Specific Type: Suspended Catapult Coaster
In late 1998, an explosive force ripped through a theme park known as Kings Dominion, and things have never exactly been the same. For the full story, one must go back in time almost twenty years from that fateful August day at the end of the millennium - back to the year 1979. This was the season that a four-year-old theme park located in the middle of nowhere in central Virginia put the finishing touches on its newest major attraction, not knowing exactly how this seemingly-innocent move would affect the course of the future. The Doswell, Virginia park had constructed a seventeen-story mountain near the edge of its 400-acre property to become part of its themed section and wild animal preserve known as Lion Country Safari.
Kings Dominion's 'Lost World' was unveiled that spring to guests as a
complex containing four small rides beneath and around its beige sculpted surface and steel girders: Voyage to Atlantis, a themed flume ride with a twenty-foot splashdown in front of the mountain; Time Shaft, a rotor flat ride pinning guests with centrifugal force as the floor dropped beneath them, all while enclosed in a smaller themed structure adjacent to the mountain; Mt. Kilimanjaro, a Bayerncurve-type spinning ride around a waterfall and through a rock formation; and finally, the Arrow Dynamics-manufactured powered mine train Land of the Dooz (later rethemed to Smurf Mountain) with a themed track layout nearly completely enclosed in the structure. Along with housing the small attractions, guests to Kings Dominion could admire the not-so-miniature mountain from virtually all parts of the park, or take a trip around it on the Safari Monorail, as picturesque waterfalls cascaded down the front and into a lagoon.
While the mountain remained impressive, ridership on the four attractions the complex housed was dwindling by the end of the 1980s, not aided by the removal of the monorail, animal park, and adjacent steel coaster King Kobra. Voyage to Atlantis had been re-themed to the Haunted River and Time Shaft kept on running, but the last days for Mt. Kilimanjaro came in the eighties, then Smurf Mountain was removed in 1993, and thus the mountain lost half of its staple attractions. After Paramount Parks came onto the scene that same year, plans were drawn up for a new attraction to revitalize the mountain. Kings Dominion would add a themed ride based on former park-owner Paramount's upcoming movie Congo, dubbed Congo: the Adventure. But when that movie bombed in 1995, nothing materialized except for the removal of the two remaining rides in the complex and the renaming of the former animal safari section now known as Safari Village to Congo.
A mammoth mountain sat still, and no one would suspect what was about to happen. Rumblings sounded; whispers of an unspeakable inevitability. This mountain wasn't going to be dormant much longer. Then, it came. On August 15th, 1998, an unprecedented eruption of fiery coaster fury burst forth from the
mountaintop, andVolcano: the Blast Coaster became the growing theme park's tenth coaster track. The fastest inverted coaster in the world. The tallest inversion in the world. The first ever steel coaster of its kind in the world. With an investment of twenty-million dollars, the single-largest since Kings Dominion opened, the mountain once home to innocent family rides became one of the hottest attractions in the thrill ride world. And with the aid of famous designer Werner Stengel, Paramount Parks Design, and the ambitious manufacturer Intamin AG, Kings Dominion was able to fire off one of the most extreme, innovative, and unique rides in the world after years of design, and months of difficult construction and unexpected testing delays.
The former Lost World underwent a major face lift beginning in late 1997 with tunnels being cut through the mountain for track, holes being drilled in the mountainside, and footers installed within for many of the coaster's nearly 200 maroon red, Canadian steel supports on the four-acre site. But the most challenging feat would be erecting a 155-foot tall half-loop straight up through the mountain and out the top requiring a clear path for the track through the mess of internal framework for the actual mountain, and the lowering and widening of the mountain's peak, the centerpiece of the entire attraction. Once complete, however, all efforts paid off.
Volcano had to its name the first launch of any inverted coaster in the world, a linear induction motor propulsion of seventy-two miles per hour which had been experimented with initially on Kings Dominion's neighboring Flight of Fear, the world's first LIM-launched coaster, two years prior. Following two of these launches, the dangling trainload of riders are taken straight up and out of the top like lava only after a show of powerful pyrotechnic bursts and rumbling. Twisting down from the record-breaking sidewinder inversion, the Blast Coaster's skeletal, triangular yellow Intamin track wraps around the now reddish-brown rock formation and completes not one, not two, but three heart-line rolls including one built into the side of the mountain. And just as it began, the ride ends with a bang: this time, a highly-banked eighty-foot plunge into darkness.
As adventurers enter the Congo, the enormous mountain looms ahead. Walking past themed shops and restaurants, Kings Dominion visitors approach the coaster and enter into the realm of Volcano as they pass under the first ride sign. The drum beats of African Congo tunes fill the air. Lush greenery and boulders line the pathway, and the red and yellow steel coaster stands proudly ahead behind a lagoon and themed hut, wrapping around the rock formation.
An intense blast of flame shoots skyward and engulfs the pinnacle of the mountain in flames, courtesy of flamethrowers surrounding the opening in the mountain. A loud rumbling fills the air and then a screaming train of riders bursts from the top with dangling legs flying through the sky as the ring of smoke ascends into the clouds. Guests pass beneath the arched wooden queue entry sign for Volcano: the Blast Coaster and begin a slight ascent on the rock-sculpted queue line. Turning to the right, the line enters a cavern themed with tribal masks, then onto a wooden ramp into the main queuing hut. Finally, future riders enter the mountain beside a small waterfall and pass over the station area before descending to board one of three trains. A train pulls to a stop, gates open, and the waiting eight-row, two-abreast orange train is loaded; riders pulling down black shoulder harnesses and latching them to seat belts. Then, the moment of truth.
The train moves slowly from the station, riders' feet dangling over water as they're taken around the first 90-degree bend to the left. Creeping forward, riders stare down the launch strip ahead - a dark passage through the mountain lined by dozens of supports, and light visible at the other end. Without warning, the linear induction motors kick the ride into action, propelling the train ahead full throttle down the straightaway. Three seconds later, riders are flying forward at seventy-two miles an hour, then banking to enter a full turnaround behind the mountain. Riders being pressed into their seats by over four g's of force, the coaster completes just over 200 degrees of curvature and track debanks to send the train on a heading
straight towards the rock face. The train enters the second launch area and reaches top speeds again to thrust passengers deep into the heart of the pitch-black mountain. The train soars upwards in the darkness as supports and framework fly past in all directions, speeding straight up with a slight rightward twist. Emerging back into the light, thrill seekers fly out and over the top of Volcano at some 155 feet over the park's Congo section completely upside-down.
The second half of the sidewinder inversion twists the track back into normal position in a half-corkscrew from the top feeding down into a high U-turn. This turnaround ventures around counterclockwise high over the park and brings the course around to the front of the mountain for a lofty second inversion. Before entering the first heart-line roll, the yellow track debanks, then begins rolling in the opposite direction while it rotates in a downwards circle around the level of riders' chests. After the roll, the Blast Coasternegotiates another elevated left-hand turnaround, this time just beyond 180 degrees. Volcano's track begins the roll into the third inversion, another heart-line roll this time built into the side of the mountain and crossing underneath the first sidewinder. Wrapping up roll number two, the layout next takes the inverted trainload around a right-handed turnaround navigating into the fourth and final inversion. The world spins around one more time in front of riders and then remains on its side for the grand finale. Banking still more, the ride begins its final eighty-foot dive curving around and through the maroon support structure of the fourth turn and ending with a launch crossover leading passengers straight back into the darkness of the mountain. At breakneck speed, the magnetic brakes kick in and bring riders to a swift, smooth stop. With a left U-turn, the train approaches the unloading area and passengers exit to the right into Volcano's souvenir shop to end their exhilarating ride.
Volcano not only remains one of the most extreme thrill rides ever conceived in ways exclusive to the Blast Coaster, but also a breathtaking feat in steel coaster design, construction, and engineering. Year after year, Volcano challenges its riders: can they take the heat?
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