Last Update: March 14, 2013
For decades, the chain lift happily carried an era of roller coaster riders up the traditional lift hill as the clicking and clanking of the anti-rollback dog was the internationally-recognized audibility of coaster thrills. The chain lift was a simple device: a length of chain revolving to carry riders up a lift slope to build up a ride's potential energy once the chain dog on the bottom of the train engaged. But then, someone had to go and make things complicated. That someone was Anton Schwarzkopf, a German ride designer who's company had played around with alternative forms of lifts, including tires and even self-propelled coaster trains, and now wanted to try something completely original. That something was a launched coaster missing the traditional lift hill in favor of a horizontal section of track where riders would actually blast off from the station with the help of a
forty-ton weight drop. This happened for the first time in 1977 when three theme parks in the United States crazy enough to invest in this type of ride opened Schwarkopf's weight-drop-launched coaster: Carowinds
in North Carolina, Great America
in California, and Kings Dominion
in Virginia (all three of which would later add Paramount to the front of their names). Being blasted from a dead standstill to fifty-three miles per hour in six seconds was almost inconceivable. After all, how much more extreme could a ride really get?
To say the least, technology came a long way since the end of the seventies, with methods of propulsion advancing to the twelve-mile-per-hour-per-second flywheel launch, to the twenty-mile-per-hour-per-second linear syncronist and linear induction motor launches, with other methods of propulsion in between. Then, it was time for a new innovation that would blow everything else away. Stan Checketts' company S&S Power had utilized the power of pneumatics on their compressed-air-launched freefall towers since 1995, and in 2000, S&S successfully applied this same technology to a steel coaster. At their Utah testing grounds, Thrust Air 2000
rose from the desert landscape with an unconventional vertical ascent and descent directly after the single most intense launch ever conceived. The capabilities of these pneumatics far exceeded any other launching technology, with the potential for acceleration up to some sixty miles per hour per second. S&S's prototype would launch to eighty miles per hour in one point eight seconds before ascending the hill and rounding a curve back to the station. The question now was: would any major theme park be willing to install this new, expensive technology for millions of thrill seekers to get the opportunity to experience?
Doswell, Virginia's Paramount's Kings Dominion
had played a significant role in the development of the modern launched coaster, since the installation of one of the original three weight-drop launched coasters, King Kobra
. That prototype coaster came and went, but then 1996 saw the debut of a coaster that would start a new era of extreme launches, Outer Limits: Flight of Fear
(changed to Flight of Fear
in 2001). Flight of Fear
carried the distinction of using the first linear induction motor launch along with its sister ride at Paramount's Kings Island
in Ohio. Two years later, the same park introduced a third revolutionary launched coaster with Volcano: the Blast Coaster
, the first inverted ride with a launch. Just three years later, Kings Dominion would solidify themselves as the launched coaster capital of the world. On August 1st, 2000, the park announced that it had purchased the first of S&S Power's compressed-air-launched coasters to the delight of roller coaster fanatics anxious to experience this new level of extreme. The ride, appropriately named HyperSonic XLC: Xtreme Launch Coaster
, was originally slated to be installed at Santa Clara, California's Paramount's Great America
, but when those plans fell through, Kings Dominion grabbed the opportunity to go down in history yet again as a testing ground of innovation.
In the winter leading up to the 2001 season, Paramount's Kings Dominion
installed the new coaster. S&S shipped the prototype ride from Utah to Virginia and tweaked the layout to include a highly-banked high-speed turnaround, a second banked turn, and a final airtime hill. In addition, S&S redesigned original trains from the prototype to secure riders by lap and leg restraints only as opposed to over-the-shoulder harnesses, and to use aircraft tires for a unique feel as they ride along flat rails. The coaster's 1,560 feet of out and back track was a perfect fit for the southwest corner of the theme park, taking over former midway open space of the Wayne's World themed section and relocating the Scream Weaver
flying scooters flat ride. With most of the layout elevated well above the ground, the park was allowed to construct the coaster directly above the central midway. And on March 24th, 2001, HyperSonic XLC
blasted off. Kings Dominion
now had bragging rights to three launched coasters while most parks considered one a novelty, and also the new fastest launch in the world until Japan's Fujikyu Highlands
opened the second of S&S's Thrust Air coasters with Dodonpa
at the end of the year. Being the prototype ride that it was, HyperSonic
would see modifications in the seasons that immediately followed its debut including the removal of windshields from trains for a more open-air experience, making the ride more intense for extreme ride enthusiasts.
To the dismay of HyperSonic
fans, Kings Dominion decided to dismantle the coaster at the end of the 2008 season. Due to unreasonable maintenance costs and regular operating frustrations associated with the experimental technology, the ride ran for the last time just over seven years after opening. However, this ride's legacy will live on for years to come, and its impact on the coaster world lingers long after it rode into the sunset. The memories will also live on for years to come...
In the past, as thrill seekers walked towards the back of the park, they would see it. Dominating over the midway of Kings Dominion's
Grove section, bright white columns rise straight up and a vertical hill of white track aims skyward just behind a sweeping turnaround. Then, they would hear it. the sound of the eight-passenger train rocketing off from a dead standstill and ascending into the sky greets future riders was audible from halfway across the park. The midway led underneath the major action of the ride, and visitors walked underneath almost any given portion of track, including the 165-foot hill, to reach the queue entrance. Making their way through the line in the triangular area between the launch, station, and brake run, future riders were given a full view of the launch process taking place. A train pulled up at the launch strip, stoped momentarily, and then disappeared in a blue and yellow blur before the eyes of spectators with a deafening HyperSonic
boom. Reaching the station platform after a flight of steps, thrill seekers stood in line for one of four rows on a future train. The air gates opened, and the next octet of riders left their loose articles behind before sitting back and locking their safety belts into lap and leg restraints. The train moved from the station, rounding a 135-degree bend to the left and stopped to be weighed. It slowly continued on its way, being driven by tires onto the straightaway and through an emergency-braking area.
All surrounding eyes were fixed on the train. It stoped, and the anticipation continued to build as the launch dog locked onto the bottom of the train. It shifted back a few inches. Riders waited for the green light, staring ahead at the start of the vertical climb 155 feet beyond. Excess air released. Suddenly, passengers were pinned to the back of their seats with unthinkable force as the train was thrust forward down the launch strip in the blink of an eye to eighty miles per hour and hit the ninety-degree vertical curve. Leaving the earth behind, the Xtreme Launch Coaster
's train made for the sky, climbing vertically as riders lie on their backs. The train was whisked over the pinnacle in an ever-sharpening 180-degree vertical-to-vertical transition making for intense airtime over the top. As they came over the crown of the hill, a quick but panoramic view of the park spread out ahead was presented. From the 165-foot vantage point, riders got a quick glance at rides like Drop Zone Stunt Tower
, now known simply as Drop Tower
, and Rebel Yell
directly ahead lining the Grove midway. The transition was over quickly, however, and the coaster was on its way plunging straight towards the black asphalt below.
A wide pullout took the train down 133 feet from the summit, and then the white box-spined track's framework began pulling into a heavy banking transition thirty-two feet above ground, directly over the heads of pedestrians below. Leaning on their sides at eighty degrees, riders were taken into HyperSonic
's far 200-degree counterclockwise turnaround. Guests below are visible flying past as they stare up at the train as it navigated its way through the curve. At the end of the turnaround, the track straightened out and sendt riders over midway games below, towards the vertical hill's support towers. A bank in the opposite direction sent the layout to the right, past ride photo cameras, then into the grand finale. For the coaster's finale, the train flew over an intense speed hill inducing all of the airtime that ride lovers crave, and then dipped back down below tree level to enter the brake run. Passengers braced themselves for a sudden stop as air brakes slowed the train from high speeds back to zero in a matter of seconds. With a slight curve to the left, the train entered the unloading portion of the station and lap restraints were released for riders to exit down the ramp to view their ride photos and possibly even wait in line again for another go at the ride's intense action.Editor's Note: Hypersonic XLC
saw its last day of operation on October 28, 2007. The ride is up for sale, but many fear that HyperSonic XLC
has seen its last days. No announcement has been made as to how Kings Dominion plans to use the space formerly occupied by the X-treme Launch Coaster. One can only hope for something half as thrilling as going 0-81mph in 8.1 seconds.