Part 1 - Upright Paratroopers
Manufacturer(s): Ameco, Bennett, Hrubetz (imported), ARM
Debut year: 1960
First UK produced: 1961
Last UK produced: 1985
Total UK number: app 47
Summary: Gentle ride based on a tilted spinning frame with hanging umbrella
covered cars. The upright machines suffered from slow loading/unloading.
The Paratrooper ride established itself as a fairground favourite throughout the 1960s and 1970s, offering an exciting aerial ride with a comfortable rather than white-knuckle experience. The history of the ride splits into two discernible chapters the upright versions and the later lifting versions, though these two histories are interlinked in many ways. Some upright machines were converted to lifting versions, whilst the lifting version bought about a general re-theming of the ride and an introduction of the term
Skydiver to the UK fairground.
AMECO announced the first UK based Paratrooper in World's
Fair at the end of 1960, and ran constant adverts for the machine throughout
1961. These adverts expressed that only 12 machines were licensed to be
built, and always gave a list of pending owners describing them
as the jet-set of the fairground community. The photograph of the Paratrooper
in the advertisements was always the Blackpool machine, and the Pleasure
Beach seemed to have some dealings with the company in the same way that
they had been tied up with the design and manufacture of Dive Bombers
and Octopus through the Lusse company. This first machine debuted in Blackpool
in Summer 1960, and actually took the plot that the Dive Bomber had occupied
for over 20 years. It was a standard AMECO design with 10 cars, and was
marketed as quite a debonair ride for the period.
AMECO kept to their promise of delivering no more than
12 machines, these all being manufactured between 1961 and 1963. The machine
proved a winner, provoking various clones, but its eventual demise came
through the introduction of the Lifting Paratrooper. However, many of
the original 12 still remain. The first machine, after spending 10 years
on the Pleasure Beach, travelled briefly in Lancashire with L. Silcock
and Joe White, before being purchased by David Cole (who is believed to
still have the ride packed up). The second machine set the trend for many
others, being bought for a park and then moving on to a travelling life:
it spent a brief time in Belle Vue, then Botton's park at Great Yarmouth,
before a long tenure with John Collins subsequent owners included
Knightly, Darren Stanley and Braden Holland. Machine number three was
bought for Dreamland, but this was converted to an upright by Wards in
1974, and sold to Marshall Herbert. Machine number four was new to Porthcawl
before joining the Lancashire Paratroopers regiment under the ownership
of S. J. Cubbins later owners included Jack Strand, Charlie Cotton,
Albert Hart and Gary Bradley the latter owner breaking the ride
up for parts. The fifth machine again went to a park and replaced a Dive
Bomber, being operated by Corrigans at their small park at Scarborough
20 years on the park was followed by a string of travelling owners
and the machine is now operated by Barry Hudson in Ireland. Paratrooper
number six was new to the Greatorex family, and after a few changes in
ownership is now in non-guild operation. Number seven was new to Morecambe
and had a spell travelling with Chris Morris before a burn out in 1990.
The eighth Paratrooper was new for the Kursaal Park, and after various
owners is now in non-guild ownership. Number nine was new to J. Wallis
and had a string of owners in the Lancashire section before settling with
current owner Gary Bradley. Colin Noble bought Paratrooper number ten,
and this machine was later exported after travelling with Keith Turner
and C. Stokes. The last two Paratroopers were bought by Battersea Park
and Arthur Price the Battersea machine being later owned by Stanworths,
Jones, Alldays (Barmouth), Frank Hall junior, before entering into non-guild
ownership, whilst the Price machine is now travelled by William Holden.
Jones' Paratrooper (ex Battersea) photographed in 1986
Joe White's Paratrooper - the ex-Blackpool original machine - 1978
The first of the rival machines was quickly assembled
for Douglas Codona, this machine being the first to travel, and making
a well announced debut for Hull fair in 1960. The story goes that Douglas
had considered ordering an AMECO machine, but couldn't afford the waiting
period, so (after videoing the operation of the Blackpool machine with
the help of a Maxwells draughtsman) commenced building his own machine.
This machine was a one-off that later had problems due to the circumference
being slightly too small, and was quickly sold to Aberavon Park, before
a brief spell travelling with George Godden in the late 1960s (exported
around 1967). Its spell at Aberavon proved important, since the manufacturing
firm of Ivan Bennett had a hand in the park and soon commenced manufacture
of their version of the Paratrooper.
Aberavon Park, 1963
Codona's machine travelling.
Bennetts made a handful of 10 car Upright Paratroopers
before establishing themselves as market leaders with the lifting version,
though the early history of these Bennett machines is not clearly established.
The debut machine for Norman Print was made in 1963, and this machine
is still with its original owner. Stevens had a model built in 1964, which
quickly passed through the Chadwick, Anderson, Crick, Pratley, Price and
Booth families before its purchase by Henry Scarrott. Charlie Phillips
had a machine that quickly passed to B. Cole, D. Mott, Sailor Joe White
and finally the Hiscoe family who converted to their
ride. Another machine was built for Jimmy Graham, later owned by G. Morrison
and Rueben Slater, whilst a machine built for Porthcawl was purchased
by Matt Taylor. This latter machine was instrumental in Matt and Doug
establishing the UK's first lifting machine. The chain of owners for other
Bennett machines is more difficult to trace a problematic machine
spent a brief period with George Lowe at Crimdon Dene before a return
to the manufacturers around 1967, and early postcards suggest a possible
machine at Skegness Butlins in the mid 60s with a for sale note in WF
at the start of 1969. This could well have been the machine opened by
J.G. Botton and later travelled by Tom Cooper, Cullens, McCauley (both
Ireland), J. Holmes, G. Rogers and Alfred Miller.
Print's Paratrooper in 1964.
Michael Thompson's Bennett machine, 1990s.
Other manufacturers came in to play later on, but the
market had started to dwindle. Jacksons made only one machine new
to Roy Cubbins as early as 1961 but quickly passing to Albert Manning
and then Derek Rogers at Southend (currently in store with John Chipperfield).
The Webb family had a 12 car version made by Lyle Engineering around 1980
(current whereabouts unknown), whilst a company called Sheffield Engineering
built an ingenious 12 car machine for A. Ball in 1981 (this machine passed
to H. Smith, W. Gallagher and Terry Wright before crossing over to Ireland).
Modern Products made three distinctive machines in the late 1970s
for Alf Ball, Fred Warwick and C. White.
Albert Manning's Jackson Paratrooper, 1968
Webb's strange machine, 1980.
Johnny Fry's 'Sheffield Engineering' built machine, 2001.
Fred Warwick's distinctive Modern Products Paratrooper, 1978.
A handful of Hrubetz machines were imported, with some
of these utilising the rim drive mechanism. Benny Irvin took the first
(passing to Herchers after a long spell in Ireland), R. Dailey took the
second (current whereabouts unknown), the Green family took one (still
in their ownership), a well travelled machine was taken by Albie Rogers,
whilst rim drive versions were taken by Dobsons and Tom Smith. Following
these rim drive machines were three versions manufactured by ARM
David Manning, Swaley Smith and Benny Irvin.
Dobson's Hrubetz machine, 1983.
Remaining machines include a Chance version imported
by William Thurston in 1979 (later with James Holland), a Bakker 12 car
machine imported by Charles Appleton in 1981 (since scrapped), another
12 car machine imported by David Bishton in 1978 (since exported), a 12
car machine travelled for many years by Searles (later with Paul Day,
then at various seaside resorts), and finally a 10 car machine built by
Harry Steers for L. Silcock at Blackpool in 1981 which survived for only
a few months before re-emerging as a lifting version.
David Bishton's 12-car machine, 1984.
Searle's 12-car machine, 1985.
Part 2 - Lifting Paratroopers
Manufacturer(s): Bennett, Maxwell, Franklin, Hrubetz (imported)
Debut year: 1971
First UK produced: 1971
Last UK produced: 1987
Total UK number: app 70
Summary: The use of hydraulics created a more thrilling ride and the ability
to load / unload in a singular operation. This ease of throughput made
the ride popular with the showmen, and saw the early rides develop a strong
visual identity of massed light bulbs, setting the trend for other 1980s
The story goes that Matt and Doug Taylor spotted a Lifting
Paratrooper on a visit to one of the big German fairs, and saw the obvious
advantages of the quick turnaround in loading/unloading, and the added
thrill for the riders in actually lifting from a ground-level position.
A self-built machine was constructed in 1971 using a borrowed frame from
their upright machine, with a new frame constructed the following season
(allowing them to operate both their upright and lifting machines). This
debutant scoop was in the character of the enterprising and resourceful
Taylor family, and the initial machine had a cog-drive taken from a cement-mixer.
Later modifications included a rim-drive followed by a hydraulic rim-drive,
making it an early totally hydraulic machine. This original machine travelled
later with the Graham family and was recently operated by Rodney Johnstone.
Under the ownership of Grahams, Largs, 1987.
Still going strong in 2001.
Bennetts quickly established themselves as the builders
of these machines, though their prototype model was a 12 car machine for
a Swedish customer. This machine came back to home soil and, since 1987,
has been operating at Bridlington seafront and Seaburn amusement park.
The Bennett machine has a distinct style, and machines were quickly built
for a number of clients most of these sold for travelling. Approximately
23 of these 10 car machines were built, with around 14 still active on
the mainland and a further 5 in Ireland. The abundance of lighting became
part of the spectacle, and showmen such as James Mellors quickly established
the Skydiver as a big-hitter.
Mellors' Skydiver, 1983, superbly lit.
Ronnie Bentley's Paratrooper leaves the Bennetts factory.
The last machines were built around 1980/1 and by now
they had evolved to include a tubular boom and the more thematic
hoods. Bennetts remained fairly unchallenged in their dominance of the
market, though seven machines were built by famous manufacturer Maxwells
between 1972 and 1980. These were large and heavy 12 car machines that
featured intricate centre arrangements and a more square style car with
stud lights. Operators of Maxwell machines were Bottons Skegness (still
in the park and an excellent machine), Pat Evans of Porthcawl (now owned
by the Murray family in Ireland), Clacton Pier (still present), Doubtfire
(now Anderton and Rowland), Bottons Great Yarmouth, Belle Vue (now at
Mablethorpe) and finally Anthony Harris famous Paraglider.
Tony Murray's Maxwell Paratrooper.
Anthony Harris' Paratrooper - as new - 1980.
Harry Steers built two machines a rebuild of
an upright went towards Martin Jennings clockwise turning Paratrooper
and George Guyatt bought one in 1981. Three 12 car machines were built
by Franklins in 1977/8 for Stanley Thurston, J. Rowland and J.
Remblance (now in Ireland), and the only other home-built Skydivers were
the converted upright at Margate Dreamland, a machine travelled briefly
by the Hickey family, Spencer Hiscoe's conversion and a Dudley Bowers
built clockwise turning machine now resident in Ireland with the Hudson
Barry Hudson's Franklin machine, 2004.
Hiscoe's uniquely converted 'Tempest', 2004.
John Turbett's finely turned out machine, 2003.
Post 1980 Skydivers were generally imported Hrubetz
machines, with many of these going in to parks. Approximately 13 of these
smart machines have operated over here, with the following still evident
up to recent years: Johnny Cook (Hunstanton), Gary Marshall (South Shields),
Cameron McKay, Richard Smith, Wickstead Park, Butlins (Skegness), Pleasure
Island (Cleethorpes) and Baron Cohen. In addition there are Irish machines
owned by Warner Wilders (ex Stokes and Portobello) and Caseley (ex Rose,
Barker, Crole and Scarrott). The only other European import appears to
be a 12 car machine sighted in various Butlins camps, with an example
apparently still active at Bognor Regis.
Morecambe's 1981 import, sold later to the Stanworth family.
For an updated and expanded version of this article
please see the Fairground Mercury issues 28/1 and 28/2.