Disney’s imagineering department is renowned for its innovation and its ability to surprise guests with unexpected sights and sounds. But in the modern age of technology and social media, it’s increasingly difficult to keep new developments a secret…especially a flying dragon.
When Disney announced its collaboration with director James Cameron for an Avatar-themed area in Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom park, many bloggers pointed out a 2010 patent for a “flying entertainment vehicle” that looked like a flying reptile. Could this be applicable for the new Avatar-themed area?
And then, yesterday, Tammy Zaninovich, a California restaurant owner looked up in the sky and saw…a dragon. Like any good observer, she snapped a series of pictures and posted them to FaceBook. And the excitement began.
The craft, launched from Shafter’s Minter Field, about 2 hours north of Disney’s Imagineering home base in Glendale, CA closely corresponds to the earlier plans filed by the Walt Disney company. It is an ultralight aircraft using a fan and kite to keep its solo pilot aloft. The body of the aircraft is all dragon, with a 15 foot wingspan that gives it a breathtaking profile. News crews arriving at the airport in the wake of the FaceBook photos found any further investigation stymied by non-disclosure agreements between the staff and Disney which, although not clarifying the dragon’s potential use, certainly confirmed the craft’s origins.
Speculation currently continues to link the flying dragon with the upcoming Avatar land at Animal Kingdom, but if the reported details of the craft are true, that may be questionable. Zaninovich told the Bakersfield Californian (image gallery here) that the creature ”breathes fire and the mouth opens and closes,” characteristics that do not correspond with any creatures seen thus far in Cameron’s world. Fire breathing dragons sound far more traditional, and since Glendale serves as an imagineering headquarters for Disney projects around the world, it is possible that the flying craft may be targeted for any Disney project, perhaps even one overseas. Those details do not, however, in any way negate the possible Avatar connection, since part of Disney’s interest in Cameron’s film franchise lies in the knowledge that 2 more films are upcoming, allowing Disney to take advantage of new world elements…and marketing.
Regardless of its final purpose, the flying dragon is an awe-inspiring sight. Drawing on childhood dreams and re-purposing modern technology in a breathtaking way that inspires its viewers to suspend their disbelief, the ultralight aircraft has the potential to amaze viewers wherever it finally emerges. For now, Disney fans can dream and once again believe that Dragons do indeed fly…at least in California.