Flying Rigs for Haunted Houses - The how to fly or not to fly

Wed, May 27, 2020
To Fly or Not to Fly - That Is the Question!

by Ben Armstrong

Flying rigs in Haunted Attractions can be very impressive and something to consider adding to your event. However, there are large risks when adding aerial stunts (or any time you have an employee raised above the ground).  Let’s discuss the various ways you accomplish such an effect.
  • Air Powered Lifters and Droppers - In most cases, these are considered the safest as they usually start on the ground and lift an actor into the air. This is good because the actor doesn’t need to strap into the device up high on a platform somewhere in the dark. Also, these usually move somewhat slowly which is also a bonus. There are a few companies that make these, but generally they are not cheap, as they require massive cylinders to safely lift a person’s weight and a large amount of steel to support the rig and the actor. The downside is that the faster they get the more dangerous they become, and the amount of energy required to lift a person can be problematic if an employee gets a costume or hand caught in the works. As always, the method used to safely secure the actor to the rig is critical. These rigs are prone to the same sort of wear and tear as normal animations, so it’s very important to have an inspection system in place when using these devices.
 
  • Bungees – These can be very effective ways to get fast scares. With this sort of stunt, it is essential to have professional equipment meant to take the weight of a person for both the bungee system and the harness. Also critical is the method of attaching the bungee to the overhead structure and the overhead structure itself. This is not recommended unless the equipment & rigging are supplied and installed by a professional. There are bungee systems that can be purchased as stand-alone units. These are very good. The downside is the potential for coming into contact with a patron is high. Careful positioning and training on this stunt are required to make it safe enough to use. Another issue is the athletic ability needed to perform this on a continuous basis. Bungees can be used all night by actors trained to use the bungee as the propulsion for the stunt, but even then, a high level of athleticism is required. Another factor is how the harness fits and the potential for rubbing or bruising.  This is a factor in any stunt when the weight of the actor is held by a harness.
 
  • Tracks – Tracks are stunts whereby an actor wearing a harness is secured to a trolley on a track and flies out over the patrons. This can be quite effective but has its own unique set of problems. As always, the appropriate rigging of the equipment and track installation is essential. A new factor to consider is how difficult it is for the actor to get into position to attach to the track. The factors of darkness, height and attaching the back of the harness to the rig are all very serious. A mistake along the way could lead to an accident. Another issue is the possibility of kicking a guest as you pass overhead or being grabbed or punched while being held in the harness. If the track is set at the appropriate height and the actor is carefully secured in place this can be a very safe & effective stunt, but an extraordinary amount of planning and safety considerations must always be in place. Downsides are the hazards in attaching to the effect, the proper wearing of the harness to prevent rubbing, and the potential for the guests grabbing at the actor.

 
  • Zip Lines – Most of the factors involved in a track stunt come into play with zip lines but in an even more expanded way. Zip lines are more for show than for a scare, as the actor is often seen during most of the flight. All of the same issues of harness safety, professional installation and successfully getting onto the platform exist as before, but with this stunt the platform is usually higher, and therefore the actor will have even greater inability to stop once they commit to the zip.  No chance of impact with guests or other objects should exist, but even more care should be taken when mounting this stunt. To purchase & install the correct cables and trolleys for this sort of flight is quite expensive, and this should be considered one of the most advanced stunts you might undertake despite its seeming simplicity.
 
As you can see flying stunts are not easy or cheap to do safely. Here is a checklist for what you should look at for every stunt you install in your attraction:
  • Anchor Points: The structure must be strongly secured, so I always recommend hiring a professional rigger.
  • Mounting: Ladders and platforms need good traction and handrails.  Rails and safety clip on cables to protect the actor before they are clipped in are also required.
  • Harnesses: Get professional harnesses recommended by the rigger you hire. Make sure they are correctly adjusted to prevent chaffing or bruising. In stunts like air powered lifters where only a belt is needed, make sure it is a belt designed to do what it is doing and one that is properly attached. Harnesses must be periodically replaced. They may only be usable on certain sizes of actors.
  • Bungees & Cables: They need to be rated for the use desired and properly installed. They must be replaced, sometimes every season or sooner if they get damaged.
  • Casting & Training: Your flying actors needs to be athletic, safety-conscious and smart. They must make sure everything is correct with the stunt to always take safety seriously. They must be very aware of their surroundings and what the guests are doing, especially if any possible contact could occur while performing the stunt. They need to be tough, but not oblivious to pain. If they pull a muscle or are dehydrating or are being hurt by the harness, they need to know when to stop.
  • Carabiners, Trolleys & Other Rigging Gear: Professionally recommended and installed gear that is often inspected and used for what it was designed for is the only way to go.
  • Cover the Mechanisms: Especially with air powered lifts, tracks and zip lines, make sure to design things in such a way as to keep your actors’ and guests’ hands off of the tracks and out of the linkages. A finger caught in a trolley will not make for a happy radio call.
  • General Safety & Care: Your stunt actors may need extra breaks, and they need to checked on by staff frequently. It is very easy to dehydrate on stunts and often hard to access water while attached. They need to be able to release themselves in the event of an emergency, for example if the haunt needs to be evacuated.
 

So, there you have it…Stunts can be amazing, extremely effective at scaring your guests, and have a huge WOW factor, but they require an unending dedication to safety, doing things the correct way, training, and a serious dollar investment. If you are mindful, willing & committed to these issues then flying rig stunts might be for you. Good luck!

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