The oldest operational amusement park ride in Europe – and according to some sources the world – marked its 110th birthday with a test flight by a modern day fighter jet pilot.
The Pleasure Beach’s Hiram Maxim Flying Machines opened in 1904, when much of the park still rested on sand, some of which can still be seen in the shop under the ride, among its workings.
Yesterday, BAE Systems’ lead project pilot for the ultra high-tech Typhoon aircraft Nat Makepeace took flight on the ride.
“I learnt to fly at Blackpool Airport back in the 1980s, but hadn’t ever been on this as I thought it looked a bit boring,” he said.
“But it’s really under estimated. In 1904 no one had flown before so it must have been a really scary experience back then – probably the scariest ride going.
“It’s very genteel compared to many things today, but back then it must have been incredible.”
It is a sentiment backed up by a report in the Blackpool Gazette & Herald on the flying machines’ maiden flight.
We reported: “The sensation is quite different from anything else, and the exhilarating influence of one’s rapid flight through the air makes itself apparent in an irresistible desire to cheer. The motion is perfectly smooth and all there is to give you an idea of the speed at which you are travelling is the rush of the breeze past your ears.”
In yesterday’s gusty conditions, the feeling was recreated for riders celebrating the milestone anniversary - travelling at up to 40mph, the open-topped ‘aircraft’ have no safety belts to hold you in as the machines spin outwards and up into the air.
After revolutions at full speed, casting whizzing shadows in the ground below, the engine cuts and slowly riders come back down to earth, with a slightly bumpy landing against the sides.
An appropriate soundtrack of Defying Gravity, from the hit West End musical Wicked accompanied the trip.
Pleasure Beach managing director Amanda Thompson said: “Everything was a bit crazy back in 1904, people came to the amusement park in their Sunday best, but like today they were looking for thrills and excitement.
“At that time, my grandmother spoke of being taken to hospital in a horse drawn ambulance – but there were people enjoying the flying machines.”