WT Carny Ride #1: Sky Diver

Well look at this, a Sky Diver with LED lighting! Nice!

Sky Diver is a ride that’s about at stereotypically “carny” as one can get. Like Zipper, it has a strangely threatening appearance despite being an amusement ride. The decorations kind of make Sky Diver look like a buzzsaw, and the sight of riders trapped in their cages at odd angles is intimidating to say the least.

Sky Diver is a 60s era Chance Rides creation that was seen virtually everywhere back in its heyday and up until 1994 or so when they went through a mass extinction of sorts. For all intents and purposes Sky Diver is a ferris wheel…a ferris wheel that may have been dreamed up by the devil, but a ferris wheel nonetheless. Skydiver sports small caged pods that are able to rotate horizontally while the wheel turns vertically. The small caged cars are equipped with a steering wheel that allows riders to effectively “make their own ride experience” by flipping the car around. I mean, it sounds like fun, right?

Welllll….according to some riders, the steering wheel can be very tough to move. If you couple this with the fact that the cars are a bit top heavy, riders may find that the cars will remain upsidedown for much longer than any normal human being can stand. I remember reading a review of Sky Diver some time ago that resulted in the rider simply relinquishing the wheel and toughing it out for the remainder of the ride. He spent most of it upsidedown.

The Ride

I have never been on this ride, but I will ride a Sky Diver…one day. Instead of a commentary on how the ride is, here is a comment from DoD3 reader Brooke G. about her experience with the Skydiver’s diabolical restraint system.

“The way up isn’t bad, you’re laying on your back (kind of like a Toboggan [Note: a Chance made ‘Toboggan’ ride] lift hill). It would have been a lot more fun if the way down wasn’t so uncomfortable — Your car is pointed straight down, so you are literally hanging over the lap bar on your stomach. No matter how much flipping around you do (my friend and I tried), you can’t make it any more comfortable. Plus, you get stopped on the way down while they unload and load everything, so you are constantly stopped hanging over the bar. When I went to Lakemont and realized that they had one, I stayed away from it as much as I could.”

Other Info

Originally, Sky Diver rides were outfitted with long florescent tube lighting. If I were to ever come across one of those today, I would be blown away by the classic-ness and would probably write an entire blog post about it. When Turbolite lighting became popular in the last 70s, many Sky Divers were converted to that style of lightning to eliminate the hassle of tube lighting while freshening up their appearance. Today, more and more being upgraded to LED lighting. The one in the photos has static LED lighting in similar colors to the original Sky Diver lighting package. Some, namely Power’s Great American Midway’s Sky Diver, have sequenced LEDs that make the ride look absolutely stunning at night.


Here’s a video of a Sky Diver at the 2011 St Bart’s Italian Festival in Scotch Plains, NJ; ride is owned by Majestic Midways:

Here’s a nice on-ride video by JamminJay1986. It’s about what I assumed a SkyDiver to be like, right down to the screams of “oh shit”, “ow that hurts”, and “oh my nuts.”

10: Yo Yo | 9: Trabant | 8: Hustler | 7: Cobra | 6: Ring of Fire | 5: Paratrooper | 4: Scat | 3: Zipper | 2: Hi-Roller | 1: Sky Diver | WTCR Home


  • Bruce says:

    I know of one of the carnival companies that still has one. I’ve been on it many times and I would be receptive to attempting a two hour non-stop on this. If anybody wants to take me up on this my e-mail is bdbell1940@yahoo.com

    • Okamifan1 says:

      I just love this ride it is very fun so I don’t get what y’all complaining about and once you get it spinnining oh boy is it a wild ride.

  • Chris says:

    I think the last time I went on one of these was in the early 90’s. It actually wasn’t that scary. If you hold on to the wheel and don’t let the car spin mindlessly (and you’ll need your friend’s help for that), it’s actually pretty cool.

    I want to say though that this list needs the addition of one more WTCR: the Gravitron. Gravitrons are the ultimate WTC staple. I’d been avoiding them since the fatal accident involving one at my local county fair, but I went on one last month at a Halloween carnival. I swear to you, the entire center console where the carnie sits looked like it was being held together by duct tape. I nearly kissed the floor when it was over.

    • DoD3Brian says:

      I was thinking about putting Gravitron on the honorary list’ I’ve seen some pretty rough looking ones! However, I’ve also seen some insanely nice looking ones recently, like the one in the NJ State Fair 2010 trip report or Cygnus X-1 at Morey’s Piers.

  • Michael says:

    Are you kidding, this ride can be a blast. I was a kid the first time I rode this by myself at a traveling carnival in the 70’s. There used to be one at the old Elitch Gardens in Denver, CO in the early 90’s. I had a best friend back then who thought he was really tough, so I convinced him to ride this. I spun the wheel as fast as I could the whole ride, it took him a half hour to walk straight and stop dry heaving. It’s one of my fondest memories. You have to spin the wheel or you shouldn’t bother getting on it. I loved the feeling that ride gave me, a kind of euphoria, but I’m strange that way.

  • gtr40 says:

    I was only brave enough to ride the Sky Diver once back in the early eighties. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience. Very similar to the description in the above article. Not very comfortable, but I had finally gotten up the nerve to try it and if nothing else could/can say that I actually rode it.

    While it may not be the most comfortable ride on the midway, I always thought it was the best looking piece out there. I still think it is one of the most aesthetically pleasing rides ever created. The multi-colored cars, the perfect symmetry of its design. It always made a great centerpiece for the fair that came around here back in the 70s and 80s.

    Chance made some great rides back in the day. Absolute classics like the Tobaggan, Music Fest, Rock n Roll, etc.
    But I think the Sky Diver is their most perfect machine. Simple but elegant. The article mentions the long light tubes; there are a few Sky Diver out there still, but the ones I’ve seen recently were fitted with turbo lights. A definite improvement in its original lighting design, I think.

  • Timberman says:

    This is a fitting choice for number one, all the more so because Chance seems to have retrofitted the pods from the Toboggan for use on this ride. You have to love the fantastically inane restraints which employ Chance’s signature feat of engineering: attaching the part that is supposed to hold you into the ride to the swinging hatch that lets you out of the ride. If a you’re a skinny guy like me who’s manning the wheel and therefore unable to brace yourself inside the cage, you might find the restraints sometimes catching you just above the knees and sometimes closer to the chest.

    The scariness of this ride, while considerable, has for me more of giddy hilarity to it than the more panic-inducing terror the old Zippers could evoke. At the the intersection of fear and absurdity, you will find the SkyDiver. It is truly a can’t-miss experience for devotees of the carney classics.

  • Cyclone411 says:

    My only ride on the Sky Diver was at Lakemont a few years ago with a die-hard enthusiast who talked me into being the second rider while he “piloted” the car. And he did manage to get that thing spinning. The most intolerable element for me, though, was going upside down at the bottom of the wheel – the positive G-force almost made my head explode.

  • shannon says:

    The Sky diver (the illuminator) at Elitch Gardens in 1994 was the first ride I worked on it was a work out because you had to flip the car over pull out the cotter pin and place the lid in to a cradle to unload and unload the ride all without dumping the guests on the ground. At the end of the night myself and the operator crawled under the frame of the ride and collected $25 to $30 bucks in loose change each Elitch’s did not move it to the new park in 1995 due to safety

  • rick54 says:

    I remember riding the skydiver in 1969 it only had a piece of wood going across to hold you in, great ride. This ride was designed to be run at full throttle, giving you the effect of free falling. Over the decades through regulations the operators had to tame it down, that’s what I have been told.

  • Rich Pancoast says:

    The first time I saw the sky diver was at a carnival in Virginia Beach.It looked so scary for me being 12 at the time.I would not ride it until.I was 20.I clearly remember the ride operator cranking up The Rolling Stones “Tumbling Dice” loud as hell as it hit top speed.

  • Alan says:

    Getting a good ride on one of these is absolutely phenomenal so it’s too bad they can be in such clunky condition but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as giddy as when my friend and I rode this and, going down, he yanked the wheel and we did this crazy vertical spin. The loading process is a total nightmare, though. I’d love to see an upgraded version that loaded horizontally, so everyone could get on at once, and then spun and rose horizontally like an Enterprise.

  • Janna says:

    On the small show I grew up on in the ’70’s and ’80’s, the Diver was a Spec and top of the food chain, along with the Flying Bobs. All the hottest guys worked them, and they had the best music on the midway. At 17, I could get 3.5 car revolutions from fence to fence riding alone, which would have gotten me in big trouble had the foreman caught me. I loved this ride and it deserves this #1 ranking! Very cool site you have here, my first time visiting.

  • JBscar says:

    Love the Sky Diver!! I remember as a kid when the travelling fair came to town and set up at the local mall, I could see the top of the SD from my grandmas house and I would watch it out her window all night long! Every year I tried to get on it, but I swear that they kept raising the required height every year! SH*T! Took 3 years, but I finally was tall enough, and must have went on it about a dozen times that first year!
    If I win the lotto, I am going to get Chance to build me a custom one! Then I will invite everyone to come ride it for free!! 🙂

    • Amber says:

      I almost fell out of this as a kid. My dad was holding me by my legs as I was hanging out the damn thing. It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me. So be glad they raised the height. I was was too small at age 5-6 yrs old. They shouldn’t have let me go honestly.

  • Jason says:

    I discovered a carnival in Malibu that has one of these complete with the old style lighting scheme I really want to ride it now.

  • Sun says:

    OMG yes I remember this ride as a kid. The line was always crazy long to get on it because it took them forever to load it and I remember the painful smashing while stuck on it waiting for them to load the rest of the cars. I thought the ride would be fun and scary, but it just hurt. I wanted to get on that ride so bad but I was over it after the first ride.

  • Bill says:

    I rode this w/my son at the Florida State Fair, Tampa. Shortly after loading, we rotated (the whole wheel) upward just past 1/4 of the way up. The car then slightly rolled counter clockwise so that my son( on my right) slid into me. Beings that we were still loading people, we just sat there with NO way to upright the car and get relief. I was pinned to the car’s cage wall with my son kinda on top of me and neither one of us could move! That’s when it happened! I felt a pop then quickly another pop! I broke 2 ribs!!! Needless to say, It was was the longest ride of my life…w/2 broken ribs!! Anyhow, I was working on my car the other day, pulling very hard on a wrench w/that same side of my rib cage against the car and pop! It brought back this memory. I was actually looking to see if anyone had a similar experience (broke a rib) on this ride?

    • Amber says:

      No broken rib but I did almost fall out of it at 5-6 yrs old. Way too small to ride it but they still let me get on it. I slid right out from under the bar and was going right out the open window part in the front. My dad was holding me by my feet. I was so scared. Definitely my brush with death lol

  • Wendy says:

    Don’t count on finding one of theses with fluorescents. This used to be a regular at my county fair, until Belle City got a SkyWheel in 1984. About the only photo I remember at the fair before I started taking my own was a picture of the SkyDiver in the junior fair building looking like a bull’s eye with its red, white, and blue lights (yeah, the photo got a blue ribbon). A few years later, they brought it back, and they probably shouldn’t have. Our fair has a tendency to get rain at least one day out of the six, and every so often, you’d hear this loud boom–another fluorescent had fallen off the SkyDiver and hit a water puddle. Dumb luck they didn’t hit anyone in the head.

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