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.
John Collins' Loop-o-plane (two of them) debut at Necastle in 1937.
T. Evans' machine takes a trip in to the Midlands, shortly before its
conversion to an Over-Rider.
Brian Collins presented amusements at Alton Towers in 1960s - including
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…
John Mohan's ESL Loop-o-plane - a clever copy.
Reg Smith's 'next generation' of Loop-o-plane.
Winterbottom's ESL machine - evolving towards the Voyager.
Part 2 - Dream Boats, Voyagers, Skymasters,
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.
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
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’.
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.
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.
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…