By Alex Bove
It was a brisk Spring day (March 22, 2001) in Doswell, Virginia, but the sky was steel blue and speckled with wispy clouds. It was a perfect day to ride roller coasters, and Kings Dominion's newest offering, HyperSonic XLC (Xtreme Launch Coaster), was up for the task. Members of the press arrived at three o'clock and spent the afternoon watching the new coaster cycle and talking to park staff, ride designers, and enthusiasts.
Stan Checketts, creator of the world's first compressed-air launched roller coaster.
Stan Checketts of S&S Power, the man who created the world's first compressed-air launched roller coaster, garnered most of the media's attention. Though he was reluctant to reveal too many of S&S's future plans, he did let out a few.
S&S Power is working on a similar roller coaster for a park in Japan and that one should break the 100-mph barrier. S&S Power also plans to build another compressed-air launched coaster that is over 300-feet tall.
Type of Coaster:
Compressed Air Launched
Height: 165 feet
Max drop: 135 feet
Descent angle: 90°
Top speed: 80 mph
Length: 1,560 feet
Compressed-air launch, zero-to-80 mph in 1.8 seconds
Number of Trains:
3 - 8 Passenger
4 – 2 at 250 Hp each and 2 at 300 Hp.
March 24, 2001
Kings Dominion's 11th roller coaster, Hypersonic XLC.
Finally, Checketts commented on a test run that ended with the train not quite cresting the hill and rolling back down. He said the rollback is something they've been testing and that it might be an intentional feature they use to keep the coaster surprising for riders. Many of the enthusiasts interviewed said they'd pay extra for an intentional rollback, so Checketts statement may be good news for die hard coaster fans.
So what is so special about HyperSonic XLC that had over a thousand fans lining up and paying $20 just for a chance to ride it? First off, the ride's compressed-air power system allows for unparalleled acceleration. Some LSM and LIM coasters match or even exceed HyperSonic's top speed, but none get there as quickly as this one (0-80 mph in 1.8 seconds, in case you haven't heard). But speed is only half the picture. Because the S&S coaster uses pneumatic tires and a unique shock absorption system, its ride is also amazingly smooth. Add to the speed and slick trackage a death-defying vertical hill and you have a spectacular ride.
The 16-story tall Top Hat element on the Hypersonic XLC roller coaster.
At 5:15 p.m. the crowd grew silent as HyperSonic XLC took its official inaugural ride. A deafening hiss of air, a whizz, and several screams rang out. Those were the prevailing sounds of the evening. But watching HyperSonic run its course does not truly prepare the rider for this breathtaking machine.
As they strapped me into my seat for my first ride, I was extremely nervous. Watching how quickly the train got from the launch pad to the top of the hill was enough to worry any sane person. I clutched my lap bar – another great feature of HyperSonic is its lap bar restraints, a major improvement over the shoulder harnesses on the Thrust Air 2000 prototype– as the train rolled out of the station and into a left turn. The park staff warns riders not to put their hands up until the coaster is on top of the tower, but they don't have to warn us: there's no way anyone could keep his hands up during this launch. The train stopped and lurched a bit as we faced the vertical tower ahead. Then a click of air tricked me into thinking we were about to launch, but we stayed still (you may know this trick from S&S's launched tower rides). Finally, we were off!
The first thing I remembered noticing after the launch was that we were nearly atop the tower. It happens that quickly. One of the coaster's best moments is the vertical ride up the launch hill. It was especially stunning in the late afternoon as the train hurtled toward the bright sky. Both times I rode I marveled at that part of the coaster's run.
Before we could enjoy our ascent too much, we crested the hill and got a humongous jolt of airtime. By the time I stopped floating, we were at the bottom of the vertical drop and hitting the banked turn that would take us home. Another twist, another jolt of airtime thanks to a small bunny hop, and then into the brakes and only then, did I catch my breath.
After I'd ridden HyperSonic a couple of times, I loomed around the exit ramp to get some reactions from other riders. Most had trouble expressing what they had just felt. "It is like nothing in the world, and you can't go anywhere to get this. And if you don't ride this you're crazy," said Sam Marks, founder of Coaster Zombies, a national roller coaster club. Marks was first in line to ride HyperSonic and raved about it all night.
Diane Ferguson, a journalism teacher at Centreville High School in Fairfax County, Virginia rode HyperSonic with some of her students because "I can't let them show me up," she said. Afterward her knees were still quivering and her heart was still pounding, but she was happy she'd ridden it.
ACE members Clyde Elliott and Pete Turrill drove down to Paramount's Kings Dominion from Pittsburgh to ride HyperSonic. Elliott said it was "the closest you'll get to landing on the moon." I did not see anyone get off this ride without a smile on her face.
HyperSonic XLC's ride is extremely difficult to describe, but describing it is beside the point. As with any good roller coaster HyperSonic leaves its riders surprised, elated, and wanting to ride again. Perhaps they'll tell their friends about it later, but not before they've shot into the sky a few times, floated for a while and come in for their share of soft landings.
HyperSonic XLC is Kings Dominion's third launched roller coaster and their 11th coaster in their collection.
Hypersonic XLC photos and article by Alex Bove. Copyright © 2001 Ultimate Rollercoaster.
HyperSonic XLC artwork courtesy of Kings Dominion. All rights reserved.