by Danny Miller
Christmas in July has come and gone, and Holiday World has announced Thunderbird for the 2015 season. Thunderbird will be the first launched wing coaster from B&M, and will also be the first coaster that B&M has done their own launch system for. Enthusiasts will note that B&M did not do the launch system on Incredible Hulk. Nearly 3,000 viewers tuned in to the online feed that built up the hype leading up to the announcement around 9:30PM on Thursday evening. Several fans of the park were on site to witness the reveal in person.
The last few days of teasers and hints were pretty good at giving us an idea of what we would see. Several folks had come to the decision to guess it would be a wing coaster with some sort of bird theme. Less people however, picked up on the reference to Mammoth, which hinted at the launch concept. I thought it made sense from the moment we heard “truly unique” and the “first of its kind” come out. Thunderbird will be truly unique (at least when it opens), and maybe technically the first of its kind. Don’t forget that Spain is home to Furius Baco, an Intamin launched coaster with wing seats, but that ride is not well-liked and is very short. Thunderbird is expected to be well-liked and a slightly longer experience.
So let’s focus on Thunderbird. What does it mean for B&M? More importantly, what does it mean for Holiday World? Let’s start with B&M. For the popular steel coaster manufacturer, Thunderbird represents a step in a new direction. As their first launch coaster (with a launch made by them of course), Thunderbird will forever be a milestone in coaster history. We don’t know how much B&M was persuaded (if they needed to be in the first place), but if Thunderbird can have the reliability that other B&M coasters have, then I would think that more launch coasters may be on the way. I don’t expect them to come in bunches, but the possibility is now on the table for future projects.
Second, it shows that B&M is all in with the wing coaster concept. Just four years ago, it was a new thing, and we wondered how popular it would be. After 2012, I predicted that it would be bigger than the stand-up coaster, and we would eventually see more wing coasters that the floorless coasters. While we haven’t gotten to the later point yet, the fact that a small park has invested in the wing coaster concept is proof that B&M is sticking with it and that more are coming in the near future.
For one, I’m excited. I am a reasonably big fan of the wing coaster. I usually do not go for the gimmicky rides, but the wing coasters have the ability to do special things (like keyholes and fly-throughs) that other train styles can’t pull off. I don’t think the wing coasters built thus far have been gimmicky; they have been good rides that, when properly themed and surrounded with nice scenery, can be made even better. That holds true to just about any coaster type. Raptor (Gardaland), X-Flight, Gatekeeper, and Swarm are great coasters not because they are gimmicks, but because they are overall solid rides made better by theming and scenery that enhances the ride experience.
Thunderbird is a big step for B&M, but it’s an even bigger step for Holiday World. The late Will Koch had a vision for his park, and throughout his much too short time with us, he saw Holiday World grow and become not only a hometown favorite, but a destination for coaster enthusiasts across the globe. Not one, not two, but three spectacular wooden coasters made this enthusiast paradise, but he always knew there was something missing, and once Voyage succeeded, the idea of a major steel coaster was on the table. The discussions of bringing a steel coaster to Santa Claus have been going on for several years, and B&M seems to have always been the company slated to do it. Good call.
So Holiday World is finally getting their steel coaster, and it’s a culmination of an idea dreamt up by Will Koch many years ago and the execution of it by his friends and family that have continued to keep the park as brilliant as ever. Thunderbird will fill the void that only a steel coaster like this could fill, and it also brings in the idea of a launch, something that will really make this a stand-out attraction. The theming should be right on par with other Holiday World attractions, as it mixes together some Thanksgiving theming with Native American theming (do some searching for Thunderbird on Google to find out more), but also represents the farming that the heartland of America is known for.
Most importantly though, Thunderbird is a sign, a “shot across the bow” if you will. What do I mean by that? Well, a few years ago when Kentucky Kingdom closed, the Koch’s tried to open it as Bluegrass Boardwalk. The plan would put two parks near each other and create two parks to make money in instead of just one. However, after struggles, the deal did not get done, and now Ed Hart has re-opened Kentucky Kingdom under his own banner once again. Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Kentucky Kingdom exists once again in one of Holiday World’s major markets.
The early praise for Lightning Run has caught the attention of enthusiasts and locals that are flocking to Kentucky Kingdom. With the promise of a revamped T2 (soon to be T3) for 2015, and the unknown plans for Twisted Twins waiting for 2016, Kentucky Kingdom has a five-year plan to come back with a vengeance, and they’re doing it. By installing Thunderbird, Holiday World steps into a bit of uncharted waters (no pun intended). They all of a sudden have a big steel coaster to compete, check that, knock the socks off of Lightning Run and T3. By adding a big steel coaster, Holiday World is showing that they aren’t afraid to venture into the territory of the big parks, and they are up to the challenge and ready to compete for every guest that will come through the gates.
As for the coaster, I love it. It seems a few people are confused about the name and theme. Remember what I said earlier. It is a nice mix of Thanksgiving, Native Americans, and American culture. If you need more help, do some digging about what a thunderbird is in Native American culture. A few others have expressed concern of the length. I say it looks good to me, especially for a launch coaster, specifically a prototype. Its length beats X-Flight slightly, and a launch instead of a lift adds a thrill. The action time is not lengthy, but few launch coasters are. I for one am very excited for the ride and hope it is as great as the teaser campaign.
All in all, Holiday World played a perfect hand with all of this, and now they are the most talked about park in the country (at least until another announcement comes). It’s great to see a small park do something that says, “Hey, we can play this game too.” And boy, can they ever? Thunderbird will be an icon for years to come, and it is the culmination of a dream by Will Koch that was executed to perfection after he sadly left us much too soon. When you ride Thunderbird next season, look at the “Will Power” sign that will adorn the flywheel building that helps the launch, and remember that even though this is just another coaster to some, to others, it really means so much more.