Inflatable castles (closed inflatable trampolines or CITs) are temporary inflatable structures and buildings and similar items that are rented for functions, school and church festivals and village fetes and used for recreational purposes, particularly for children. The growth in popularity of moonwalks has led to an inflatable rental industry which includes inflatable slides, obstacle courses, games, and more. Inflatables are ideal for portable amusements because they are easy to transport and store.
The name given to such structures varies. They have been marketed with such names as "Bounce House", "Moon Bounce", "Astrojump", "Moonwalk", "Jolly Jump" and "Spacewalk". "Brinca brinca", another name commonly used by Latinos, is Spanish for "jump jump". In El Paso, Texas, they are referred to as "Jumping Balloons". The term "Jolly Jumps" is often used to describe the inflatable playground structure in rural areas and some areas in the Western United States, but the term is otherwise obsolete. In Southern California, another popular term is "Closed Inflatable Trampolines", or "CITs". "Bouncy Castle" or "Inflatable Castle" are used in Ireland, the UK, New Zealand and parts of Australia, and "Jumping Castles" in Australia, Canada, South Africa and Arizona in the United States.
The first inflatable structure was designed in 1959 by John Scurlock in Shreveport, Louisiana who was experimenting with inflatable covers for tennis courts when he noticed his employees enjoyed jumping on the covers. He was a mechanical engineer and liked physics. Scurlock was a pioneer of inflatable domes, inflatable tents, inflatable signs and his greatest achievement was the invention of the safety air cushion that is used by fire and rescue departments to catch people jumping from buildings or heights.
The first space walk manufacturing company was in New Orleans in a leased warehouse that also sewed horse pads. His wife, Frances, started the first inflatable rental company in 1968 and in 1976 they built a custom facility for the production and rental of the products. They marketed the space walks to children's events such as birthday parties, school fairs and company picnics. These original inflatables did not have the enclosure of today's inflatables, creating a safety hazard.
Their son Frank Scurlock expanded their rental concept throughout the United States under the brand names "Space Walk" and "Inflatable Zoo". Frank also founded the first all inflatable indoor play park called "Fun Factory" on Thanksgiving Day 1986 in Metairie, Louisiana. A second unit was opened in Memphis Tennessee called "Fun Plex" in 1987. Both locations closed after the value of the property became too great for the operations. The first inflatable was an open top mattress with no sides, called a "Space Pillow". In 1967 a pressurized inflatable top was added, it required two fans and got hot in the summer like a greenhouse. That version was called "Space Walk" and was adopted as the company name.
In 1974, to solve the heat problem, a new product line called "Jupiter Jump" was created that has inflated columns that supported netting walls which allowed the air to pass through. Further enhancements of this style were developed such as a line of castles and animals which are referred to as the "Inflatable Zoo". In the early 1990s Frank created the first commercial inflatable water slide called the "Aqua Tunnel". Space Walk was the first company to bring an inflatable to the IAAPA convention, Showmen's Club and the American Rental Association.
The surfaces are typically composed of thick, strong PVC or vinyl and nylon, and the castle is inflated using an electric or petrol-powered blower. The principle is one of constant leakage, meaning small punctures are not a problem - a medium-size "bouncy castle" requires a fan with a mechanical output of about two horsepower (consuming around 2 kW electrical power, allowing for the efficiency of the motor).
UK and Australian bouncy castles have specifications calling for fully inflated walls on three sides with an open front and foam "crash mats" to catch children who may jump or fall out of the structure.
Modern moonwalks in the US are typically supported by inflatable columns and enclosed with netting. The netting allows for supervision as adults can see in from all sides.
Another type of home-use inflatable has evolved, with a blower pumping in air continuously. Pores in the seams and material allow air to escape as kids play, while the blower continues to inflate the unit. This category has emerged as a response to parents who wish to buy an inflatable for home use.
In 2005 the most severe standards in the construction of an inflatable amusement were adopted nationally in Australia, forming Federal Standard AS3533.4. This was a landmark safety standard bringing the toughest design/construction/operation standards to the inflatable industry of Australia. In 2006 the European Union (EU) followed and introduced similar standards throughout EU called EN14960:2006 which was then updated in 2013 to EN14960:2013.
In the US, Pennsylvania and New Jersey require inflatables to pass engineering and safety standards before allowing the equipment to be rented out.
Inflatable obstacle courses
There are also inflatable obstacle courses that allow for participants to have races and compete against one another. These are commonly rectangular in shape, but can also be square if the course is maze-like. Most obstacle courses have two lanes, but some can have three or four. They feature various such as pop-up obstacles, climbing areas, slides, and tunnels. These are the best choice for very large events since participants move through them quickly.
Some inflatables are designed to allow games such as boxing rings, water football, penalty shootouts, basketball, rumbling, tug of war, and gladiator duels. These interactive inflatable games are made out of the same material that a continuous airflow bounce house is made of. Quad tracks are also popular and provide the perimeter for Quad bike racing.
Injury and death
According to recent studies injuries caused by inflatable rides have been on the rise. An average of 31 children per day are hospitalized because of injuries caused by a Bounce House or Inflatable Castle. That is approximately 65,000 children that have been injured from 1990 to 2010.
- In South Yorkshire a boy died in 2003 while using one.
- There have been numerous reports of the malicious deflation of bouncy castles whilst in use, notably the Horsington House Hotel incident which injured several people at a 21st birthday celebration.
- Two people were killed and 13 were injured when an inflatable structure took off at Riverside Park, Chester-le-Street, County Durham during powerful winds in 2006.
- An eight-year-old girl was killed and 15 people injured when a bouncy castle was caught in a strong wind and was lifted and thrown over 50 metres in 2001.
- A boy's parents sued the hirers of a jumping castle in 2005 when one boy somersaulted onto another at a birthday party causing brain damage. An appeal was lodged, and the verdict was overturned.
- An eight-year old girl died in May 2011 after falling head first from a bouncy castle onto a concrete pavement.
Methods of decoration
The artwork on most inflatable structures is hand-painted. It is cheaper for an artist to paint inflatables than to buy a printing machine or pay for a professional printer to print the artwork for a small quantity of inflatables.
For those wishing to have inflatables professionally printed, rather than painted, two technologies exist. One is to use screenprinting and the other uses digital printing machines which can print onto nylon. Usually, if the printing method is used then white PVC must be used and a pattern or artwork printed onto this.
Digital printing allows photographic quality pictures, something which is either difficult or impossible with hand-painting. Hand-painting is more durable as the paints tend to last longer in water, rain, and handling than printouts. It is also better for "cartoon" style images, which is the norm on children's inflatables.
The record for "Longest marathon on a bouncy castle (team)" is 25 hr 25 min 25 sec, set by Will Scogin, Patrick Taylor, Miller Wright, David Wilson, Forrest Haynes and Jimbo Wilhite (all from the United States) at Northridge High School, Tuscaloosa, Alabama on October 10–11, 2008.
- Mauro, Terri and Sharon A. Cermak (2006). The Everything Parent's Guide To Sensory Integration Disorder: Get the Right Diagnosis, Understand Treatments, And Advocate for Your Child. Everything Books. p. 60. ISBN 9781593377144.
- Cherry, Robin (2008). Catalog: The Illustrated History of Mail Order Shopping. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 81. ISBN 9781568987392.
- A collection of inflatable ride accident reports can be found at http://www.rideaccidents.com/inflatables.html
- "Bouncy castle death 'tragic accident'". BBC News. 8 January 2004. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
- Horsington House
- "Two killed as artwork 'lifts off'". BBC News. 23 July 2006. Archived from the original on August 16, 2008.
- The Coroners report can be read at http://www.courts.sa.gov.au/courts/coroner/findings/findings_2003/gorostiaga.finding.htm
- Pibb, Helen (9 May 2008). "Boy severely hurt on bouncy castle likely to get £1m payout". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- Topping, Alexandra (1 August 2008). "Parents win appeal over head injury on a bouncy castle". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-01.
- Byrne, Amy (16 May 2011). "Girl (8) dies after falling out of bouncy castle". Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, Ireland: The Irish Times. Retrieved 2011-08-09.
- "Inflatable Amusement Rides" (May 23, 2001, revised and re-issued December 5, 2001)
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- Media related to Inflatable castles at Wikimedia Commons