings closed its doors in 1987 when Eastern pulled its sponsorship, soon to shut down its airline services. The attraction space wound its way through various iterations until it settled into the popular Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin in 1998.
The ride occupies a special place in my memory: If you had wings will forever be a Tomorrowland favorite and will mark a time in my life when the Disney magic began to grow.
(Photos from the personal collections of Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons and Denise Fuhrmann.)
Did you like, “If you had wings”? What do you remember about it? Share your memories with us! Never had a chance to ride? See a POV video here.
Kristin Fuhrmann-Simmons is a food and travel writer and social media marketing manager in the great State of Maine. When she is not seeking out the next-best-thing-she-ever-ate or planning her next cooking class, she is busy scheming for her runDisney vacations and cooking with her family. She can be found at @kennebunkportmaine and @kafcooks on Instagram and at kristinsimmons.com and www.tablemaine.com.