—By Kevin Fuller—
Throwing discs at targets is as old as throwing flying discs. As golf became a competitive part of Frisbee, players used whatever discs, mostly Frisbees of various models and molds, flew best for them. As the sport advanced, the need for more advanced discs pushed manufacturers to improve their offerings, which is still true today.
Night Flyer Set Back in the early days, years before the Aero, the Eagle, the Wally, or any other bevel-edged disc—back in July 1978—came the first disc produced explicitly for disc golf. A Frisbee known to all as the Night Flyer. It was a Wham-O 40 mold, but beefed up a bit with glow material to make it a heavier, better golf disc.
In the Disc Golf Association’s July 1978 News-Letter, Ed and Ken Headrick made the announcement, “We have also pulled a new disc out of the basket. A ‘Night Flyer’ - made for night play on our new night courses.” While heavier, the announcement puts weights in the 126g–136g range, so far from the hefty Midnight Flyers and golf discs that would follow. It's clear that Ed's original plan was for sets of four discs, as the article goes on to say the discs are hot stamped with numbers 1–4. However, multiple players can attest to getting full 1–8 sets right off the bat, suggesting that between the time the newsletter article was typed up and the discs were first shipped, the decision was made to expand them to an eight-disc set. Oh, and the price of a Night Flyer in 1978? $5 or $6 shipped, depending on how many you wanted and how they were mailed. Doesn’t everyone now wish they’d bought a couple sets back then and tucked them away?
IFDCA Newsletter, v1n1(article on page 15) The search for more details on the Night Flyer's introduction leads to the inaugural issue of the International Flying Disc Collector’s Association (IFDCA) Newsletter. IFDCA director Rick Neil interviewed Ed Headrick for the piece. In there, Ed suggests that Night Flyers came out in late 1975 or early ’76, but that doesn’t align with the DGA’s own announcement, nor the 1978 copyright date printed as part of the hot stamp (which does correspond to the DGA announcement). But 1976 was the year that Emmylou Harris released her Night Flyer. She apparently shared Ed’s belief that discs should be released from their bags and boxes and allowed to soar.
The window is open, so why don't you fly?
Could it be you have lost all the yearning to try?
Your cage is a prison, they've kept you so long
But wings are for flying and the throat for a song
So fly like an eagle and land like a dove
Go find all the places you must have dreamed of …
“Fly like an eagle and land like a dove” should become someone’s disc golf motto.
40 Mold That article provides the only known record of the quantity of Night Flyers produced (disc makers are notoriously bad at keeping production records). 001 states that only 1,000, give or take a few, were produced. Since they were such good golf discs for the day, most were immediately thrown. Mint condition Night Flyers are sought after collector items today, and complete mint sets are rare indeed. But the rest of the collection talk will be left to the second half of this two-part miniseries.
The Night Flyer then met its untimely death. As is well known, there was a trademark issue with the Night Flyer name, which is why after those first 1,000 discs, the Night Flyer was no more, and all future production would take place at 12:00 a.m. (or 0:00 if you're into 24-hour clocks).
Enter the Midnight Flyer. The earliest looked just like the Night Flyers, except for the added “MID.” The copyright update from 1978 to 1979 tells us this newer form of DGA discs came to light (or glow) in the new year. Not so obvious from just looking, but the Midnight Flyers added some brawn. According to Ed in that IDFCA article, Midnight Flyers used 40–45% phosphorescent glow material compared to the Night Flyers’ 18%. This made for some real heavyweight discs, some of which are well above PDGA legal weights. Through the first half of 1979 Wham-O and the DGA pumped Midnight Flyer plastic into 40, 41, 50, and 100 molds, and adorned them with identical hot stamps. It also appears that a few 22 molds were made in this time frame, but again, that's a part deux story.
In August 1979, Wham-O introduced the “beloved” trademark band (TMB). It encircled the hot stamp on all its discs, including the Midnight Flyers. (There's probably a whole future blog post on the Wham-O trademark band.) The original TMB was the Block band 4. There were runs of several molds with this version, including the 22, a few 40 variations, 50, 80, 100, and Fastbacks (FB19 and FB20) with a #8 stamp. Why just the #8? You guessed it … Part 2.
As popular as these discs were with players, it was a year and a half after the Night Flyer introduction before references appeared in the major flying disc publications. The Jan-Feb 1980 issue of Frisbee World included a Disc Covering the World ad featuring Midnight Flyers in a variety of molds. The first issue of Flying Disc Magazine in Feb 1980 has a reference to the 100 mold in the Briefly section, and more discussion in an interview with Scott Zimmerman (spoiler alert: for Midnight Flyers, he liked 41 molds for drives and 100 molds for forehands and hammers). The next issue has a review of the Midnight Flyer 22 mold in Flash Kingsley’s Metaphysical Disc Play article. However, the 22 mold's life was short as its production was discontinued (as opposed to disc continued) just months later, according to the September issue of The South's Sailing Circular.
Wham-O came up with other designs for their TMB that were less, well, butt-ugly. The Midnight Flyer adopted the Split band TMB as its standard for the remainder of their runs (except for minis). Along with the split band design change came disc variety in other forms. More molds and hot stamp colors! Until then they were like the original Fords—you could get them in any color hot stamp you wanted, as long as it was black. Midnight Flyers were embellished with blue, light blue, green, metallic green, red, orange, violet, white … and black. Colors were a welcome change unless you didn't want the hassle of now having to color-coordinate with your tux or black evening dress for those disc golf formals.
1981 ushered in the last changes to the Midnight Flyer line of discs. A player line was added just below the number. The copyright notice was updated and date changed. Some models were also adorned with a "DGA Approved" graphic to the right of the number. A more notable change was the introduction of colored glow plastic. Pink glow Midnight Flyers are much less common than their standard glow counterparts. They glow yellow in a way that seems more like an illumination than a glow. Much rarer than pink are green glow Midnight Flyers, and there are unsubstantiated rumors of blue glow. 1981 was also the year that introduced the Midnight Flyer mini and Pocket Pro marker discs, and Midnight Flyer calling cards. The Pocket Pros were originally offered for $1.50 each or a set of all eight for $10; a set sells for hundreds of dollars today.
The last group of Midnight Flyers to note is the modern DGA series. For the 35th anniversary, the DGA produced a limited run of 1,000 Squalls with #1. Over the next few years, 1,000 each of numbers 2, 3, 4, and 5 were released using Breaker, Hurricane, Steady, and Tsunami molds, respectively. These don’t have the same bright glow of the originals, but then again they do have to respect PDGA max weights, so the amount of glow material had to be managed. The DGA continued the Split band TMB as part of their design, but making it a DGA TMB. There are no announced plans by the DGA to release additional molds to fill out the set with 6, 7, and 8 discs, but who knows what will happen over time. In the meantime, you can match the 1–5 modern DGA molds with the 6–8 Fastbacks and create yourself a full 1–8 set.
Everything up to now in this article has been about the discs themselves. What about the players who used them? What great feats of disc mastery were accomplished with the aid of numbered plastic. The first story is a long one. Distance. OK, that wasn't that long, but the distances thrown, well that's a hot stamp of a different color.
Morten Sandorff World Record DiscPink 70C mold on display at the Danish National Museum Danish National Museum plaque The Midnight Flyer has the distinction of being used for three world distance records over the years, according to frisbeerecords.com. In 1980 Dave Dunipace threw a 141g 41 mold a record 139.63m (458 ft). Dunipace’s record didn’t stand long as it was broken twice later in 1980. It was the heavy 70C molds, and later the 71C* molds, that became the new darlings of distance. In his Frisbee World article on the 1981 WFC, Jim Palmeri wrote, “The introduction of the new DGA 70 mold Midnight Flyer™ added a new dimension to the distance event. No disc in the history of the sport has ever responded to a thrower's snap as much as this one does. It turned out to be a bit tricky to throw, but those who mastered it became one with Joe Youngman overnight. Those who didn't, became spectators after the first round.” In August 1982, Pål Broström threw a Midnight Flyer 70C mold 152.45m (500 ft), only to be bested the following May by Morten Sandorff, sending a pink 70C mold a new world record distance of 166.42m (546 ft). That disc now sits in the Danish National Museum.
$50,000 TournamentTom Kennedy 1st Place Midnight Flyer #2—50 Mold(not Tom's actual disc) Before the run of distance records, Midnight Flyers made their mark in disc golf. The Midnight Flyers played a prominent role in Wham-O’s famous $50,000 disc golf tournament in the spring of 1979. Tom “TK” Kennedy, the tournament winner, used a 50 mold Midnight Flyer extensively, including for the winning putt. It’s the only Frisbee TK ever retired. (See story in Disc Golfer.) After the event, there was a commemorative disc created—an 80 mold made with Midnight Flyer plastic. TK's winning disc, practice basket, and sets of $50K discs were auctioned off years ago with proceeds going to Ultimate Peace. Of course, that’s just one of many stories about Midnight Flyers being used to compete in and win disc golf tournaments over the years until bevel-edged discs eventually took over.
Now that you have a bit of Midnight Flyer history, if you are a collector and want an assemblage of Midnight Flyers how do you tackle them? After all, Stork just told us all again (see Fall 2020 issue of DiscGolfer) how important it is to specialize. Focus on a specific mold, a color, a style of TMB, all #1s (or whatever your favorite number might be, as long as it's 1–8)? How about collecting them all? Just how much wall space does it take to display 560 discs? 560?! What are they? Well, that's the final tease for part two of this Midnight Flyer introspective where the focus will be on collecting this glowingly wonderful family of disc history.
About the Author:
Kevin Fuller is one of the founders of the Flying Disc Museum and a mediocre disc player. Once upon a time he was decent, played ultimate at UNH in the '70s and then with Boston Aerodisc in the '80s. He competed in and helped organize local overall tournaments and was TD for the 1979 NH States and one MA States tournament ('79 or '80, he doesn't remember which).