The Dive Bomber

Williams Brothers’ Dive Bomber, manufactured by Lusse/Eyerly, Birmingham Onion Fair 1959Quick Facts

Manufacturer(s): Eyerly (imported), Lusse (under licence)
Debut year: 1939
First UK produced: 1939
Last UK produced: c1949
Total UK number: about 25

Summary: Eyerly patented this thrill ride in 1938, conceived as part of his background in flight-simulation training. The ride consists of twin cars mounted on a vertical rotating arm, the cars spinning on their own axles. The trick is that the rider is never turned upside-down, but the Dive Bomber remains a fearful ride. Built under licence at Blackpool, the original machine had a tilting boom that gave another plane of flight, but this was quickly discarded. Innovative showmen twinned the machines in later years to increase capacity.

The Dive Bomber can be argued to be the first true thrill-ride, cutting an imposing site on any fairground up until the 1980s. The ratchet noise of the chain drive combined with the stark and lonely nature of the vertical car (often decorated in fighter pilot imagery) made the Dive Bomber a tentative hit on the fairground, something that loitered in the punter's memory. Its fearsome nature, and its harking back to the fears of a not long forgotten second world war, made it a difficult money earner for showmen – though a few showmen did persist with the ride.

As with many fairground rides, the Dive Bomber was developed at Blackpool as part of the Lusse Company (who were also producing Octopus rides) under license from US company Eyerly. Eyerly patented the ride in 1938, a continuation of their forays in flight-simulation derived fairground machines, all retaining the distinctive "-o-" in their names! The first machine made its debut on the Pleasure Beach in 1939, though further production was curtailed by the war. This machine occupied a prime spot on the Pleasure Beach, and was equipped with full backflash, keeping the punters thrilled until its removal in 1961. Research has revealed that this original machine, on the verge of being scrapped, was relocated to the sister park at Morecambe when this park sold their Bomber to Scottish showman J.H. Wilmot. This original Bomber then enjoyed another 10 years at Morecambe before purchase by Lancashire showman Charlie Wright, who twinned the machine (see later).

Records of early Dive Bombers are difficult to correlate, with many early machines going in to parks, and a few more travelling examples retiring to parks at an early point in their history due to their immediate failure to take the expected money. Billy Smart claims to be the first showman to travel a Dive Bomber, with Mr Smart himself claiming to be the first person to ride one, and he certainly travelled one immediately after the war when it is assumed that production recommenced. Thought the Smart fair was a large concern in this era, the Dive Bomber didn't stay too long before being sold to rising showman Bob Wilson. This was travelled for 10 years before a chain of owners including H.P. Studt, Sanders and Horatio Spencer owned the machine, with Searles buying the Bomber in 1968 with an eye on twinning it as soon as possible.

Other early showmen to travel a Dive Bomber included Alf Deakin (advertised for sale by February 1947, fate not known), J. W. Leonard (sold fairly quickly by W. Noble, fate not known), W.H. Marshall (travelled between 1946 and 1950, possibly sold to Rhyl), W. Nichols (sold to Ireland then re-imported by Harry Anderson, to Billy Roberts, J. Appleton, Peter Swallow, and then back to Ireland), Billy Williams (fate not known), S.V. Parkin (later sold to J. Edwards, Henry Rogers, Coupland, Leonard Chadwick, J.A. Pullen and Matt Taylor), Rose Brothers (to J. Hammond, O'Brien at Arbroath, Jimmy Williams), Arthur Traylen (to T. Stringfellow, Alan Turner, Tom Holland – now with a non-guild collector), Powell and Rich who possibly sold to Oliver Aveyard (purchased by Cullens in 1947), Henry Armstrong (sold to Ireland in 1950), Luke Jobson (purchased by Matt Taylor in 1955), J.A. Butterworth (poss ex Southport, later sold to Chipperfield and Mayne, Peppper Biddall, Ramon Henderson before being twinned to Searle's machine).

Parks to take a machine included Porthcawl in 1947 (later owned by Henry Anderson, Ron Harris and Alf Burden, eventually scrapped at the American Adventure theme park), Hoadley at Whitley Bay in 1947(sold to Lusse agent Wilkie, and then to Peppers, Hammond and Charlie Wright), Rhyl in 1950 (operated at various locations and bought by Percy Cole, then Bobby Remblance, Leslie Lemm, W. Gallagher and J. W. Downs), Barry Island between 1951 and 1956, Botton Brothers (who had 2 machines, one for Battersea and one that moved between Skegness and Great Yarmouth), William Noble at Seaburn and South Shields (later sold to Bert Ayers, Dudley Edwards, Roy Carter, Frank Osbourne, Denzil Holmes, Barry Stokes and Slaters – now exported), Corrigans at Scarborough (bought by George Summers in 1961, John Nichols, Tommy Cooper, C. Simmons, C. Rutledge, R. Bishton, A. Wilson, and now in non-guild ownership), Morecambe (sold to J. H. Wilmot then a succession of owners until its current time as a non-guild machine), Southport in 1947 (fate not known), Dreamland at Margate (sold to J. Smith in 1965), as well as mystery machines open at Kursaal, New Brighton and Southsea in the late 1940s.

Charlie Wright's double Dive Bomber, manufactured by Lusse/Eyerly, Knutsford May Fair, 1981

In addition, Butlins appeared to have at least one machine being sighted at Withernsea, Felixstowe and Sheerness – this was sold to Sid Stocks, then G. Webb, then famously to Roger Hall who travelled it for over 25 years before it was sold to Ireland, with a recent return to a non-guild collector. This machine was made famous for its regular spot at Goose Fair.

These machines were fairly indistinct, and lacking in individual decoration, though a major development occurred when they were twinned up to make double machines. Matt and Doug Taylor completed the first Double Dive Bomber in 1961, and this machine became a major part in their success story. The machine travelled with Taylors up until 1984, when it was purchased by Michael Mitchell, later owners include Kilsyths, with the machine being scrapped in Ireland in recent years. The Searle family completed the second twinning, carrying this out overnight whilst on the fairground – this double went on to travel with John Evans, J.W. Stewart, Pinders and Chris Coombes, before its outstanding recent restoration by Joby Carter. The third twinning was of the Botton Brothers machines, completed at Battersea around 1970 – this was sold to Bowman and Gumble ('Moonshot') in 1974 and Freddie Stokes in 1977. Freddie christened the ride 'Star Trekker' and took it to many large fairs – the ride is now packed up in Ireland. The final double was made by Charlie 'Bomber' Wright in the Lancashire section, becoming a landmark at many North West fairs such as Knutsford – this machine having recently gone in to non-guild ownership following a period with the Peters family.

Recently there has been a movement amongst enthusiasts and preservationists to resurrect this magnificent ride, with more and more sets falling into the hands of eager project workers. So the history of this ride is far from over.

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