Burbank's Gemini Space Capsule of Love

As a kid I loved space and space exploration, something I have documented on Avocado Memories: To the Final Frontier - In a Cardboard Box.

Somehow, when I lived there, I was never aware of the fact that Verdugo Park in Burbank had, as a unique playground attraction, a mock-up of a Gemini capsule. It was donated to the city by Weber Aircraft Company, a Burbank business. The capsule was made out of boilerplate and was used to test the ejection seats.

When the Gemini program was superceded by the Apollo program, the capsule was donated to Burbank. The photo at top shows the mock-up - proudly bearing the Weber Aircraft logo and "Burbank, California" - sitting attached to a rocket sled. The capsule was fired down a track at hundreds of miles an hour, and then the ejection seats (with seated dummies) would be blasted clear. Once, it malfunctioned and the rockets powering the sled broke loose and shot through the back of the capsule, which had to be rebuilt before testing could continue.

The next photo is from 1964 and shows the test crew, with the capsule painted and with proper doors installed. You can see the rocket array in back.

The bottom photograph (found by Mike McDaniel) dates from 1969, after the capsule had been placed in Verdugo Park, its new home. Pictured from left to right are C.E. Heimstadt, the Vice-President of Weber Aircraft, John Whitney, the Mayor of Burbank and George Izay, the Burbank Parks and Recreation Director. A commendable sense of civic pride is apparent, and the children appear to be content, scrambling over the attraction like monkeys.

Sadly, the capsule is no longer there, having been removed in the early Nineties. As America and Burbank moved from the socio-industrial Cold War mode to peacetime, citizens found other uses for the attraction. A lady who works in the city's Parks and Recreation department stated that it was taken away "...because they had no idea of how many kids were conceived in it!"

E-mail from a reader:

I worked on the Gemini System from the onset in late 1961 to its completion in 1964. I was the project test engineer for Weber and supervised/conducted all the off-the-pad, sled and in-flight ejection tests during that period. I enjoyed the pictures. My sled test crew shown in the photo are L-R, Robbie Robinson, Gene Burkey, Gordon Cress, Carl Mogren, Glen King, Bob Redding, Sol Sirota, Mal Hale, Lloyd Thompson and Don McCauley (MAC).

The photo with the Weber World on the side of the boilerplate spacecraft (by the way, the units shown in the photos are called boilerplate vehicles and not mockups). BP vehicle #3 had the white boilerplate fixed hatches and the BP vehicle #3A had the operational Gemini hatches for the later tests. Anyway, we had an artist come up to China Lake and he spent one whole day painting the Weber World on the side of the BP spacecraft. The next morning when the McDonnell and NASA guys got there they just had a fit and demanded that we paint over the Weber logo. So the artists work never made it to a test and this is probably one of the few pictures with the logo that exist.

I co-wrote an article for Air Power History magazine on the Gemini System back in 1997 (Winter issue).

I have many fond memories of Weber Aircraft and the Gemini Program. I really enjoyed your web site. Keep up the good work!

Gordon Cress

More reading about the Gemini ejection system may be found here. My thanks to Matt Sparks for the top two photos and some text.

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