A lot of heads were scratched as visitors to Vienna's Prater Park saw a strange new ride called the StarFlyer being erected high over the historic amusement center.
Standing 72-meters (236 feet) tall the structure looked like some odd hybrid between a Zierer "Wave Swinger" and an S&S Power "Space Shot". Within a few weeks the ride was up, running and treating riders to sweeping views of the Vienna skyline.
The Wiener Prater started as an imperial hunting ground and opened to the public in 1765. Over the years it has changed, but the focus has always been on the park as a place for the city's citizens to relax.
According to the city of Vienna's web site two of the area's largest changes came when the pleasure pavilion, designed by Isidor Canevale, opened in 1783 and when the flow of the Danube River was controlled, a project which began in 1871 and lasted four years. However, the erection of the Riesenrad (German for Ferris wheel) in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I marked the Prater as a Viennese recreation icon. The wheel stood nearly 61 meters tall and featured gondolas as big as railroad passenger cars. Today the Riesenrad still slowly turns and stands among a plethora of old and new amusement devices.
While the Riesenrad gives guests a way to look over Vienna during a relaxing ride the StarFlyer makes things a little more terrifying. Instead of seeing the town from a large car guests sit in a seat with their legs free to dangle 60 meters above the ground. The StarFlyer is manufactured by Funtime, the Austrian company that has over 50 spring-powered Slingshot rides in operation all over the world. According to a company representative the idea beyond the StarFlyer was to create an attraction that was thrilling yet high-capacity.
Mechanically the StarFlyer is a very simple ride. A rig holding 12 or 24 seats attached by chains runs up and down a vertical tower. The vertical movement is provided by a large motor which operates much like a passenger elevator and utilizes a counterweight and fail-safe brakes. As the winch vertically moves the rig motors on the ring spin it forwards and backwards, giving passengers quite a thrill. Should the power go out during a ride the brakes hold the ring in place until they are opened and then they slowly lower guests to the ground. The ride can be either manually controlled or parks can run the ride from a pre-set program. This attraction is actually owned by Funtime, which also operates a Slingshot, Bungee Tower and Vomatron (their version of the propeller ride) at Prater Park.
Stepping into the StarFlyer for your first ride can make one quite nervous. If you're afraid of heights and not into flying through the air in an open seat then this ride is probably not for you. Riders are seated, secured by a seat belt and a lapbar is locked in place that only the operator can release with a key. Funtime, the manfucturer of this ride, says that a magnetic proximity swtich system will be available on future installations.
After everyone is strapped in the ring rises 6 meters above the ground and begins to spin as it ascends the tower. As the chairs reached 60 meters the sounds of the park fade away and all that can be hear is the wind whipping through the sky. It was blowing so hard that my chair was slightly oscillating, which only added to the fun. Without warning the ring of seats dropped down the tower and we fell much faster than I had anticipated. The ride then spins at the bottom of the tower a few times before heading back up, but stopping first at the middle of the structure.
After the chains clanked to a halt the ride starts up again, this time reversing directions and spinning backwards. As your chair pitches slightly forward you're able to look straight down between your legs, which can be an unnerving sight. Stopping again at the top the ring reverses directions. This time on the way down I gasped as I swung meters from the one of the Slingshot's legs. After going up and down a few more times the ride comes to an end. Despite the smiles on most faces, you can tell that guests are happy to have their feet back on terra firma (the ground).
Funtime certainly has another winner on their hands. The interesting thing about the StarFlyer is that it has such a unique location on the "ladder of thrills". Kids today want to ride more adventuresome rides at a younger age, so the StarFlyer is the kind of flat ride for today's generation of children and their parents. For the 2005 season the second StarFlyer is going into Germany's Hansa Park as the "Torre Del Mar" (Sea Tower) and will offer guests beautiful views of the Baltic Sea. Funtime has plans for a portable StarFlyer in the works, a ride which we may see as early as 2006. The obvious question is "What's next?" Well, having seen the concept art and let me tell you- it is deliciously frightening!
Photos copyright © 2005 Ultimate Rollercoaster.
StarFlyer logo courtesy of Funtime. All rights reserved.