There aren’t a great deal of amusement ride manufacturers that started life building aeroplanes. The American Eyerly Aircraft CO. was initially set up to manufacturer training aids for pilots. The first was the curiously entitled ‘Whiffle Hen’, an airplane which only used two gallons of fuel per hour of flight.
The craft derived it’s name from a bird thought to be good luck that appeared in the Popeye cartoons, everyone thinks Popeye gained his strength from eating spinach, but in the early days he used to rub the whiffle hen instead.
Lee Eyerly’s dream was to make flight available to all classes, not just the rich. He was responsible for building Salem Airport, and ran a flight training school, as well as taking people up in his own plane at fairs and events.
His second great invention was the Orientator, basically and airplane fuselage suspended between what looked like a giant tuning fork. The wind from the propellor streamed across the aircraft wings and surface controls and allowed the pilot to bank climb and roll, just like in a real aircraft but without the cost and danger associated.
A few were sold (including four to the Cuban air force), but sales began to slow down. It was suggested by someone who remains unrecorded by history, that he take the device to a local funfair, or Midway as our American cousins refer to them. Allegedly he also sold rides in a real aeroplane that he flew, but soon noticed that the queue for the Orientator was far longer than for the real plane.
That lighbulb moment saw the focus of his company switch to amusement ride manufacturing. The trainer was re christened the Acroplane and was sold purely as an amusement device.
Line Of Amusement Rides
This was just the beginning. The ride was quickly followed by the Loop-O-Plane, Roll-O-Plane, Spider, Fly-O-Plane, all designed to give people a taste of what it was like to fly, just at that period in history when Aviation was beginning to take off, excuse the pun.
The Rock O Plane was invented in 1947, and the ride type still survives on many funfairs today. Some in the original style, others have been modified to create a slightly more thrilling and up to date ride.
Perhaps his most popular ride was the Octopus. Little seen nowadays on the modern fairground, there are still a few doing the vintage circuit at shows and rally’s, but it is considered a bit tame for the modern generation of thrill seekers.
The company continued in the business up until the mid 1980’s. Sadly in 1988 at a Florida fair, an arm on an Octopus ride snapped. The arm was suffering from metal fatigue. The crack was paint covered and unnoticed by both the ride owner and the State inspector. A 17 year old girl died from head injuries. In the wake of the lawsuit that followed, the company closed its doors in 1990.
The genesis of the Eyerly Aircraft Company was certainly unique as ride manufacturers go.
Consumer Product Safety Commission https://www.cpsc.gov/manufacturer/eyerly-aircraft-company
Lagoon History https://lagoonhistory.com/project/eyerly-aircraft/