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This Closed Magic Kingdom Classic Shaped EPCOT Center and Gave a Generation Wings. Here's the Story.

Grounded

Image: Disney

If You Had Wings folded on June 1, 1987 after 15 years of service.

The reason for the closure is one familiar to fans of EPCOT Center and its similarly industry-driven dark rides: sponsorship.

You might have already recognized that Eastern Air Lines doesn’t sound very familiar. Fitting, because in the 1980s, the carrier – once one of the “four big” carriers in the industry – faced mounting competition from emerging “no-frills” airlines amid rising fuel prices. To make matters worse, Eastern had banked heavily on its mass purchase of a new fleet of Boeing 757s (the debut of the line) but was now finding itself unable to pay the $700,000 in interest, per day that the massive purchase required.

Image: Eastern / Boeing

Suffice it to say that Eastern had no choice but to cut ties with Disney, especially given that, in 1988, the airline laid off over 4,000 employees, cutting service to the Western United States entirely and minimizing travel to Orlando. Still, a weakened airline structure, rising fuel prices, and union pressures meant that even the downsized Eastern wouldn’t have wings for long.

Though their connection to Disney ends there, the story does get interesting when, in 1989 Eastern sold its Eastern Air Line Shuttle service to American businessman Donald Trump. Like many of Trump’s business endeavors in the ‘80s and ‘90s, the rebranded Trump Airlines never turned a profit, defaulted on loans, and became the property of the bank within a year. Another arm of the airline was sold to Continental Airlines.

Eastern Air Lines filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 1989 and stopped flying entirely on January 19, 1991 – two years after If You Had Wings closed. But don’t let that fool you – even when Eastern’s last flights landed, an aviation themed dark ride was still going strong at Magic Kingdom…

Though If You Had Wings closed on June 1, 1987, it wasn’t grounded for long. In fact, it was barely closed long enough to notice it was gone. The ride re-opened five days later as If You Could Fly. Disney had simply removed all references to Eastern Air Lines. But the most regrettable loss of all was the removal of Buddy Baker and X Atencio’s associated song that had become so integral to the ride. Akin to removing “Yo Ho” from Pirates or “Grim Grinning Ghosts” from the Haunted Mansion, the loss of “If You Had Wings” had deeply changed the experience.

If You Could Fly was a fine, temporary, sponsor-free replacement for the original experience, even if it didn’t earn any new fans and alienated quite a few old ones. However, it wasn't positioned to last for long. The de-branded If You Could Fly closed on January 4, 1989 after a run of about a year and a half.

Delta Dreamflight

Image: Disney

After a more proper renovation time of about six months, the building re-opened June 23, 1989 with Delta Dreamflight. While still themed to aviation (and now touting new sponsor and official Walt Disney World airline, Delta), Delta Dreamflight was nonetheless almost entirely new. The dark ride now whisked guests through the history of aviation from the 1920s to the skies of the future, all represented via simply-animated, pop-up book style vignettes.

Image: Disney

To the tune of a new, original theme song, guests would soar through animated scenes of the early barnstormers and propeller planes, then pass through the elegant dining area of a commercial airliner's first class accomodations.

Image: Disney

The Omnimovers would then sail through scenes of Japan, glide over the streets of Paris, and enter into the hypnotic, spinning turbine engine of a jet plane. On the other side, the conical speed room was alive once again with soaring sights and sounds that let riders experience the majesty of flight in person. 

Given that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior, perhaps you can predict what happened next… On December 31, 1995 (closing off a six year run) Delta Airlines dropped its sponsorship, in part because of the massive investment they'd make in sponsoring the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. So when the ride re-opened the next morning, January 1st, 1996, it was officially called Dreamflight as Disney allegedly weighed whether keeping the ride around would worthwhile without a sponsor footing the bill.

Ultimately, Disney must’ve decided the ride would stick around and it was worth the effort to “de-brand” it, so after six months as Dreamflight, the ride inside the Tomorrowland showbuilding received its fifth name change on June 5, 1996: Take Flight had any references to Delta removed or obscured, but otherwise looked quite the same as the 1989 Delta Dreamflight.

So many millennials may remember glimpses of Delta Dreamflight / Dreamflight / Take Flight from their childhoods. But of course, Take Flight wasn't airborne for long, either. As names swapped, Tomorrowland was reborn around the aviation dark ride, and it would soon be absorbed into a new way of thinking... and a new, controversial path for Tomorrowland.

On the last page, we'll see what became of If You Had Wings, where it was reborn, and where it lives on today. Let's prepare for touchdown...

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There are 2 comments.

I loved this ride. It was quick to get on and you never felt like you were in line because the line was always moving. Plus, I remember that this ride did not require a ticket (back in the days when you bought packs of tickets). I remember getting off it and getting right back on.

Thank you for this article. If You Had Wings was my fave ride of my Disney Parks childhood in the 70's & 80's. I also rode Dreamflight a lot, even though it was not as good, just because its lines were minimal. Buzz Lightyear is okay, although I don't really like playing games. I was glad you posted all the lyrics to "If You Had Wings" and rode us through a wordy recreation of the ride. It was so nostalgic. Besides that, even though it was my favorite and I have fond memories of it, I already forget a lot about what went on in that ride.

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