While there are real-world machines which accelerate objects horizontally and release them, I think that the specific appearance is mostly meant to be legible in the context of the game: the L shape is a platform to stand on that you won't slide off (possible visual reference: ski bindings), and the round wheelish bit suggests that it is movable/active (possibly: roller skates).
Given that both of the appearances you name are on large (air)ships, perhaps it was inspired by an aircraft catapult which is used to launch aircraft from the short runways of aircraft carriers (by accelerating them quicker than they could achieve with their own engines).
As evidence that the design is at least somewhat particular to that level's theme, consider that other levels use different designs with the same function:
- Sonic 2, Chemical Plant Zone: there is a similarly-functioning item which is instead depicted as a set of spinning wheels (as might be in a baseball pitching machine).
- Sonic CD, Stardust Speedway: the machine is styled like a gun, recoiling and ejecting a cartridge when activated.
- Many other levels simply have tunnels that accelerate you without giving much explanation other than possibly arrow-shaped decorations.
I haven't played Kirby games very much so I can't particularly give citations if there are any.
Another type of real world machine which can be L-shaped, accelerates along a track, and is somewhat aeronautically themed is the rocket sled.
(image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain)