As I sit at our fabled desktop awaiting the day that my laptop will cease tormenting me, I surf the web as always and end up on where else but COASTER-net. While exploring, I come across a few old blogs of mine which I wrote last summer. One of them catches my eye, "Unusual Coaster Elements: A Recognition of the Black Sheep of Coaster Maneuvers". As I read through it, I stop about three fourths of the way down, and I am reminded of the very night I sat on my bed and typed it.
I notice that, in order to justify my mentioning of the Wraparound Corkscrew and Cutback elements, I had to lapse into the backstory of the somewhat unknown Arrow legend that can only be referred to as Drachen Fire. This gets me thinking. How well do any of us really know the true, in depth story of Drachen Fire? How many were granted the rare chance of riding the unusual masterpiece? The answer to both questions is probably a handful of coaster enthusiasts who, although might not remember exactly how the ride rode, definitely remember the ride itself. Those who don't remember the experience or didn't experience it at all have probably taken to Youtube to look up a POV of it. Chances are, they'll find one which is taken off an old roller coaster tape from 1994 as the first result that pops up. I certainly did, and after watching similar POV's from the tape which were posted by the user, I noticed that before each POV a byline was added toward the bottom of the screen, which read something like, "Viper from front car center!" or "Can YOU tame the Beast?". In Drachen Fire's case, it was "Let's look a Drachen in the mouth!". Mind you, all of these bylines came before the same, ear grating, digitized screams inexplicably added to each POV. So I did some research on the striking blue coaster, which included not only professionally written articles but also various recounts of the ride from discussion forums. And so, based on everything I have read, this is what I came up with on the story of Drachen Fire. So, in the words of a 1994 VHS tape, "Let's look a Drachen in the mouth."
It all started in 1992. A little before Bolliger and Mabillard designed Vortex for Carowinds, and had successfully, yet unintentionally ousted the production of Arrow's suspended coaster with their groundbreaking inverted model. They masterfully created two stand-up coasters which they used to show the industry what exactly they were capable of. One of the big industry names that saw the young company's talents was Busch. Busch was looking to add a new sit-down looping coaster to each of their two parks, Busch Gardens Africa and Busch Gardens Europe. They were known for demanding perfection with each of their attractions, and they were convinced that Bolliger and Mabillard were the ones to provide them with such a ride. They contacted the young company and gave them their request. B&M was eager to fulfil it, but the order proved too much for them as they were of course working on Vortex for Carowinds, a unique ride in itself, as well as preparing to launch the first of their inverted endeavours, Batman: the Ride, for Six Flags Great America. They were forced to compromise. B&M informed Busch that they could deliver one of the coasters for them, but not both. Faced with an dilemma, Busch reminded themselves that the company was young, and could only handle so many firsts. They understood B&M's decision, and immediately went to work on an alternative after sending B&M off to work on the coaster for Busch Gardens Africa. Busch didn't know what to do next. They decided to turn their attention to their other park, Busch Gardens Europe, and observe the coasters it currently had. Those coasters were Loch Ness Monster, and of course the late Big Bad Wolf. Both of them were a favorite among guests and enthusiasts alike, Loch Ness Monster for its iconic interlocking loops and famous drop over the river, and Big Bad Wolf for its fun ride provided in part by its first drop which seemed smaller than it actually was and packed quite a punch... as well as its famous drop over the river. At that note, both of them were also masterfully constructed to look absolutely stunning. But the big thing these two coasters had in common was that they were both the works of Arrow Dynamics.
And so, Busch ultimately decided to give Arrow a call and have their imput on the matter. They explained the dilemma and asked the established company to design the sit-down looping coaster for their Busch Gardens Europe park. Arrow, always eager to take on a challenge, of course accepted in a heartbeat. So, Bolliger and Mabillard gave Arrow the concept they originally had in mind. However, a problem soon arose... Arrow was absolutely stunned, to say the least. The concept consisted of a large loop wrapped around the lift hill, a dive loop, a zero-g roll, a cobra roll, and to top it all off, two interlocking corkscrews. Not to mention the helix finale... so, since Arrow already said yes, they decided to attempt to make sense of the matter. They studied the concept closer, trying to remain optimistic about what they were capable of, as well as what they could and couldn't do. First item, a large loop around the lift... no. That would definitely not work. They could try to fit their cookie-cutter fifty-two foot diameter loop around the lift hill, but it just wouldn't work... at least not as well as it should have. So, they decided to make up for it and replace it with a devious element that would cover both the loop and the swooping first drop... the wraparound corkscrew. It started off as a regular corkscrew straight off the lift, but soon evolved into a downward left-hand curve that was sure to replace the loop in the most clever way possible. Next item, zero-g roll... no. They probably could've applied the technology they used for their pipeline prototype, but it wasn't meant for a normal sit-down looper. Then again, Drachen Fire was anything but normal... they decided to simply replace it with a camelback hill that would lead better into the next element anyway. Next item, cobra roll... now this was possible. They could easily pull this off by using bits and pieces from their loop and their corkscrew. Afterall, they had been doing it for more than a decade with their Batwing and Sidewinder elements, so why not the cobra roll. With one problem easily solved, they focused their attention on the rest of the concept... the interlocking corkscrews and the overbanked turn between them. They could try to rectify this... they could make the corkscrews appear to interlock by placing them adjacent to each other. As far as the overbanked turn, however... they designed another devious element, the cutback. The cutback was simple... like the wraparound corkscrew, it started off like a regular corkscrew but the second half was dramatically different. In this case, the second half was flipped, creating an element somewhat reminiscent of an overbanked turn. It worked well enough, and Arrow seemed to manage to create a feasible coaster. Now they just needed to design it.
They came up with a layout and sent it to Busch. But it was much, much too large... not to mention it probably was a mess with all of the unique elements Arrow had to include. So, they were forced to compact it into a smaller footprint. However, this was the least of their problems. What Busch and Arrow didn't consider at first was that Arrow and B&M were entirely different from each other in the design spectrum. B&M designed its coasters using the rider's heart as the center of gravity, which gave the track it's unique s-turning to the side when it banked. Arrow, however, designed their coasters using the center of the train as the center of gravity. Two completely different tactics. Since Arrow was attempting to deliver a fantastic ride yet at the same time introduce a new era of standards, they did the absolute worst thing they could have done... they combined them both... together. This was a problem. B&M's center of heart tactic was entirely too different. Arrow did not have the power nor the resources to all of a sudden completely go against what they had been doing for more than three decades. Arrow was an old dog that could not be taught a new trick at the snap of a finger. But, against all odds, Arrow attempted to go through with the mutated designing process. They started with a smooth curve out of the station which calmly led to the lift hill. A straight drop led to the wraparound corkscrew which transitioned into the swooping first drop that in turn led to the camelback hill... decent so far. The cobra roll led into a slight dip toward the ground. A questionable turn led into the MCBR, which was a sign of what was to follow. This was where things took a turn for the worst... literally. After the MCBR, the track suddenly plunged abruptly to the right, heavily banked might I add, and slammed straight to the left into the first corkscrew-- never mind the fact that the corkscrew was a "diving" corkscrew. The transition faux paux was enough to ruin the rest of the ride, and for many... it did. Arrow was never one for designing smooth transitions, and the ones they did design always had an awkward quality... but this one was the icning on the blue and gray cake that was soon to be known as Drachen Fire.
Eventually, the time had arrived. B&M had flawlessly completed their version, and it opened as Kumba at Busch Gardens Africa to immediate critical acclaim. Arrow had... not so flawlessly completed their version, and it opened at Busch Gardens Europe to overwelming hype. That hype did not last very long, however, once unprepared riders were slammed through the evil transition into the diving corkscrew. It gave them headahces, neck aches and a sour taste in their mouth about the ride. Before long a bad reputation surrounded the coaster, yet that reputation did not curb the seasoned coaster enthusisasts once they rode it. Experienced in how Arrow coasters worked, they knew how and where to sit to ward off the headbanging and headaches. But what they didn't know how to cope with was the train. Arrow was stopping at nothing to usher in a new era of coastering, and that was evident in nothing more than the trains of Drachen Fire. They were steamlined with headlights on the front, but they packed riders in so much that they could barely move. Arrow didn't realize (or know) that riders in fact wanted the opposite, freedom of movement. So it was much to the enthusiasts' surprise when they had trouble bracing themselves for the worst-- and the worst was made worse due to the diabolical contraptions. This was an absolute disaster. Arrow had to do something to correct the matter. After two seasons of normal operations in 1994, Busch had Arrow remove the main trouble area, the diving corkscrew. Arrow replaced it with a slight turn to the left, an extra set of brakes, and another turn which led into the cutback. The problem was therefore solved. But at the same time, it wasn't.
Busch and Arrow had to face the fact that the entire design was the problem, save for the trains. In combining two different things which did not mesh well together, Arrow created a conflicting ride. They simply tried too hard to make the coaster the most interesting thing it could be. It was interesting alright, but for the wrong reasons. After four final years of normal operation, Drachen Fire was put on a hiatus. Busch could not let the ride continue like this, and they spent the next several years following trying to figure out what to do and how they could salvage the ride. They looked at it every which way and even tested it to see if it was running properly. And in fact, Drachen Fire ended up failing g-force tests. Rather than let the coaster suffer tearing itself and riders apart, they ultimately decided to give up on the seven year old ride. But to at least give the coaster a chance at a new life, they put Drachen Fire up for sale-- at an expensive price no less-- and left it on the market for a while. Unfortunately, and even to the dismay of enthusiasts who were finally beginning to realize what it was they had, no park wanted the coaster. And it was those enthusiasts who were absolutely crushed when the ride was torn down and its steel melted. Drachen Fire had now officially ceased to exist. Many enthusiasts took to the discussion forums, reviewing the events leading up to this tragedy and citing many complex reasons why it failed. But there was certainly one question on everyone's mind... why? Why did it have to end as it did? Why didn't Busch give it another chance and get new trains and maybe even have Arrow rework the ride? The true answer may never be known.
But one thing that is known is that Drachen Fire operated for six years. The ride looked spectacular and seemed to gleam in perfection. Yet perfection is one thing it lacked completely, no matter how much Arrow strived for it. Drachen Fire wasn't just another coaster... it was THE coaster. The coaster that served as a symbol that Arrow tried much too hard to outwit B&M's flawless designs and push back forward. The coaster that defined what it was to compromise in coastering and to creatively think of elements which were so ingenius yet so radical that they were never seen again on another Arrow coaster. The coaster that was simply ultimately known as Drachen Fire. And so, the story comes to end. The ride may be gone, and enthusiasts may merely be left with memories, photos, footage and the station of Drachen Fire, but at least they, Arrow and Busch realize what it does indeed mean to "look a Drachen in the Mouth."