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If you’ve ever flown on Delta, American Airlines, Southwest or any commercial flight, you might owe your experience to early aviation pioneers like Lee Eyerly, from Salem, Oregon. It was his dream to make flights available for everyone, not just the upper class. And, it was that dream that would eventually inspire him to invent several iconic amusement park midway rides, including Kings Island’s very own Monster.
Flight for Everyone
“Aviation must be brought out of the luxury class and made available to the individual purse before it can branch out very far,” Eyerly said in an interview with Salem, Oregon’s Capital Journal in April 1930. His aviation school sought to economically train early pilots during the Great Depression and he did it with two of his own inventions, the Whiffle Hen airplane and The Orientator.
The Whiffle Hen was an inexpensive, fuel efficient, small airplane that burned only two gallons of fuel for each hour of flight. Its name derived from a bird believed to bring good luck and made popular by the 1930’s cartoon “Popeye”. (The famous sailor originally gained strength by rubbing a Whiffle Hen instead of eating a can of spinach as he would later become known for.)
Perhaps the more important invention, the “Orientator” was a ground-based flight training device with a small airplane suspended inside what looked like a giant tuning fork. Air generated from an electric-powered propeller passed over the wings and rudder, and the operator was able to control the movements of the device just like they would with a real aircraft.
After early success and selling four Orientators to the Cuban government, sales lagged and the Orientator floor model gathered dust on Eyerly’s property. Then, one day someone suggested giving it a fresh coat of paint, taking it to the local fairground and charging 25 cents per ride.
The Midways of America
The Orientator was an instant hit and was proclaimed by some as the best thrill ride since the advent of the roller coaster. The device gave riders the experience of flying and was renamed the Acroplane -- the first in a long line of amusement park and festival rides manufactured by the Eyerly Aircraft Company.
The Orientator (a.k.a. The Acroplane)
See the the Acroplane featured in the 1933 Movie, The Skyway.
Eyerly developed and patented many amusement rides which would become common at carnival midways, including The Loop-O-Plane (1933), the Roll-O-Plane, the Fly-O-Plane and the Rock-O-Plane (1947). But arguably their most popular design was the Octopus, which resulted in later variations: the Spider and the Monster.
Kings Island’s Monster model debuted at Coney Island during the 1968 season and made the move to Kings Island for the park’s inaugural 1972 season. It’s always been in the same location, at the base of The Racer’s lift hill in Coney Mall. Operationally, Eyerly’s Spider and Monster models are the same. The center of the ride is manually controlled by an accelerator, and the “eccentric” which makes the arm go up and down.
Riders spin while moving up and down at a moderately slow pace. Each car spins while the ride’s giant arms move up and down in a circle. Riders describe the experience as feeling somewhat weightless as they rise in the air and come back down to ground level.
Eyerly Aircraft Company is now out of business, making replacement parts difficult to obtain. Kings Island’s Monster would not be operating today if it weren’t for Canada’s Wonderland’s generous donation of Shiva’s Fury (a.k.a Fury) to the park in 2003.
Do you have a special memory of riding The Monster at Kings Island? Share it in the comments below!
Other rides invented by Eyerly Aircraft Company:
Rock o Plane
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