Specific Type: Steel, Inverted, Looping
Since the movie Top Gun was released by Paramount Pictures in 1986, one line from the film has found itself everywhere in pop culture. "I feel the need... the need for speed," were the immortal words proclaimed by Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards, the movie's main characters.
In 1999, Paramount Parks capitalized on the Top Gun franchise with a new attraction that would put ordinary civilians in the place of elite fighter pilots to satisfy their own need for speed. Not only the need for speed though, but also the need for inversions, the need for smoothness, the need for intensity, and the need for originality. It was that wide range of qualities that sent then-Paramount-Carowinds's sleek "jet" coaster to the top right after taking its inaugural flight on March 20, 1999.
When the North Carolina-South Carolina park began planning their blockbuster 1999-season attraction, the first problem was finding a suitable plot of land for a major new coaster. The only major open space within the 105-acre park was a lagoon at the center of the property that, at that time, was home to theCarolina Sternwheeler boat ride and home of the former Smurf Island. However, the park wisely decided to spare theSternwheeler for the time being (though it was later removed to make room for BORG Assimilator/Nighthawk). Along the North end of the property, between the secondary North Gate and Thunder Road racing coaster was an unusually shaped area bordering the park's back parking lot. Before long, Swiss geniuses Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard were working with their friend Werner Stengel and his company -- Ingenieur Buro Stengel GmbH -- to conceive a brilliant acrobatic layout for the multi-million dollar thrill ride. Their end result was an intense, compact layout packing a loop, Immelman, boomerang, flat spin, and some tight non-inverting curvature into a cruise of just under 3,000 track feet.
At the end of planning, the park brainstormed a winning theme for the ride and its surroundings. Ironically, the air-fighter theme that contributed to the success of similar rides at three out of four of the other Paramount Parks wasn't Carowinds first choice. Their sights were set 1998's remake of the movie Godzilla, but fortunately, the movie bombed well ahead of what would have been the Godzilla coaster's debut. That gaveCarowinds ample time to order up a load of appropriate theming so that riders wouldn't find themselves piloting past a danger zone of assailing monsters.
Monstrous ride colors were exchanged for white, gray, and blue, and several months after the park wrapped up its 1998 season, those very colors began dotting the back parking lot. After the completed aerial action attraction took its first flight and opened to the public, thrill seekers the country over began signing up for flight school and packing their bags for Charlotte, North Carolina.
Paramount Parks had ushered in Top Gun coasters at three other properties from 1993 on, but none of the rides from the original trio managed to come close to the Carowinds's ride in popularity. The first of those Top Guns took visitors to Kings Island in Ohio, weaving through the trees in a non-looping course that served as a second attempt at pulling off the suspended, swinging concept. The same year, Paramount's West Coast park Great America introduced the most similar precursor to the Jet Coaster with their Bolliger and Mabillard ride, a quick jaunt through the sky through three inversions and 2,260 track feet. Finally, Canada's Wonderland took advantage of the theming rights for a compact Suspended Looping Coaster model from the Dutch company Vekoma, one of dozens exactly like it around the world. The first three Top Guns may have proven popular rides their first few years, but it would be Carowinds's attempt at matching the aerial maneuvers of military pilots that would land the park towards the top of "to visit" lists for the 1999 season.
When Paramount Parks were sold to Cedar Fair, the new owners of Carowinds decided to keep the fighter-jet theme for the coaster. Yes, the Top Gun name would have to go the way of the original Godzilla theme, but Cedar Fair retained all of the original theming, simply replacing Top Gun signage with signs bearing the ride's sleek new name. To fit with the popularity of the inverted coaster, Carowinds's ride got perhaps the catchiest new name of the former Top Gun coasters scattered around North America. While the others were renamed Flight Deck, Carowinds beauty received the name After Burn. Originally, the ride was slated to get the same Flight Deck renaming, but the overwhelmingly negative response to the name forced them to go with something more original, why it was the only recipient was never divulged. And, despite newer star attractions like the flying coaster Nighthawk and 2010's hyper-coaster Intimidator, the 1999 coaster still retains much of its popularity to this day.
Donning their flight gear, fighter pilot wannabes enter the line and soon ascend to board one of two sleek trains of thirty-two. The metal floor drops out from below and riders are sent on their way. Instead of a traditional launch off the aircraft carrier, this After Burn follows roller coaster tradition more closely with its ascent into the sky. En route to the sky, riders can peek around the padding of their over-the-shoulder restraints to observe the silver track passing by out to the right, the first two inversions sending the layout feeding underneath the lift. Anticipation builds as the train nears its 113-foot top altitudes, blue sky just ahead. After passing by the upper half of the loop, the train crests the lift and takes a mild dip off the chain. Suddenly, the track yanks riders to the right and they find themselves nose-diving to the ground while spiraling 180 degrees to the right. But like any good action movie, the heroes' lives are saved at the last minute with a quick pull out just inches above the ground. Grass whizzes by underfoot at sixty-two mile-per-hour speeds. Whew!
But just when riders thought that their perils were over, their aircraft goes into its 360-degree vertical maneuver as if a loop is just child's play. "Hey, maybe doing crazy death-defying stunts isn't so bad after all!" riders think to themselves. Indeed, the designers just couldn't seem to get enough of those crazy maneuvers. And the next one on the menu is one invented by a World War I fighter pilot, appropriately enough: the Immelman. Mr. Immelman conceived the element to escape from enemy planes in combat, but After Burn riders find it the perfect escape from another enemy: normality. The inversion throws riders for a half-loop right into a forty-five-degree twist sending them right back down again. This layout soon reveals that the acrobatics are just beginning. Third on the inversion list is a negative-g-inducing favorite climbing, twisting, and diving like any self-respecting zero-g roll. As the course goes on, the elements only intensify. A large, spread out boomerang inversion corkscrews upside down and dives 180 degrees into a fog-enshrouded trench, then pulls back up with the same inversion in reverse.
Soaring back towards the lift hill, the track leaps over a camelback hop serving up a second major dose of that thing fighter pilots are so familiar with: negative g's. On the other side of the lift, the track rushes to meet back up with the ground once more, pulling out just in time to enter the coaster's finale sequence in one piece. With an incredible force of 4.8 g's that even the most seasoned pilots would appreciate, the train plows into a final inversion: the flat spin. Corkscrewing up and over, the silver track spirals swiftly like a miscalculated move through the sky. Those aboard who survived the blackout-strength forces can savor one final treat.
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