Local News

Thursday, Jun 21 2012 06:00 PM

Dragon spotted over Minter Field

  1. 1 of 3

    By Photo courtesy of Tammy Zaninovich

    A Disney-made flying mechanical dragon soars above Shafter's Minter Field.

    click to expand click to collapse
  2. 2 of 3

    By Photo courtesy of Tammy Zaninovich

    A Disney-made flying mechanical dragon soars above Shafter's Minter Field.

    click to expand click to collapse
  3. 3 of 3

    By Photo courtesy of Tammy Zaninovich

    A Disney-made flying mechanical dragon soars above Shafter's Minter Field.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer jcox@bakersfield.com

Flying a mechanical dragon hundreds of feet in the air above Shafter's Minter Field is no way to keep the thing a secret.

That was apparently Disney's intention, however, when it swore airport officials to secrecy by having them sign a nondisclosure agreement as part of its rental of a hangar, a golf cart and rights to test the modified ultralight before shipping it off to Florida later this summer.

But what about everyone else who has business at the airport and happened to look up at the sky at various times over the past year?

Maybe they wouldn't notice.

They did.

"It looks real," flight trainer Justin Dyck said. "I thought it was going to be in a movie or something and they throw a little dragon in there."

Restaurant manager Tammy Zaninovich snapped photos and posted them on Facebook. So much for the surprise.

"It breathes fire and the mouth opens and closes," she said. "It's pretty cool."

The independent Disney fan website Neverland Gazette says the dragon is part of a show Disney World is putting together based on the movie "Avatar."

The site links to a March 2010 patent application for a "flying entertainment vehicle" complete with technical drawings and explanations of how the dragon's tail wags and the wings fill up with air without upsetting the aircraft's aerodynamics.

Despite all of this, mum remains the official word at Disney.

"I can't really tell you much. So sorry," Disney spokeswoman Angela Bliss said Thursday, confirming only that what people around the airport saw (she never used the word "dragon") was a project of Glendale-based Walt Disney Imagineering.

"We're really always looking for new ways to expand the magic at Disney Parks," Bliss said. "But we really don't have any specific comments about what you're asking me about."

Minter Field's general manager, Sandy Worley, would not discuss the dragon, citing the confidentiality agreement. As interesting as the aircraft is, Worley said, she could only confirm that Disney was in town recently testing equipment.

Witnesses say the dragon has orange wings that span about 15 feet. They say Disney people come about once a month to test its flight performance and the distances required to take off and land.

Pilot and aircraft restoration hobbyist Patrick Wiens, who saw the aircraft flying at dawn a couple of weeks ago, said it's essentially an ultralight with a "kite kit." He said he has seen plenty of those, but "never something so artistic."

People he talks with around the airport have since mentioned the dragon to him.

"They had never seen anything like it, either," he said.

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