Looping Rides

Quick Facts

Manufacturer(s): Eyerly (imported) for originals, ARM, Fabbri, Vekoma, Emmett, Huss, Weber for modern versions
Debut year: 1937
First UK produced: 1993
Last UK produced: 2001
Total UK number: 30 (original style) and 40 (modern style)
Summary: Simple concept, but very thrilling and 'forward looking' for the 1930s debut. Back-to-back passengers sit in a swinging arm which, via a method of gears and clutches, swings higher and higher until it perform a full loop. This was the first fairground ride to pioneer this movement. Sparse ride due to its severe nature, and known in various terms such as 'clogs' or 'hammers'. Continental manufacturers began creating modern versions of the movement throughout the 1980s, with lavishly themed pirate ships utilising a motor drive. Remains popular today.

Part 1 - Loop-o-plane

Eyerly developed the Loop-o-plane as early as the 1920s, as part of Lee Ulrich Eyerly’s intense vision to develop flying devices and training devices for would-be pilots. A flight training device was exhibited at a public event, and Eyerly quickly realised the potential as an amusement device. From the 1930s onwards Eyerly wrote the history of looping design rides, with his Loop-o-plane, Roll-o-plane (Dive Bomber) and Rock-o-plane. The Loop-o-plane was the simplest of concepts – cars performing a straight loop – and so tapped in to the secret dreams of many thrill-seekers, the desire to swing through 360 degrees. The machine was developed in 1934 and quickly patented in 1935, operating with a motor and friction clutches. The architecture was a single mast with two vertically suspended arms supporting a four passenger gondola.

The UK has the honour of hosting the first European Loop-o-plane when John Collins imported a twin machine in 1937. The machine was a strange sight, thin arms and hard angular cars, evoking a fear in the pit of the stomach. Its appearance soon gave rise to the nicknames of 'hammers' or 'clogs'. The challenge laid down to the brave-hearted rider was not always taken, and so the ride struggled to gain popularity, an unfortunate feature of many Eyerly rides. Loop-o-planes are mentioned sporadically in the 1940s and 1950s, with the ride seemingly finding favour at amusement parks, and research on these rides remains very patchy. None of these original rides remain, but interestingly three of the original machines found an extended longevity by conversion to 'Over-Riders'– essentially redesigning the Loop-o-plane to a twin style Rock-o-plane. All three of these Over-Riders were technically different, using differing arrangements and styles of cars, and all three changed hands with an alarming frequency. Leonard Chadwick’s machine, the original conversion, was the only one to spend a long period with a single owner, and this ride also attended some of the larger fairs such as Hull.

Photo: Loop-o-plane.
John Collins' Loop-o-plane (two of them) debut at Necastle in 1937.

Photo: Loop-o-plane.
T. Evans' machine takes a trip in to the Midlands, shortly before its conversion to an Over-Rider.

Photo: Loop-o-plane
Brian Collins presented amusements at Alton Towers in 1960s - including this Loop-o-plane


Photo: Loop-o-plane
Chadwick's original Over-Rider during a summer pull-down

The re-birth of importing rides from the US, pioneered by the likes of Keith Emmett, Geoff Thomas and Joe Manning in the late 1970s, saw a second wave of albeit the same Loop-o-planes arrive and try to re-establish a foot hold around the early 1980s. These machines are still around today, and one of them (whilst travelling in Ireland) was used as a blueprint for the first ESL ride in 1993. ESL quickly developed the ride into a more modern looking ‘Skyscreamer’ and constructed a further three of these rides, creating an almost hybrid ride between the old Loop-o-plane and the modern generation of Voyagers and Challengers. The ESL hybrid was indicative of a much earlier trend in Europe to take the looping ride to the next level…

Photo: Loop-o-plane
John Mohan's ESL Loop-o-plane - a clever copy.

Photo: Loop-o-plane
Reg Smith's 'next generation' of Loop-o-plane.

Photo: Loop-o-plane
Winterbottom's ESL machine - evolving towards the Voyager.

Part 2 - Dream Boats, Voyagers, Skymasters, Rangers

Bakker had already constructed a Loop-o-plane variant for the European market in the 1970s, though the ‘Boomerang’ saw no customers in the UK. This ride utilised the same principle and dimensions as the Eyerly ride, but saw modernised cars and the introduction of a backflash. The need to develop a ‘next level’ of looping rides was pressing even harder, and the European manufacturers quickly set to work.

Huss developed their Ranger in 1980, an audacious attempt to take the popular Pirate Boat through a 360 degree loop. The Bremen based company Weber simultaneously developed their Traum Boat, another Pirate variant performing a fully controlled loop. Both of these ride types were elaborately conceived and themed through the direct nature of the competitive dynamic that underlies much of the development on German fairs. The Dutch firm of Vekoma then entered the scene with their 1983 prototype ‘Skyflyer’. Dutch engineering worked on a more practical level, forsaking the drive for outward aesthetics and underpinning the design with qualities of easy build-up, transportation, etc – for instance the use of water-filled counter-weights. The ‘stripped down’ look was then translated into its own aesthetic, conveying futurism and excitement in equal amounts. The Skyflyer was a double gondola construction, and was in fact the work of a yet-to-exist company called Mondial, who approached Vekoma for help to make their ambitious plans a reality. The success of the Skyflyer would allow Mondial to flourish as a company in their right, catapulting them into the front-guard of cutting edge thrill design.

The introduction of these new generation upside-down rides in the UK was, for want of a better word, a topsy-turvy affair. Whilst we lagged behind in the introduction of the Huss and Weber models, the UK actually premiered the Skyflyer in 1983, even though the ride is ‘officially’ recorded as starting out in 1984. Pat Collins presented the Skyflyer at the 1983 Goose Fair and then followed this up at Hull, though the ride suffered a breakdown at Goose Fair leading to its premature pull-down and removal from the fair. Subsequent Vekoma Skyflyers were scarce in number in the UK.

Photo: Skyflyer
The prototype Vekoma Skyflyer at Goose Fair, 1983.

The Weber Traum Boat (or Dream Boat) appeared briefly at Alton Towers in 1983, lasting only a single season as the ‘Space Boat’. Margate also purchased a ride in 1983, followed by rides for Sheeran (at South Shields) and Pat Collins (at Barry Island and possibly also at Clacton’s Atlas Park). These latter two rides made early appearances at hull and Goose Fair, and were confusingly similar! Recent Traum Boats have also been present at Pleasurewood Hills and Pleasure Island (Cleethorpes).

Photo: Dream Boat
The Dream Boat at Goose Fair, 1986.

The Huss Ranger was even more scarce in the UK – an early model in use at Blackpool Pleasure Beach was followed by a short period of travel for Matt and Douglas Taylor’s ‘Looping Star’ and finally a 7 year period for John Crick’s ‘Starlight Ranger’.

Photo: Ranger
Crick's Ranger, 1996.

Dutch company CAH constructed a double Skyflyer type ride in 1985, though only two models were ever produced. Strangely both of these rides ended up in the UK – one was made brand new for Willie Webb, whilst the other was briefly owned by Billy Joe Butlin though originally constructed for the USA.

Photo: Voyager
Webb's Voyager begins build up, Grantham, 1988.

Far Fabbri scored a huge success with their Skyflyer type ride, narrowing the gondola construction such that complete construction could load around a centre pole. Fabbri rides remain popular in the UK, all of them uniquely named with vibrant top signs lettered onto the counter-weights. Fabbri continue construction of these rides, adding to the thrill factor by creating ‘dangly feet’ variations.

Photo: Skyfire
The Skyfire in full effect, 2002.

The other popular manufacturer was the UK-based ARM company, using the name Skymaster. ARM even introduced a more portable single-arm Skymaster to the scene in 1993. This single-arm construction was then taken up by Keith Emmett, who added another 4 rides to the flourishing UK scene. As the 1990s progressed the fairs became abundant with looping style rides from the firms of Emmett, ARM and Fabbri. It would be a successful period for these rides, but also a period in which fairground technology was advancing unbounded. The grand gesture of looping-the-loop, celebrated with such grace and style through the hugely constructed Traum Boats and Rangers, was now a more sanitised and compact affair with the designs from Vekoma, Fabbri, etc. The aggressive development in making these rides more practical in effect changed the driving force for fairground development. The compactness of these rides took away from the actual significance of performing the dream loop, and so paved the way for a torrent of design-driven machines that gave ingenious transportability, footprints, and build-up times combined with more intense and inter-related motions. The next generation of looping roundabouts was quickly arriving…