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Captive Flying Machines (Blackpool Pleasure Beach)
Beach Blackpool is, to say the least, an unusual park. Crammed
into an area no bigger than most theme park car parks, visitors
are met with the most incredible mass of rides from every era of
the amusement industry. For over a century, the park has made it
its business to combine the introduction of prestigious new
rides like The Pepsi Max Big One, with the preservation of the
classics of yesteryear. If you want proof, take a look at the
northern end of the park and, sandwiched between 2000’s giant
indoor flume ride, Valhalla, and the 1935 wooden Grand National,
you’ll see the greatest treasure of all. The Sir Hiram Maxim
Captive Flying Machines.
the emergence of its new illustrious modern neighbours, the
Flying Machine does not look remotely out of place. If anything,
its gargantuan proportions make it look very much at home in a
park that is never ashamed to go for the big and bold approach.
Perched atop a group of shops, stalls, and arcades, a large
oil-derrick like structure forms the hub of the ride, above
which ten brightly coloured arms umbrella out, supported by a
network of wires. Between these arms you’ll find the “Flying
Machines” themselves, ten rocket shaped capsules each capable
carrying eight riders. All in all, the ride is a sight to
behold, and in many ways just as impressive as mountain of steel
that is The Big One.
For such a large and majestic ride, the entrance is very understated, buried away at the back of the ride between seafood stalls and arcade games, and facing towards the very different frontages of Valhalla and the classic Derby Racer carousel ride. The queue makes its way up the stairs to the main platform, where your tickets are collected or your wristband scanned to allow you through the turnstile. A quick peek into the control box will reveal that little has changed from the day the ride opened, and the ride is operated through a very old fashioned on-off switch. While other parks might have replaced the original controls with panels of flashing lights and beeping screens (or more likely, demolished the ride completely), everything here is just as it was on opening day. In fact the one and only acknowledgement of the 21st Century is the quiet beep of the turnstile as it scans the wristbands of those passing through.
in the sea air, riders are left to their own devices to decide
where they’re going to sit. More often than not, they are
spoiled for choice, as the ride seats an astonishing eighty
people, well above anything built in the modern era. In an age
where many rides feature multiple restraints, it is quite a
surprise to see that Pleasure Beach Blackpool still trusts its
visitors enough to allow them to ride without anything to hold
them in. Unfortunately, the sides of the planes are quite sharp
and unfriendly, meaning that sprawling across a double seat
becomes impossible for more than a few seconds.
current fleet of aircraft are slightly kitsch space-shuttle like
affairs, which until 2003 featured the legend “Pleasure Beach
Airlines” on the side, and the tail numbers GT01 to GT10, in
honour of Pleasure Beach Managing Director Geoffrey Thompson.
Nowadays, the age of commercialism has caught up with the ride
and it is now decked out with adverts for Ryanair. Strange to
think that, back in 1904, the ride hinted at the distant fantasy
of manned flight, whereas in 2004, it is used to advertise cheap
package deals to Tenerife.
warning, the machine will slowly and quietly come to life. At
first, the side of the plane will drag along the edge of the
platform, but soon the scraping sound will disappear and the
planes will start to edge away from the platform. Gradually, you
will find yourself getting higher and higher above the ground,
swinging out over the rooftops of the nearby arcades and rides.
By the time the machine reaches full speed, riders will no doubt
be surprised at how high and how fast the ride seems.
combination of the ride’s surprising speed and the exposed
seating position means that you soon discover that the ride not
only simulates flight, but also the sensation of being caught in
a hurricane. One thing that is not to be recommended is riding
the Flying Machine straight after Valhalla, as the cold wind
will combine with your soaked clothes to give you an almost
instant bout of pneumonia. In fact, it is surprising that the
planes don’t suffer from turbulence, rather than flying around
in perfect formation as they always do.
you feel the machine reach full power, you look around and
realise just how far from the platform you are now travelling,
and how far apart the cars have grown. Swinging out well above
the crowds on the pavement below, you get a sense of how
incredible the ride must have been back in 1904, when the idea
of travelling through the air like this must have been quite
that the ride is enjoyable only for its historical significance.
Even today, there is a genuine exhilaration to the ride. At full
flight, the sheer size of the circle your aircraft defines in
the Blackpool sky, coupled with the power of the motor, and the
strength of the wind, serves to make the ride seem quite
awesomely powerful. It may not be a “thrill ride” in the
normal sense, but it manages to generate a tremendous sense of
excitement and wonder, quite unlike virtually any other ride in
you carve your way through the sea air, it is difficult not to
be impressed with the views. Almost of the Pleasure Beach’s
major rides are visible during your flight, and it’s easy to
imagine the changes that the ride has seen in its days. From
towering above rides like the Bicycle Railway and the Jack and
Jill Slide, to its current position among fellow grandees, the
Derby Racer and Grand National, and the new generation of rides
like The Big One, Ice Blast, and Valhalla. A ride on the Flying
Machines is a perfect way to remind yourself of how grateful we
should be to the Pleasure Beach for maintaining its balance of
new and old rides.
As if you are being woken from a dream, you feel the motor begin to slow down, and your aircraft begins its decent. The slowing is very gradual, but eventually you find yourself nearing the platform, and as the car again begins to scrape along the edge, it’s time for you to return to the 21st Century. As you exit the ride, you head through the Maxim Emporium, where among the usual Pleasure Beach souvenirs, you’ll find a display of information about Sir Hiram Maxim, and a window through which you can see the original motor, complete with ornate paintwork, whirr into life as it makes the next group of riders airborne. As if to emphasise the ride’s history, the motor actually sits on the sand, harking back to the ride predates the promenade, and that in 1904 the Pleasure Beach literally was a group of rides built on the beach.
far the best time to appreciate the Flying Machines is at night,
particularly during the illumination season. Somehow, this adds
a whole new dimension to the ride. The structure is elegantly
decorated with lights along the wires, and makes an awesome
sight when up to speed. Meanwhile, riders can look out onto
everything that makes the Pleasure Beach what it is, and soak in
the electric atmosphere of the park. Further afield, you’ll
see the town alive with the prom, the piers, and the Tower lit
up in the distance. It enables you to take a step back from the
hustle and bustle of the crowds and appreciate what it is that
makes Blackpool and the Pleasure Beach so indefinably special.
Flying Machines is the very definition of a perfect family ride.
Its ability to thrill without being intense means that every age
group will find something to enjoy. Children will no doubt love
the sensation of flying, and the ability to go on a large ride
without being hindered by height restrictions. Parents will no
doubt relish the sense of history that hits you from the moment
you climb the steps to the entrance platform. Grandparents can
enjoy a large ride manages to be both thrilling and smooth, and
perhaps relive memories of riding it in their youth. There
aren’t many rides in the world that can honestly boast of
offering fun for absolutely everyone, but that’s exactly what
you get from the Flying Machines.
is something quite humbling about the Flying Machines. The
overwhelming sense of history is quite awesome, and generates a
great sense of perspective. How many of today’s new rides will
still be holding their heads up high after one hundred years of
operation? How many parks would have the sense of tradition to
maintain rides to the point where they are as good as new after
an entire century, resisting the temptation to demolish it in
favour of some new short-term money-spinner? Somehow, when you
consider how long this monster of a machine has been in place,
thrilling generation after generation, suddenly all your little
worries and day-to-day grievances seem pitifully insignificant.
Anything that can give you a sense of your place in the great
scheme of things has to be worth preserving, and the Flying
Machines does it brilliantly.
It would be easy for thrill-seekers to dismiss the Flying Machines out of hand, but to do so would be to ignore a truly incredible ride. Even in a park that has as many treasures as the Pleasure Beach, the Flying Machines stands out as the jewel in the crown. It is a real piece of working history, and a great ride even after all these years. A tribute to the generations of people who have worked so hard to keep it in good condition, and to the millions who have climbed those steps and taken a flight through the Pleasure Beach’s airspace. As it begins its second century of operation, the Sir Hiram Maxim Captive Flying Machines remain a truly first-class way to fly.