Lifting Paratroopers

A. Barker's Lifting Paratrooper, manufactured by Hrubetz, Rugby Fair, 1984Quick Facts

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 rides.

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.

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.

The last machines were built around 1980/1 and by now they had evolved to include a tubular boom and the more thematic Paraglider 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, Pat Evans of Porthcawl (later owned by the Murray family in Ireland), Clacton Pier, Doubtfire (Anderton and Rowland), Bottons Great Yarmouth, Belle Vue (later at Mablethorpe) and finally Anthony Harris famous Paraglider.

Harris' Paratrooper (Lifting), manufactured by Maxwell, Newcastle Town Moor Fair 1983

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. 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 which went to Ireland with the Hudson family.

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.

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