by Ryan Shrout
The most recent rumor on Chang's eventual home says that Six Flags Great America has ditched it to Six Flag Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. Instead they want to use the space for a Hurricane Harbor expansion. Really? You're ditching a fantastic, 150' tall B&M Stand-up for a few waterslides? C'mon SFGAm!
I understand that the park has been pushing family friendly but this is just going too far. Back in 2004 they opened up Ragin' Cajun, a spinning wild mouse which was a nice addition as the park's 3rd family friendly coaster. Wanting to provide more family friendly fun, the park opened their waterpark Hurricane Harbor the next year. And a very unfortunate trend was set.
2006 was a quiet year at the park which saw a few new shows and the Blue train on American Eagle cease its backwards tracking so that everyone now rode facing forwards. In 2007 the park went a step younger than "family friendly" and introduced Wiggles World, the park's second little kid area. Also in 2007, the park lost a great coaster as Deja Vu was sold to Silverwood Theme Park.
At this point the thrill ride fanatics that called SFGAm home were starting to get restless. The park did introduce a coaster in 2008 but it was just a small wild mouse in a box, the cloned Batman the Dark Knight, themed to the popular movie. 2009 saw another wet family fun ride come in by the name of Buccaneer Battle. In 2010 the park added Magiquest and the restored wooden kiddy coaster Little Dipper.
It looked as though 2011 would finally be the year that a major thrill ride came to SFGAm when Chang was taken out of the shuttered SFKK. Zoning variances were even applied for to get the ride. But now something drastic has changed and the park wants to expand Hurricane Harbor instead. And I don't know why!
Our last real thrill ride installed was the cloned Superman Ultimate Flight in 2003, but to do that, they took out the Arrow multi-looper, Shockwave, which I personally think was a better ride. Not to mention the fact that Superman is a capacity nightmare. Basically SFGAm needs to wake up and get a real thriller in there pronto, or else the natives might just get a bit restless.
The Coaster Wars have been a large presence in the coaster industry for years. Coaster companies have continued to build taller and faster rides, from Arrow Dynamics to Intamin... even Togo had gotten in on the action. So how did this mess of records holders begin?
Cedar Point had Arrow Dynamics design Magnum XL-200, the first coaster in history to break the 200 ft height barrier. And to make certain it was broken, Cedar Point asked Arrow to make it 205 feet tall as opposed to just 200. It was designed by Ron Toomer, and ran the 5,100 foot course in speeds of over 70 mph. The world was in awe... that is, until taller, faster coasters arose. The next record breaker that followed was another Arrow Dynamics creation, Steel Phantom at Kennywood. It reached speeds of up to 80 mph thanks to a 228 foot drop into a ravine. It even had inversions... a vertical loop, a boomerang and a corkscrew that swooped over the brake run. The coaster held the record for fastest speed for 5 years after it's opening in 1991. The coaster wars were really starting to pick up steam.
Arrow continued onward with two more 200 foot coasters; Pepsi Max Big One opened in May of 1994 at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the UK. It had a height of 213 feet (advertised as 235 feet as the height above sea level) and went around 75 mph throughout its 5,500 foot course. The other coaster, Desperado at Buffalo Bill's Resort & Casino, also opened in May 1994. It had a drop of 225 feet into a tunnel, which set its speed at 80 mph as it sped through 5,840 feet of yellow track. However, these proved to be Arrow's final say on the matter, as they constructed no more coasters that beat these heights and speeds. However, Togo, a well known ride manufacturer in Japan, unveiled a monster in 1996. Fujiyama at Fuji-Q Highland (near Mt. Fuji, of course) not only took the height record with its 260 foot lift hill, but also stole the speed record with a speed of 81 mph. It would hold the height record for 4 years, but would only hold the speed record for 6 months before Intamin constructed Tower of Terror at Dream World in Australia, and Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain, who both tied each other with a top speed of 100 mph. (In terms of complete circuits, however, the speed record would still be held for 4 years as well)
The height record, however, was a completely different story. Intamin returned at the dawn of the millennium to create none other than Millennium Force at Cedar Point. The world's first giga coaster topped out at 310 feet and sped through 6,700 ft of blue track at 93 mph. And despite only holding the height and speed records for 3 months, it was still ground-breaking in the coaster industry for its introduction of a new classification of coaster height. The coaster that stole MF's fame, however, was located in Japan just as Fujiyama was. It was Steel Dragon 2000 at Nagishima Spa Land, constructed just in time for Asia's Year of the Dragon. Morgan created this tower of steel with Steve Okamoto, and gave it a height of 318 feet, a length of 8,133 feet (another record) and a speed of 95 mph. The Coaster Wars were starting to get into full swing.
The speed record was broken with Dodonpa at Fuji-Q Highland, with 107 mph a year later. But it was several years until Intamin returned with another ground-breaking coaster... and where else to construct it than the same park that received the previous one. Cedar Point acquired another record breaker, Top Thrill Dragster, in 2003. This "stratacoaster" pretty much destroyed both records with its height of 420 feet and speed of 120 mph. Naturally it was easily seen from anywhere in the park. It held those records for 2 years, until Intamin constructed a similar coaster, Kingda Ka, at Six Flags Great Adventure. The second stratacoaster, it topped out at 456 feet and launched at 128 mph... it even featured a large hill as part of its break run. The coaster wars were still pushing along... or so everyone thought. Kingda Ka continues to hold those records to this day...
The Coaster Wars began to slow down after Kingda Ka, and with good reason. How far can coaster companies really push the limits before they end up nearly killing people with whiplash speeds? In terms of safety and maintenance, as well as other factors, the Coaster Wars seem to have run out of steam. There's really nothing else that can be done with heights and speeds... but coaster companies can be clever, and for all we know they could have a 500 ft coaster up their sleeves. However, one thing remains certain... the Coaster Wars will be remembered as something that greatly influenced the coaster industry, but they will never be as truly intense as they once were.
The history of the roller coaster dates all the way back to the 17th century, when wooden ramps were coated in ice, and passengers slid down them using sleds with runners. These sleds on ice soon developed into benches on rails, and soon into trains on rails. Cars were manually pushed into placed, rolled along a straight track with a couple of hills, and either switched onto a parallel track for a return trip, or simply ended where they were. This design eventually evolved into the first complete circuit coasters, called scenic railways, which included lift hills, turns, and undulating layouts. By the end of the 19th century, however, the world was ready for coasters to go upside down, or so they thought.
Built in 1848 in Paris, France, the Centrifugal Railway became the first roller coaster with an inversion, a loop. Made out of wood, the ride consisted of a 43 ft, gradually sloped track followed by a single, nearly circular, loop 13 ft in diameter. The problem with this coaster, and its brethren which appeared in the late 1800s and early 1900s, is that the speeds necessary to traverse the entire loop (as there was a rapid deceleration near the top) resulted in extremely high G-forces (or G’s) at the entrance loop due to the circular geometry. One of the most famous of these early looping coasters, the Flip Flap Railway built at Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY in 1898, pulled as many as 12 G’s when entering the loop, and was known for causing countless blackouts and snapping rider’s necks.
In 1903, that same designer built a new looping coaster at the Brooklyn amusement park, but this time, used a loop that was much more oval shaped (though not quite the shape of modern loops), rather than the previous circular shape. This design lengthened the radius of the entry to the loop, where the speeds and resulting forces are the highest, and had a tightened, shorter radius at the top of the loop, resulting in a reduction in the maximum G’s experienced. While significantly safer than the older looping coasters, its low capacity combined with the horrific reputation of looping coasters at the time led to its quick demise. Couple this with the later developing Great Depression, and the looping coaster faded into a novelty of history…for the time being.
Opening in 1959, the Matterhorn Bobsleds opened at Disneyland in California with a brand new, revolutionary invention: the first tubular steel track. Unlike its wooden and early steel predecessors, which often used flat steel on wood or rectangular steel tracks, the rails on this coaster were circular in cross-section. This design made it possible for the track to be bent in any direction, and for wheels to reside on three sides of the track, greatly increasing the maneuverability and freedom of design for steel roller coasters.
Karl Bacon of Arrow Dynamics took this idea and set his sights back on the long defunct inversion. Instead of making a loop however, he decided to lower, extend, and twist this old inversion into what would become known as the Corkscrew. This inversion greatly reduced the forces exerted on the rider, making it much safer, and the new track design made it feasible. He built a prototype of his corkscrew coaster, which successfully proved the feasibility of creating safe inversions using tubular steel tracks. The first full-model of his prototype, the Corkscrew (aka Roaring Twenties Corkscrew), installed at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1975, became the world’s first modern inverting roller coaster.
The next year Anton Schwarzkopf decided to resurrect the long-defunct loop, creating the Great American Revolution which opened at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Unlike earlier attempts, this particular loop was clothoid, or tear-drop shaped, which lowered and spread out the g-forces better than any design before it…and so began the great roller coaster inversion revolution.
These two individual inversions (the loop and corkscrew) dominated the steel coaster market for the next decade and a half, with designers adding additional loops and corkscrews to out-do each other in the race to have the most inversions. Other companies also began creating their own looping coasters, and to keep things fresh, new ways of experience inversions—including from a standing position (Togo) and both forwards and backwards on shuttle coasters (Vekoma and Schwarzkopf).
Because of the limits of early computer modeling (especially for roller coaster), old engineering methods and physical models had to be used to calculate forces and visualize the rides, so inversions remained relatively limited and simple. Ron Toomer, of Arrow Dynamics, appeared in a video long ago bending a stiff wire into the shape of a standard loop to visually show the “modern” loop design, which is exactly how many earlier coasters were modeled. Soon however, early steel giants Arrow and Vekoma began taking these two simple inversions and twisted and combined them into brand new inversions:
1980 – Batwing - Orient Express @ Worlds of Fun (Arrow)
1982 – Cobra Roll – Boomerang @ Rafaela Padilla [opened in 1983 or 1984] (Vekoma)
1983 – Bowtie – Dragon Mountain @ Marineland (Arrow)
1984 – Sidewinder – Dragon @ Ocean Park (Arrow)
1989 – Butterfly – Goudurix @ Parc Astérix (Vekoma)
Between 1976 and 1992, Arrow and Vekoma coasters dominated the world of inversions, both in type of inversions available and quantity of coasters. Perhaps the most famous coaster of this era was the widely cloned Boomerang shuttle coaster of Vekoma, which traversed a loop and cobra roll, both forwards and in reverse, for a total of six inverting moments. Schwarzkopf held its own with some now-famous looping coasters and the first launched looping coasters, but never ventured from simple loops. The only break in this chain of Vekoma/Arrow-invented inversions in this period was the Heartline Roll (though it was centered around the center of the track/coaster instead of the heart), which Togo created for its new “Heartline” coaster design. The first of these to appear was Ultra Twister at Tokyo Dome City in 1984, but the new design only saw limited instillations.
From 1992 into the early 2000s, however, a new player would step in and steal the spotlight. Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), the coaster company out of Switzerland and founded in 1988, began emerging on the scene along with Intamin in the creation of a new breed of looping stand-up coasters. As computer aided design (CAD) began to significantly improve, so did the designs of roller coasters. New design allowed a true “heartline” to be created in which the coaster could be banked and looped about, making for a much smoother, more precise ride when compared to the earlier Arrow coasters. B&M simultaneously invented a new type of coaster and a new type of inversion (and a new way to experience inversions), creating the first inverted coaster along with the zero-g roll (centered around the heart). B&M invented only four new inversions, but they significantly improved the experience of countless others:
1992 – Zero-G-Roll – Batman: The Ride @ Six Flags Great America
1993 – Dive Loop – Kumba @Busch Gardens Tampa
1996 – Immelman – Montu @ Busch Gardens Tampa
1996 – Inclined Dive Loop – Mantis @ Cedar Point
As the new century progressed over its first decade, computer power and the ability of computer programming and modeling seemed to improve almost exponentially, leading to a wild array of new and modified inversions. The Bent Cuban Eight, Norwegian Loop, and Flying Snake Dive are just a few examples of these “new” inversions which were created individually for specific rides. Coasters, such as Hydra: the Revenge, were designed with “standard” inversions (such as the Cobra Roll and Corkscrew) bent, twisted, and torqued in non-standard ways to fit an odd landscape and lower heights (due to smaller size and lower speed). Technology and design have even gotten to the point where we can now even invert the rider, with or without inverting the train, such as on the revolutionary 4D coaster, X2.
With the sophistication of computer aided design and the companies doing the engineering today, the possibilities for inversions and bringing about new “twists” are endless…the only limit is our imagination.
Arrow Dynamics is wildly known throughout the coaster community for its innovational coasters- well, they were at least innovative at one time. Arrow created the first tubular track coaster, the first multilooping coaster, the first hyper coaster, and later, the first fourth dimension coaster. But what started as a bright, fresh company soon declined into a thing of the past when the 1990's hit, and Bolliger and Mabillard, as well as many others, proved they could take what Arrow did and improve on it using modern technology. But how did Arrow get to this point?
Arrow of course started off as a machine company in Mountain View, CA, nine years before they started on their first coaster, Matterhorn Bobsleds. They soon began creating rides for Walt Disney, including Space Mountain at Walt Disney World in 1979 (based on Matterhorn Bobsled's layout) and later, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland in 1979. They also, with the help of Ron Toomer, created Runaway Mine Train at Six Flags Over Texas in 1966. Eventually, they came up with the corkscrew inversion, the first to flip riders upside down since the loop at the turn of the century. This evolved into Corkscrew at Knott's Berry Farm, with two corkscrews back to back. It was evidently the world's first two inversion coaster as well. They designed Corkscrew at Cedar Point, pictured on the left, a year later- the first three inversion coaster, with a vertical loop and, of course, the two corkscrews. It opened three days after Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which became the first coaster with a modern vertical loop. Corkscrew was the second.
Eventually, Arrow placed two loops and had them interlock, forming Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens Europe, in 1978. Two years later, Arrow took the multi inversion concept to a new level when they introduced the first four inversion coaster, Carolina Cyclone at Carowinds in 1980. This featured two back to back vertical loops and the double corkscrew. That same year, Arrow designed Orient Express at Worlds of Fun, which featured the interlocking loops and a new combination of the vertical loop and corkscrew, the boomerang- originally named the kamikaze curve. This featured a half corkscrew, a half loop, then a half loop slightly lower than the first, followed by another half corkscrew sending the train the opposite way. Carolina Cyclone paved the way for Viper at Darien Lake, the first five inversion coaster. It included a vertical loop, the second installation of the boomerang, and a double corkscrew. Arrow was really coming along with the multi inversion concept.
Eventually, however, Arrow began to build multiloopers with more loops, and in greater height. It began with Vortex at Kings Island in 1987, the first six inversion coaster. It stood a few feet shy of 150 feet, and its loops were noticeably higher up. In addition to those loops, it featured the double corkscrew threaded between them, and the boomerang last. This is what started to get manufacturers putting more and more inversions into their coasters, headed by none other than Arrow. They created Shockwave at Six Flags Great America, which stood 170 feet above the ground. Now Arrow continued to use the same size loops on all of their looping coasters. How were they able to accomplish a 52 foot diameter loop on a 170 feet tall coaster? They began it with a steep incline that put the loop so high that the train was able to go a normal speed through it, rather than just design a huge loop. They built a similar coaster, Great American Scream Machine, at Six Flags Great Adventure in 1989, that was three feet higher. Their final multilooping coaster was Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which stood 188 feet and had the highest loop of any coaster for a decade, at 144 feet. All three of them had the same inversions in the same order, however. They had the main loop, and then some sort of turn would lead into two more loops. The boomerang followed, and another turn led into the corkscrews. The only difference between Shockwave/Great American Scream Machine and Viper was the turn after the first loop. On Viper, the turn placed the loops right next to the lift hill, and likewise the rest of the layout followed. Arrow was beginning to lose its innovation as far as inversions... as well as their overall design process. This was heavily outlined with Drachen Fire in 1992, at the same theme park that received Arrow's Nessie decades earlier, Bush Gardens Europe. It was such a disappointment that its story can barely be described in just words...
But of course they had something else up their sleeve. They got all of the inversions out of the way and added some air time hills and a pretzel turn around- all after the 205 ft lift hill. You guessed it, they created the first hyper coaster, Magnum XL-200 at Cedar Point in 1989. It had no inversions, no gimmicks, just airtime. The world jumped over it, and Arrow proved to themselves that a coaster didn't need six or seven inversions to be thrilling. However, they built a total of five hyper coasters in the years following, with three being built in 1994... and two out of three were over 200 feet. These were of course Pepsi Max Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Desperado at Buffalo Bill's Resort and Casino and Titan V at Space World in Japan. All three of them featured some sort of series of hills, but coaster enthusiasts agree that they just didn't have the same intensity as Magnum... despite being higher. Why? Pepsi Max Big One featured hills alright, but they were gentle sloped hills that had the same steepness as the lift hill. And even then, the train didn't go fast enough over them to really create all that much airtime. Not to mention the fact that the entire coaster is bent according to the road, creating an awkward looking profile.
The second one, Desperado, was built around the casino, and also featured a bent section. And the entire profile looks like one big yellow coathanger due to its design. The ride features a sharp upwards twist to the left after the first drop, followed by a long turn to the ground and another long turn upwards, ending up coiling up against itself. Then it makes a downwards turn to the right to end up parallel with the twist to the left, creating something that is somewhat reminiscent of a gentle hill. The rest of the ride just sort of dips a few times and winds itself around the rest of the casino. Now, the third one, Titan V, isn't even over 200 ft. But at least it features a somewhat steep hill... too bad it's only one and it produces no airtime. The rest of the layout is pretty much a big triangle with an odd helix in the middle, a butterfly. Forgetting the fact that the same odd helix that is found on Anaconda at Kings Dominion doesn't belong on a hyper coaster, the rest of the ride is very boring due to the gentle hills and the train having been braked hard on the MCBR on account of the butterfly helix. It's safe to say that these last three hyper coasters of Arrow's just do not live up to Magnum.
By the late 1990's, Arrow's workload was declining, and they were reduced to building Wild Mouse coasters by the turn of the millennium- never mind the fact that they had finally gotten the chance to create a large loop (Tenessee Tornado at Dollywood). Bolliger and Mabillard had slowly stolen Arrow's thunder with their technologically advanced maneuvers and smooth transitions. They had even ousted Arrow's suspended coaster with their introduction of the inverted coaster. Arrow's final blow was another first, the first fourth dimension coaster... yet the final Arrow Dynamics coaster. Opened in 2002, it was certainly innovative, but had many technical difficulties being a prototype. This coaster was ultimately the end of Arrow, and they filed for Chapter 11 in late 2001, with their assets being picked up by S&S. This was not just the end of a company, this was the end of one of the most influential coaster designer in the history of coasters... that was ultimately hurt by their own eventual lack of innovation. Arrow Dynamics will forever be known as the company that just couldn't break out of their mold, and when they finally managed to, it was too late. Not even the lack of technology at the time can cover for them. This was the ultimate downfall of the company known as Arrow Dynamics...