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, all of which were 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 in storage. 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, the last of which was Barry Hudson in Ireland at the time of this article. Paratrooper number six was new to the Greatorex family and after a few changes in ownership it went to a non-guild showman. 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 it also went to a non-guild showman. Number nine was new to J. Wallis and had a string of owners in the Lancashire section before settling with 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) and Frank Hall junior, before entering into non-guild ownership, whilst the Price machine was acquired by William Holden.
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, he decided to build 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.
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 remained with its original owner at the point of this article. 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 Tempest lifting 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.
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, 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.
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, the Green family took one, 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 for David Manning, Swaley Smith and Benny Irvin.
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.
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