Is Disney World 3D Mapping Its Empty Theme Parks?

    As you might know, Disney will be capturing their theme parks from a helicopter over the coming days. As a matter of fact, they started today, flying over Magic Kingdom for about 2 hours. We were able to spot the helicopter flying earlier today, passing over Cinderella Castle as it was in the process of being repainted.

    Helicopter flying a pattern over Magic Kingdom

    After we saw the helicopter fly off property, we decided to look up the registration number for the aircraft and noticed something odd. As you can see in the video below, the helicopter didn’t only fly down the middle of Main Street USA like we first saw when we captured the photos, they flew in a grid-like pattern, presumably mapping every inch of an empty Magic Kingdom and surrounding resort area.

    As you can see, the flight path focused on the Magic Kingdom theme park and area resorts. If Disney is using this helicopter to 3D map property, the flight path here is interesting as it encompasses the Magic Kingdom resort areas as well as the Magic Kingdom parking lot.

    For their second flight today, the helicopter mapped Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

    UPDATE (6/18 10am): The helicopter is mapping EPCOT this morning.

    We reached out to the best photogrammetry photographer we know, @revimagineering on twitter. We’ve previously linked to his impressive work in some of our Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge aerial construction updates. Check out the immersive 3D model he created of the construction below.

    While he didn’t believe that Disney was using photogrammetry, he did consider the possibility that they are using LiDAR, a form of mapping with lasers that can be used to create 3D models!

    Here’s a closer look at the rig off the nose of the helicopter. It definitely looks to be more complicated than a standard video camera that might be used for promotional filming, as was first reported to us.

    Equipment on the front of the helicopter

    Here’s a look at what a LiDAR setup might look like in a helicopter and what kind of results it can produce.

    Helicopter flying over Cinderella Castle

    Disney currently has plans to continue the helicopter flights through the weekend, likely 3D mapping all four theme parks.

    The mapping of the theme parks comes at a time where the low flight of the helicopter (around 500′) won’t interfere with any operations or potentially bother any guests who would otherwise be in the theme parks if they weren’t closed.

    Disney hasn’t commented on what the helicopter flights are for beyond “reference footage”.

    As you likely know, Disney is in the process of building several large-scale projects like the TRON Lightcycle Run and the entire EPCOT overhaul project.

    So what do you think? Does all of the evidence suggest that Disney is 3D mapping their theme parks? Let us know in the comments below or on social media!

    As always, keep checking back with us here at for the latest Disney Parks news and photos. We’ll continue to bring you news and photos, where possible, through the Disney Parks closure due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and will resume our normal coverage once the parks reopen to guests on July 11th!


    1. I’ll guess they are taking measurements or other evidence to help make a case for the property tax lawsuits.

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