Abandoned USA: Derelict Disney Runway

When thinking of DisneyWorld, most people think about meeting their favourite Disney characters, snapping pictures with the castle in the background and riding rollercoasters while paying prices so extortionate for the experience, it makes the U.K. cost of living crisis look like we just lost some loose change.


Most people don’t think of abandoned super-projects.


But that’s exactly what lies right next door to the Magic Kingdom. The famous theme park has an enormous abandoned project carved into the landscape which is so close to the main entrance that it can be seen from the main car park. Hidden away just behind a line of trees, lies a huge runway that was constructed as only one part of an even bigger super-project with the idea of serving a futuristic community, but was ultimately flawed in its design and suddenly shut down following one of humanity’s darkest days.

Walt Disney’s dream of the DisneyWorld Resort was vastly different to what it exists as today. Today, DisneyWorld operates as a collection of theme parks and hotels, but the original idea was to create a living, thriving and futuristic community to showcase the best of humanity’s technology and how the most up-to-date technology could improve lives. This idea was called EPCOT (Experimental Prototype, Community Of Tomorrow) which, over time, has evolved to become a theme park, far from the fully functional community it was dreamed up to be.


Part of the EPCOT concept was to create an airport that served the community. This spiral-designed airport with four runways was meant to allow tourists from across the world to fly directly into DisneyWorld Resort and then into the parks. But after Walt Disneys death, the plans for a four runway airport were scrapped. During the early 70s, construction was completed on one runway as a proof of concept for the airport idea, appropriately named: The Lake Buena Vista Airport.

The airport was minuscule with no hangars and only able to hold four planes at a time. The runway was also very short, at only 0.3 of a mile long (most aircraft need significantly more space to take off safely and land again). For this runway, special aircraft called STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) were only ever able to use the airport and for the first few years after opening, one airline did operate out of the airport to bring in tourists from larger airports. The runway was also one of a kind, as (allegedly) the planes taking off or landing would run over a set of grooves that played the tune: ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ as the planes ran over them.


However, it didn’t take long for things to take a bad turn for the runway project. A few years after it was complete, the elevated monorail system (another element of the EPCOT project) was constructed. The monorail ran directly parallel to the runway as well as dangerously close to it. Planes taking off and landing in frighteningly close proximity to an active monorail system was concluded to be too dangerous and aircraft operations were halted immediately.

With no planes taking off or landing on the runway since the 80’s, it lay quiet but largely unaffected until a cold September morning in 2001, when terrorists hijacked four commercial planes and crashed them into icons of America and the Western World as a whole. Following the 9/11 attacks, Disney World was recognised as potential target for future attacks and was soon given its own designated No-Fly Zone airspace up to 3,000ft. In 2014, the No Fly Zone restriction changed from a reoccurring ‘temporary’ status to ‘permanent’ and even to this day, the restricted airspace over DisneyWorld is classified as: ‘Special Security’.

From that point onwards, Mickey Mouse has had the same airspace protection as Washington DC and New York…

Within the No-Fly zone lays the… yes, you guessed it: Lake Buena Vista Airport. With one of the tightest airspace restrictions above it, the airport vanished into history and Disney converted the runway into a parking and storage space.

Despite being nothing more than a road with scattered containers on it, the former runway was still fairly popular with tourists, who would drive down the runway at 45mph to hear the tune of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ being played as their car runs over the grooves. Although the existence of the grooves has been debated, one source states that: ‘for safety purposes, the grooves were removed in 2008’.

Today, there is next to nothing to showcase what is left of the runway. The airport project, which started with a great promise to serve as the primary hub of the community of tomorrow, has found itself reduced to nothing more than a long stretch of tarmac, hidden away from the public eye.

Easily accessible for tourists with no signs to dissuade the public from visiting, the runways new function has stayed the same for the last twenty years: storage, parking and driver training. Other industrial machinery, such as diggers and lorries, are dotted over the site with occasional piles of dirt showing up as well. Given the site is active, it’s not unexpected to see vehicles and people moving
about.


Over fifty years on from the creation of the Walt Disney World Resort, the original idea from Walt Disney of that thriving community has all but been forgotten about by the modern corporation, but the first steps that were taken towards this massive dream still leave their imprint on the land. The runway meant to serve the EPCOT, but unable to ever fully fulfil its intended purpose, now finds more purpose in the same way as the many, many cast members that work at Disney: helping out behind the scenes to maintain the magical illusion inside the parks themselves.

Last Updated on 7 December 2022 by Michael

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