Specific Type: Steel, Launched
Kennywood has always stood out from the crowd as a classic park that has really stuck by its roots and traditions, even in an age where shiny new steel often dominates amusement park skylines. Other than the arrow looper Steel Phantom, which was changed into the Phantom’s Revenge hypercoaster in 2001, the coaster has a trio of classic wooden coasters it has stood proudly on for many decades. Other than the decade-long operation of Laser Loop from 1980 to 1990, the park hadn’t seen steel for more than 5 years in nearly a century of operation.
The 1991 addition of the massive looping Steel Phantom broke that wall down, and though it only operated 10 years in its original form, it still exists as a steel giant in the form of the overhauled Phantom’s Revenge hypercoaster. The 1999 addition of Exterminator was the last new coaster added to the park, though the argument can be made that it was the 2001 overhaul of Steel Phantom into its new identity, since the coaster was completely new and unique from its old form. But now without the long-departed Laser Loop and Steel Phantom’s inversions swapped for big airtime hills, the park again had no inversions and no launches amongst its lineup…something the park had to change to keep up with modern amusement parks.
After nearly a decade since the last “new” coaster was added, the park announced in last 2009 that a launched looping coaster would make its way to Kennywood in 2010, Sky Rocket. Built by Premier Rides, the new coaster features the companies famous Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) launch system to blast the new rolling stock through 3 inversions along a twisted, yet not overly intense layout. The point of the ride was to give thrill seekers something new at the park finally, but keep it just tame enough to still make it family friendly. One way Kennywood and Premier achieved this was with newly designed trains that utilized only lap bars, not restrictive over-the-shoulder-restraints to secure riders in the cars.
The only disappointing thing about the new coaster was that it was not ready in time for the park’s May 8 opening in 2010. A crippling winter and excessive snowfall delayed construction enough that the rides opening had to be pushed back until June. The launch allows the coaster to fit into a very compact area and minimizes how much time the ride must spend above the treeline, helping to save space and save the park’s beautiful visuals.
Located on the site formerly occupied by Turnpike, a ride on Sky Rocket begins by loading up into one of the coasters two red trains. A 180-degree turn out of the station to the left moves the train straight into a rolling launch that gets the coaster up to its top speed of 50 mph. Once at top speed, the track goes ballistic, 90-degrees straight up, over a 95-foot tall airtime-filled top hat, and 90-degrees straight back down. Back at the ground level, the track rises and rolls up to the left, overbanking through a cutback element, sending riders back towards the base of the top hat element. From here, the track again rises, rolling right and twisting hard through a zero-g roll that rolls out to the right and up into the MCBR.
Heading straight for the top of the zero-g roll, the train plummets nearly vertically at the last second under the inversion, leading into a heavily-banked ground hugging turn to the left. As soon as the track is done rolling left, it throws riders up and to the right through an elongated corkscrew element. Rising to the right out of the corkscrew through another heavily banked turnaround, the coaster than hits a series of slaloming S-curves, twisting left, right, left, and right again. The last curve continues on and drops to the ground, leading to a dual bunny hill finale before rising into the final brake run.
The ride is just over a minute long, but even still, Sky Rocket doesn’t disappoint. It’s glass smooth, comfortable, fun, and gave Kennywood exactly what they needed, a thrilling family-friendly roller coaster.
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