Specific Type: Wood, Racing, Out-and-Back
In 1980, then Marriott's Great America, was a small amusement park, giving Chicagoland locals something to do on the weekends. Upon the park's opening, its only coaster was a Schwartzkopf shuttle loop, but that would soon change. In the year 1981, Swiss coaster manufacturer Intamin AG would enter the world of wooden coasters in a truly impressive way and putGreat America on the map of every thrill seeker on the planet. That year, American Eagle debuted as the world's tallest coaster, with a 127 ft high lift and 147 ft first drop. Not only that, but it also set the speed mark at a blistering 66 miles an hour. And just in case that wasn't impressive enough, Intamin doubled it all, making American Eagle a racing coaster. When it opened, the patriotically painted blue and red trains ran in opposite directions; that is one side ran with the train facing backwards for an added thrill. Since then, the trains have mostly both run in a forward-facing direction with the exception of several years throughout the coasters life when the "Blue Side" has been turned to run backwards: 1991, 1996, 2002-2005, and 2011 (from August 5 - September 17), and for special several special events.
As park guests enter Six Flags Great America's County Fair section, one ride stands high above all the rest. Entering the queue between the Daredevil Dive sky swing attraction andKIDZOPOLIS (formerly Wiggles World) kids area, future riders walk for what seems like an eternity to reach the station on the other side of the train tracks. Just outside of the building itself, guests are forced to decide whether or not they want to challenge the blue side or the red side; they both offer slightly different ride experiences. Once that choice is made, its up the stairs and into station house where riders line up for one of 30 seats on the train. With seat belt buckled and lap bar down, both trains depart the station, navigate u-turns in opposite directions and meet back up at the foot of the lift hill between the final break runs. Some verbal jousting and 127 vertical feet later, the chain stops and its off to the races.
The track bends out of site down the 55 degree drop and soon, riders are plummeting down the 147 foot drop, screaming though the support structure of one of the return hills at 66 miles an hour. Leaping out of the wooden web, the parallel tracks traverse one airtime inducing speed hill and then another, the second a tad smaller and more powerful. Surging back up towards the sky, the rails finally level off in a lengthy mid course break run prior to the ride's signature element. Both tracks bank to the left as the American Eagle executes a massive 570 degree helix with the red train on the inner circle gaining ground.
As the two trains pass through the structure of the helix's upper level, the ride's side by side track work begins to deviate, as the red side dips first only to rise over the blue side as it drops down to ground level and passes under the outward run. The returning rails now straddling the track already traversed, airtime hills abound, never quite even but spaced equally enough to keep the race close. Upon reaching the lift hill, both tracks jump up to another elevated break run and then peel off to either side of the out and back layout to complete a 360 degree "rose bowl" helix before finally reaching the station breaks. Nearly two and a half minutes after it started, riders find themselves back where it all began. All have silly grins on their faces, the winning sides' perhaps slightly bigger.
Though the coaster is not the over-arching record breaking wooden coaster it once was, it still remains as the tallest, longest, and fastest wooden racing coaster in the world.
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