Six Flags America
By Alex Bove
Summoning metaphors of flying is irresistible when talking about Six Flags America's newest roller coaster, Batwing.
In its early promotional materials, the park reminded us of Maryland's aviation history (in 1919, in College Park, Wilbur Wright began training our military officers to fly). Moreover, the Batwing is the caped crusader's private "airplane," and the generic name of this type of coaster is flying dutchman. In most cases, I like to resist the temptation to lapse into cliche, but it's almost impossible not to compare the experience of riding Batwing with that of flying.
NASA Astronaut Robert Curbeam, a member of the Space Shuttle Atlantis' crew, has flown his share of fighter jets, and he likens Batwing's maneuvers to those of an F-16: "You're being pulled and pushed and twisted and turned. It feels a lot like flying acrobatics in an airplane."
Type of Coaster:
Height: 115 feet
Max drop: 110 feet
G-force: 4.3 G's
Top speed: 50 mph
Length: 3,340 feet
Helix, Four-Abreast Seating
Number of Trains:
3 - 24 Passenger
2 minutes, 20 seconds
1,200 riders per hour
June 13, 2001
Six Flags America
Of course, most of us have already experienced inversions inspired by fighter jet stunt flying: Bolliger and Mabillard's looping coasters (both the sit-down and inverted variety) emulate barrel rolls, heartline spins, and other aerial gymnastics. So what's all the fuss about Vekoma's ride?
For starters, riders on Batwing spend most of their time in the prone position. In short, it's more like the Peter Pan or (as Curbeam went on to suggest) Superman variety of flying than the Top Gun kind. In fact, few riders can resist flinging their arms out in front of them as soon as they turn over to face the ground. But Batwing's trains provide another advantage: since the majority of the ride is spent either facing the sky or the ground, riders have absolutely no idea what is coming next. Nearly every twist, turn and inversion takes them completely by surprise.
Surprise, and all its attendant anxiety and exhilaration, is Batwing's crowning achievement. The best compliment to give this ride is that while from a distance it looks extremely simple, almost innocuous, it is actually an intense, disorienting (in a good way), and surprise-filled ride. I'll briefly describe Batwing's basic course, but even knowing basically where this ride is going ill-prepares riders for its chaotic actualization.
Riders begin seated but are immediately lowered to the prone position, facing up, where they will remain all the way up the lift hill. I was told that eventually the seat lowering will take place while the train ascends the hill, but for now it happens in the station.
After cresting the lift hill, a slight curve leads into a 180 degree inversion and the ride's most spectacular moment. Suddenly riders are staring 115 feet straight down and, though they can see the coaster's massive purple supports flanking them, they have no clue where they will be going next. The coaster negotiates a banked drop, at the bottom of which are some fairly heavy positive G's, and then swoops into another great element, the horseshoe. Again, from the queue or the loading station this looks like just another banked curve. But the banking is so severe that an inversion seems imminent, and when the train doesn't invert the result is wonderful confusion.
After the horseshoe is another swooping drop that lifts into a sharply banked right hand turn and an immediate 180 degree inversion. Riders are now on their backs again, and that's the way they negotiate Batwing's vertical loop, a very g-force heavy inversion that is said to deliver near blackout g's in the back seats (I sat near the front). Note: if you have time to think while riding this coaster, and if you are sitting near the front or back, try looking down (from the front) or up (from the back) while inside the loop and you'll get a great view of other riders. The loop leads into another swooping curve which also inverts riders 180 degrees (they're facing down now, for those of you playing at home). Another swooping dip curves into two barrel rolls, and then it's down into a powerful helix, up and over, and into the brakes.
Batwing is loaded with very powerful positive G-forces, so lovers of extreme coastering will flock to ride it.
Sam Marks, the ubiquitous coaster enthusiast best known for co-founding Coaster Zombies, also noted the coaster's illusions of tremendous height and speed. Cleverly placed trees and, of course, the ride's supports add to the sensation of speed. The fact that (for most of the ride at least) very little sits between the track and the ground also makes Batwing seem to be taller than it actually is. Since a much taller or faster flying dutchman coaster would likely be unridable (it's an intense ride already), Six Flags and Vekoma have adroitly used classic theming concepts to add extra thrills to their ride.
Amusement parks have been trying to make their guests "fly" since their earliest days (think of classic flat rides like the swinging chairs), and Six Flags America has come as close as I've experienced to creating genuine flying sensations with Batwing. Sometimes, just for a moment or two, it made me forget I was on a roller coaster and forced me to consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, I was floating through mid-air, dancing, flipping, twisting and, happily, out of breath.
Photos and article by Alex Bove. Copyright © 2001 Ultimate Rollercoaster.
Batwing artwork courtesy of Six Flags America. All rights reserved.