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Ultimate Rollercoaster

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March 30, 2001

Hypersonic XLC: The Next Generation of Roller Coasters

Article written by:
Shaun Irving

Unique Air-Launched Coaster Thrills Riders at Paramount's Kings Dominion

Stan Checketts
Stan Checketts, founder of S&S Power talks about Hypersonic XLC at Paramount's Kings Dominion.

Doswell, VA — Inspiration for new rides can come in the strangest of places. For ride designer Stan Checketts, it happened in the mountains of Utah--miles from the nearest theme park.

Checketts, S&S Power is known worldwide for manufacturing high-thrill, vertical amusement rides. Using compressed air technology, the company has built Space Shot and Turbo drop rides all over the world. One day while snowmobiling up a near-vertical hill, Checketts wondered if that same technology could be applied to rollercoasters. The result was unveiled to the public in 1999; called the Thrust Air 2000, it was the world's first air-launched roller coaster. Thrill ride aficionados anxiously awaited the day when it would be open to the public. After a great deal of planning and preparation, coaster fans got their wish. In March of 2001, the Hypersonic XLC (eXtreme Launch Coaster) premiered at Paramount's Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia.

Hypersonic Ice Sculpture
Hypersonic XLC logo carved in ice for the opening party.

POWERED BY AIR

What makes the Hypersonic XLC unique is its means of propulsion--the oxygen we breathe. The coaster uses a compressed launch air system that produces maximum acceleration in minimum time--a record-setting 0-80 in less than two seconds. "The advantage of using compressed air is that you can continually store the power to run the ride," notes Checketts. "With other means, you have to release all of that horsepower at once." Air power is also clean and efficient, allowing it to be compressed in different amounts depending on the needs of a ride.

"We're developing a whole lot of exciting rides now using this same type of technology," adds Checketts, among them a drag-race ride and other coaster variations. In addition, S&S Power is developing a coaster similar to the Hypersonic XLC for a park in Japan, a ride that will eclipse the elusive 100 MPH mark. Even the U.S. Navy has shown an interest in this launch technology; they are currently studying the use of compressed air to increase the speed of their fighter jets.

Hypersonic Train
The 8-passenger train with shock absorbers and pneumatic tires deliver a smooth ride.

While the ride is one of the fastest you'll ever encounter, it's also one of the smoothest. The Hypersonic XLC uses shock absorbers and pneumatic tires--both designed by S&S Power specifically for this ride. These, coupled with the soft curves of the ride's track, make for a trip that's even smoother than your standard steel coaster. The Hypersonic XLC's combination of grace and speed weren't accidental; these two characteristics are standard on rides designed by S&S Power. "I don't ever want to build anything that turns or twists, other people can do that," notes Checketts. "I want to have a good time, I want to have my adrenaline pumped up."

But don't think that the Hypersonic XLC is just a technological wonder. Hands down, it's also one of the most intense rides known to man. "I've ridden hundreds of coasters all over the world and this is probably the single most thrilling coaster experience I've ever had," notes Paul Ruben, industry analyst and North American Editor of Park World magazine. This seemed to be the consensus of riders at the coaster's premiere on March 22, 2001. "Wow, that was amazing," says Katy McNiff of Richmond, Virginia. "I didn't even get a chance to scream, it goes so fast!" Its most exhilarating moment comes at the crest of the coaster's tower, where riders get a fantastic view of the park--a split second before hitting the 120 foot drop that awaits them.

Hypersonic Tower
The incredible 120-foot vertical drop on Hypersonic XLC.

THE BATTLE FOR THE HYPERSONIC XLC

Though many North American parks were interested in acquiring the prototype coaster, Paramount's Kings Dominion was where it eventually found a home. "This is the perfect park to put the Hypersonic XLC," notes Dale Kaetzel, Vice President of Marketing for Paramount's Kings Dominion. "We've always had great success with first-of-a-kind thrill rides, and that's why it's here," rather than at one of the four other parks that Paramount owns. Market research indicates that the Mid-Atlantic/Washington, DC region is the nation's best area to build thrill rides, making its placement at Kings Dominion a strong strategic decision for the parent company.

Kings Dominion is no stranger to showcasing new technologies in coastering. Since Paramount purchased the park from Kings Entertainment Company in 1993, they have introduced three other rollercoasters--two of which were the first of their kind. In 1996, the park opened The Outer Limits, the world's first launch coaster to use linear induction motors (or LIMs). Two years later, they premiered the ever-popular Volcano, which was the first suspended coaster to use LIM technology. For park staff and industry experts alike, it seemed natural that King's Dominion would serve as home to this one-of-a-kind thrill ride.

Hypersonic XLC Tower From Below
The Hypersonic XLC tower stands 165-feet tall from the base.

A NEW HOME FOR THE COASTER

Getting the Hypersonic XLC to what it is today proved to be no small task. First, major modifications had to be made to the ride's layout so it would blend seamlessly into the park's existing landscape. Instead of maintaining the oval racetrack layout of the prototype, the Hypersonic track takes a more compact, almost lima-bean shape. The designers also added a high bank turn, a few slight twists, and a couple of camel humps to liven up its return trip to the station.

The Thrust Air 2000 prototype was disassembled at its original home in Logan, Utah, and shipped with its new track sections to Doswell. All told, it took 60 trucks logging a total of 132,000 miles to haul all of the ride's components. Then, maintenance and construction crews worked with the ride's designers to reconstruct the ride to its exact specifications. Three and a half months later, the Hypersonic XLC was complete and ready for operation.

It's been over three years since Stan Checketts first imagined th Hypersonic XLC. And watching it grow from a mountainside idea to a theme park reality has been most gratifying for him. "When you get that many guys working on a project for that long, it's great to finally see it starting to do its thing," notes Checketts.

As great as watching fans line up by the hundreds to ride it, one must imagine.

Paramount's Kings Dominion is located in Doswell, VA, at exit 98 on I-95. For more information, visit www.kingsdominion.com or call (804) 876-5000.