Imagine a ferris wheel that is at and angle and the cars can swing outward. Get that in your mind and you have Paratroopers. A ride that travels at a good speed and is very fun for everyone.
For those of you that love to go to Lagoon in sandals please note that you will not be allowed on this ride. Toes must be protected by your shoes and no amount of reasoning with the operator will allow you to get on if you have open-toed footwear.
In Salem, Oregon during the Great Depression, aviator and mechanic Lee Eyerly was building pilot training devices that were so thrilling, they quickly gained more popularity at fairs and carnivals than at flight schools. Frank Hrubetz (pronounced with a silent ‘H’), fresh from Oregon State College with a degree in mechanical engineering, was hired as Eyerly Aircraft Company’s chief engineer. Eyerly shifted his company’s focus to producing amusement rides. After several years of working with Eyerly and helping to develop some its most popular rides, Hrubetz began his own amusement ride business.
Frank Hrubetz & Company was founded in 1939. One of their first creations was the Spitfire, which some believe was based on the Eyerly Fly-O-Plane. Spitfire had small planes that could be tilted side to side or into a full roll by the riders as they spun around on a slanted wheel.¹ Twenty years later in 1959, Hrubetz introduced the Paratrooper and advertised it as a “new version” of the Spitfire. Parachute-like gondolas replaced the planes, but otherwise they were so similar, owners of Spitfire rides could buy a kit to convert their Spitfire into a Paratrooper. Hrubetz became one of the most successful ride manufacturers in the world in the ’60s and ’70s and produced a variety of rides until a few years after its founder’s death in 1987.
Lagoon’s Paratrooper opened as one of their “6 Super Surprises in 66″ along with the Haunted Shack and an updated bumper car ride called Auto Skooters. Opening weekend featured an exhibition by real paratroopers from Hill Air Force Base and six sky diving Easter bunnies.
The original location of Paratrooper at Lagoon was possibly on the South Midway, just south of where Wild Mouse is now. This is where it’s shown in a 1972 aerial photograph of the park. The New Wilder Wild Mouse (the wooden predecessor to the current Wild Mouse) opened next to it in 1973. In the early 1980s the Midway was extended from this point to the west and Paratrooper was turned diagonally on the corner about where the Shooting Waters and 3-Point Challenge games are today. It was around 1986 or ’87 when it was moved to its current location on the North Midway.
This Paratrooper is a standard ground unit as opposed to a trailer-mounted model used at traveling carnivals. Some have said it used to be painted orange and white and that the current blue and yellow color scheme has been used since it was moved to the North Midway. One definite change are the graphics on the back of the seats which were last changed in the ’90s.
Lagoon had one other Hrubetz ride around the late ’60s to early ’70s called Satellite (a Hrubetz Roundup) which some remember being where Boomerang now stands.
Paratrooper is often overlooked and forgotten as guests pass by on their way to more popular rides like Samurai or The Rocket. Maybe they’re distracted by people being launched on Catapult on the other side of the Midway or they just don’t see the queue hidden behind the fairly large bushes. Some may just pass it up because of the slow-moving line and long ride time due to the fact that only two gondolas can load simultaneously.² But Paratrooper is an American-made classic that has been well-maintained at Lagoon for many decades. It’s still stimulating to get the brief sensation of jumping out of a plane and experience what thrill rides were like before towering steel coasters became commonplace.