Jets

Codona's Jets, Maxwell, Town Moor Fair, 1953Quick Facts

Manufacturer(s): Lang Wheels, Maxwell, imported
Debut year: 1952
First UK produced: 1952
Last UK produced: c1960
Total UK number: approx 41

Summary: An early example of a 'rider-controlled' machine, the passenger able to pull back on a gear stick to release a pressure valve that lifts the arm and controls the angle of elevation. Introduction of the ride coincided with Dan Dare and the 'race into space' allowing some innovative artwork and theming.

The Jet Planes were developed by Maxwells in 1952 for North East showman John Hoadley, making a sensational debut at Hull Fair. The ride captured both the spirit of technology with its use of compressed air, and the spirit of popular culture with its hybrid blend of Odeon style design and space travel imagery. The clinching factor of the ride, however, was the autonomy it offered the rider, with each plane rider-controlled in terms of the up and down motion. This level of direct interaction was unprecedented, perhaps only seen in slight with the Swirl.

World's Fair correspondent "Cyclist" quickly moved to this new machine in his report of the 1952 Hull fair: "Outstanding among the riding devices in Mr. John Hoadley's latest acquisition – the Jet Planes. This brand new machine looks like being the favourite. In addition to the townsfolk who constantly flocked around it I noted quite a few of the riding masters keenly interested. The machine is circular and has a diameter of 54 feet. It has 12 planes each capable of seating 2 adults or 3 children. The ride operates in an anti-clockwise direction, and at first glance it suggests a mixture of the Dive Bomber and the Octopus combined. The planes are not unlike those fitted to the Dive Bomber and perhaps the most pleasing feature is that by moving what might be termed the "joy stick" he (or she) can raise or lower the plane when the machine is set in motion."

Maxwells went on to build two more sets of Jets, both of these also having the anti-clockwise motion and distinct lattice arms. John Hoadley's set only lasted through the 1953 season, and was sold at the start of 1954 to John Codona. This was then travelled for the best part of 20 years before being sold to Whaymanns, who later loaned the Jets to Danny Hamer. The Jets were last seen with Yorkshire showman Tommy Peel, the original cars still intact and sitting on a truck at the September 1983 Woodhouse Feast.

Maxwell's second set, new in June 1954 to Joe White, spent many years with their original owner before purchase by Walter Shaw in the early 1970s. These Jets were then travelled by Charlie Wright until their recent write-off in a motorway shunt. The third set, operated for many years at New Brighton, has recently become part of the growing collection at Folly Farm after a brief period with Henry Shufflebottom and Tony Fields.

Lang Wheels began production of Jets around 1954, and established the machine as a major ride throughout the 1950s. It is estimated that around 18 standard operation sets were built, all of them using a clockwise motion and tubular arms. As with the Maxwell machines, original cars were cylindrical with domed nose cone, though fibreglass versions were eventually introduced under the inspiration of popular programs such as Thunderbirds, the "planes" morphing in to "space ships" under the demands of popular culture.

Not content with building standard Jets, Lang Wheels went a step further and produced a lifting set for Botton Brothers in 1956 - this was apparently a conversion from a standard set - the machine was then converted further in 1960 to include the famous tipping motion, and the Vampire Jets were born. This original set spent its time in Great Yarmouth with a few visits to Botton Brothers' Christmas presentation in Olympia, the machine then passed to Heals at Brighton, Flamingoland (where it was combined with Crow's set) and is now with preservationist Alan Cauldwell. Three further Vampire sets were recorded on the mainland as follows: a set for McDonalds in Ireland and purchased by Botton Brothers in 1967 when they took over Skegness (this set was sold to Hayling Island and is now packed up with preservationist Philip Knightsbridge), a set for Pat Collins at Barry Island (this set stole the show at Goose Fair with its sheer size and strength) sold later to J. Crow and then used for parts with the Flamingoland set and finally to R. Wilson (later to Cogger, since scrapped).

Standard Jets, Lang Wheels, Oxford St Giles Fair, 1960

Other manufacturers of Jets rides were predominantly European, though Henry Thurston (trading as Sywell Fabrications), built a somewhat different set in 1960. This utilised an operator controlled lift, such that all the cars were raised at once. This strange machine was initially even more bizarre with a set of unique looking cars,  it now resides in Ireland with the Cork-based Williams family, who attached a set of Telecombat planes to the machine. The Telecombats were manufactured by Marbiere, and the rider interactivity was further increased allowing you to swivel and shoot down other planes. Barry Island and John Biddall were initial owners of such machines, the former being whereabouts unknown, the latter being up for sale and last open at Southend.

Current Telecombats operate at West Midlands Safari Park (no history on this one) and with B.J. Butlin at Seaburn (ex Birds of Ireland). An interesting footnote is that Safeco of Spain used the Telecombat design to create their successful 'Jumper' ride, with some Jumper sets (such as the imported machine travelled briefly by Walter Murphy) using salvaged Telecombat arms.

Perez Jets were operated by Marshalls (recently scrapped by Rodney Harrison), whilst miscellaneous continental Jets were travelled by A. Botton (later McIndoe and Sam Dobson), Pat O'Neill (later Folkestone, currently with a non-guild showman), Albert Evans (since scrapped), R. Bailey (laid up in Jersey) and J.J. White ("Les Meteors", scrapped).

For images of fairground rides visit our collections online

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