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Ultimate Rollercoaster > Roller Coasters > History > Nineties Steel Coasters Part One



"If we built a ride everyone wanted to ride, that's called an elevator - and that's not an amusement ride."

- Stan Checketts, S&S Power


The number of steel coasters produced since the 1970's was astounding, but the amount created between 1990 and 2000 is staggering. I divided these coasters into three groups: different forms of sit-down steel coasters, hypercoasters and wild mice and a third section for inverted and stand-up roller coasters.

One of the most hyped roller coasters during this time was the pipeline coaster, an Arrow Dynamics creation that was never built in a park. It was the coaster everyone was waiting for and the ride that would help put Arrow Dynamics back on the map. This new generation of coaster was supposed to perform snap rolls, diving turns and was all the buzz within the coaster industry. After testing Arrow abandoned the project, with the official statement being because of "excessive costs." Several explanations have been given about the reasons for the ride not being successful, from the company's official explanation, to problems with rider's hair getting caught in the track to severe internal problems within the company. Whatever the reason, this was considered Arrow's last hurrah for some time. The time and money dumped into the pipeline had been wasted. When the next big thing would be the smoothness of B&M's coasters, Arrow would be left playing catch-up for the rest of the decade.

Wiener Looping Coaster
The Wiener Looping traveled around Europe and the United States for many years before finding a home at Flamingoland. Enlarge Photo

Few people understand the extreme forces that coasters are put through, especially when Anton Schwarzkopf creates them. One of the later coasters he left us with could possibly be one of the most insane rides ever built. The Bullet, which opened as the Wiener Looping in 1982, traveled around Europe and the United States for many years. Luckily, it found a home at Flamingoland, located in England, in 1991. It took the idea of the shuttle loop to the next level and redefined extreme. In an age of up-charge attractions like the skycoaster and the skyscraper, many parks claimed that they offered an intense experience found on a roller coaster- obviously they never experienced the Bullet's wrath.

Riders could tell this was be a wild ride when they stepped in the station. The train itself was slanted in the boarding area. There was no straight track on this coaster, except the track going up. Passengers got in, pulled down the lapbar, got settled in the shoulder harness and were propelled backwards out of the station by tires. When the train neared the top of the spike the tires reversed direction and they sped through the station, hit a tight 270-degree turn into a loop that went under and around the station, went through a sharp 90-degree turn into another hill where they were propelled up by another set of tires and did the whole thing backwards. The positive G's on the ride were so powerful it was only open from 1-3 and 4-6 in the afternoon. The park had technicians come in and check the ride several times during the day to make sure the ride is not working itself apart. Flamingoland also operated the Schwarzkopf Drier Looping called the Magnum Force, a ride that had a similar layout to the Mindbender in Edmonton. It was a great coaster and as an added bonus the park experimented with a 5-point safety harness instead of over the shoulder restraints.

In 1991, Kennywood wanted to hop into the fledgling "coaster arms race" and ordered a monster, The Steel Phantom from Arrow Dynamics. Henry Henniger, the president of Kennywood Entertainment Corporation, wanted a large steel coaster, but was not sure where to fit it into the park's already tight layout. He said that in a dream he thought that the park's new coaster could go through the Thunderbolt's existing structure. Fears that it might not work were quickly forgotten as people saw the trains tear down the 225-foot drop for the first time. The ride featured a lift of 188 feet, a curving first drop into a couple hundred feet of flat track, another hill followed by a record breaking 225-foot drop at 80 mph. The first half of the ride was good, but there were many problems following the second drop. Still going at top speed the train flew into a vertical loop, a boomerang and a corkscrew that resulted in a lot of headbanging. A trim brake was added shortly into the season at the entrance to the Steel Phantom, but that did little to quell the pain. Low ridership from excessive roughness made Kennywood to declare the year 2000 the final one for the Steel Phantom and that it will be removed at the end of the season to create space for a future coaster. That coaster was revealed late in the summer of 2000. Its replacement was the Steel Phantom. The park worked with Morgan Manufacturing and reworked several parts of the ride. The first two drops were saved but the rest of the layout was altered into a series of helices and airtime hills. The new trains utilized the same chassis's but Morgan built new bodies that were more aerodynamic and had lapbars only. The coaster only ran one train during the 2001 season but added additional magnetic brakes for 2002. Like the Thunderbolt, the Phantom's Revenge was well received by park-goers and will be a permanent part of Kennywood for some time.

Records were made to be broken, but it took quite a while for the Beast to be dethroned as the longest coaster in the world. It was replaced with a more lackluster titleholder. The Ultimate opened at Lightwater Valley in England with three lift hills, 7,498-feet of track and horsecollars that served no purpose on the long trains. They were replaced by lapbars after a couple of seasons so the coaster gave a fun ride. It was more a run through a heather than a thrill coaster and offered beautiful views of the countryside.

Busch Entertainment is one of those companies that had a history of being open to new and unique designs for their parks. The Loch Ness Monster and Big Bad Wolf were both designed by company with proven track records, but Busch allowed them (Arrow and Schwarzkopf) to create rides which were really different from anything the companies had tried before. In keeping with this tradition some rumors state that they contacted Bolliger and Mabillard to build two similar sit-down coasters at their Busch Gardens parks in Florida and Virginia. B&M was quite busy at the time creating two stand-up coasters for Paramount and preparing to debut Batman The Ride for Six Flags, so they informed Busch Gardens that they could not deliver two coasters for them in 1993.

Drachen Fire, Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Busch Gardens' Drachen Fire coaster was a concept from B&M that Arrow had a difficult time building. Enlarge Photo

Busch understood and instead gave the contract for the coaster in Williamsburg to Arrow Dynamics. Arrow took the concept that B&M gave them, but could not make their coaster do the things B&M had put down on paper. In its place they created Drachen Fire (Drachen is German for "Dragon"). Instead of a camelback element (a corkscrew at the top of a hill), Arrow created a zero-G hill that was ineffective within their binding horsecollar restraints. The ride also debuted their version of B&M's cobra roll.

From day one Drachen Fire had problems. They attempted to solve them by removing a corkscrew off the brake run in 1995, but that did not help. Drachen Fire eventually stopped running during the summer of 1998 and sat unused until the winter of 2002. That year the park quietly tore down Drachen Fire and stated that it was removed because of low ridership. Busch Gardens had no future plans to use the area in "Germany" for a new roller coaster.

Dragon Khan, Universal Studios Port Aventura
Dragon Khan at Universal's Port Aventura theme park in Spain has eight inversions. Enlarge Photo

Bolliger & Mabillard's Kumba debuted at Busch Gardens Tampa the next year and was an instant success. It was intense, yet smooth, and offered elements not found on many steel coasters like a diving loop, a camelback and the largest loop in the world (when it debuted}. Kumba and Drachen Fire were coasters which both started out as the same idea, but went in completely different directions. By talking to Busch today you would have no idea that Drachen Fire exists, let alone that it is related to Kumba. This coaster helped to redefine what a sit-down could deliver in smoothness & intensity, and helped to fully put Bolliger & Mabillard on the map. Two years later B&M built Dragon Kahn for Universal's Port Aventura in Spain.

Premier Rides arrived on the scene in 1996 with a ride that took many people's breath away, Outer Limits: Flight of Fear. This ride pioneered the use of magnets (linear induction magnets, or LIM's, to be exact) to accelerate the train. Here is a short explanation of how these things work, remember this comes from a historian. Premier placed aluminum fins on the sides of their cars. These fins slid within metal boxes that had slots in the middle. Electricity was used to heavily magnetize the metal that pushed the train forward and the whole process was reversed so the train comes to a smooth stop.

Mr. Freeze, Six Flags St. Louis
A train flies through the "Top Hat" inversion on Six Flags St. Louis' Mr. Freeze coaster. Enlarge Photo

Paramount was obviously impressed with this new ride and erected two, one for King's Island and another for King's Dominion. They themed the two rides the same, as a space program where something has gone terribly wrong. On Outer Limits: Flight of Fear (the Outer Limits theme was removed for the 2001 season), riders were launched to 53 mph. in less than 4 seconds, flew through 4 inversions and traversed 2,705-feet of track in near-darkness. Premier did not only impress Paramount and their guests, it also earned the Impact Award and Best New Technology Applied to Amusements Award from IAAPA (The International Association of Amusement Parks).

Some of their follow-up rides have been Joker's Jinx at Six Flags America, Poltergeist at Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the Mad Cobra in Japan, all which share the same design as Flight of Fear, but only uncovered. Mr. Freeze, which was located at Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags St. Louis, featured a launch, a top hat inversion, a wingover (a heavily banked curve that did not go upside down) and a vertical spike that took the train 218-feet in the air before it repeated the course backwards.

Batman and Robin The Chiller, Six Flags Great Adventure
Batman and Robin: The Chiller, a dual-track LIM launched coaster by Premier Rides, was highly anticipated, but problematic. Enlarge Photo

Batman and Robin: The Chiller may have been one of the most anticipated launched coasters. It featured two sides, one designated by Batman (blue track) and the other by his companion (red track). Batman was launched, goes through a top hat element, up a 45-degree banked track into a corkscrew. The train was grabbed by another set of LIM's and sent back through the course. Robin follows a similar track layout, except that it goes through a cobra roll instead of a tophat. Both rides were designed so when they are launched simultaneously, the trains (though they follow different track layouts) reach the end of the ride at the same time. The ride is not run like this today because it required too much power for both coasters to be launched simultaneously, taking out one of the ride's best elements. However, during the 2002 season the crews started timing the launches so that they met each other going opposite directions in the cobra roll/top hat elements.

One group these rides did not impress at first was repeat riders, some of whom said they did not like the coasters because of the headbanging. With time Premier worked to remove those qualities from the rides, delivering progressively better rides like Mr. Freeze at Six Flags St. Louis and Over Texas and the latest Speed: The Ride in Las Vegas.

The corner really turned in the 2001 season when the over-the-shoulder restraints (OTSR) were removed from the two Flight of Fear coasters. Paramount took a step in the right direction and reverted to what Anton Schwarzkopf demonstrated in the 1970's- secure lap bars are 100% safe. The new restraints catapulted the rides in popularity and Six Flags saw what they did for the coasters. By the end of the 2001 season, the Batman side of The Chiller also ran with lapbars.

Premier Rides and Paramount Parks together earned the "Innovation Award" from Amusement Business magazine for the new lapbar system. For the 2002 season, Poltergeist, both Mr. Freeze coasters, Joker's Jinx, and the Robin side of The Chiller all opened with new lapbars and renewed popularity.

Outer Limits and other LIM launched rides like Mr. Freeze were plagued by problems when trying to open because of difficulties the parks had with the electromagnets, but few had more setbacks than the Superman The Escape coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

When Six Flags originally released the details of Superman The Escape, many were not sure what to think. Headlines in Amusement Business, the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers spoke of a plan to create a roller coaster with two parallel tracks that used magnets to accelerate the car to 100 miles per hour and up a 400-foot spike, only then to do it all again backwards. The speed and height pushed the limits far beyond anything that had been tried before.

Superman The Escape's new cars featured four rows, the first row seating three and the remaining seating four. They were especially wide and wheels over one foot in circumference. The magnets were not exactly like the ones Premier used. Instead of Linear Induction Motors, Linear Synchronous Motors (LSM's) were used instead . Magnets were mounted on the bottom of the car that interacted with the electric charged magnets that were laid on the track. Together using high-tech computers the electric magnets were quickly turned from positive to negative so they had a pull push effect on the car.

Superman The Escape had a sister in Australia that featured only one track. It is called Tower of Terror and is extreme, but the people at Dreamland wanted something even more devilish. They contacted Intamin and asked if the company could also build them a freefall ride, utilizing the same tower as the "Tower of Terror." Here, Intamin used the experience they had gained while creating their freefalls, or Giant Drops, for parks. They grafted two sets of tracks for a freefall car on either side of the area where the launched coaster ran up the tower. While the accelerated ride is over quickly, their counterparts on the sides of the tower are quite slow to bring the rush. Passengers boarded an eight-passenger car on either side of the tower, lowered the OSTR and are lifted to the top at an agonizingly slow speed. Riders rose 390-feet above the ground in a ride cycle that lasted 106 seconds. Since the ride had five seconds of airtime, which meant that one minute and thirty-one seconds were spent climbing the tower. If riders were lucky, the Tower of Terror screamed up and down the structure as the Giant Drop inched up it, made the tower shake and sway. The people that experienced this ride said that the view from the top was unbelievable and that the five seconds of airtime gave them an amazing sensation.

The vertical drop is something that has always been craved by the coaster rider. For many years the Coney Island Cyclone, at 53-degrees, was one of the steepest drops in existence. However, Oblivion, a new coaster by Bolliger & Mabillard changed the way people thought about what a coaster could do. This coaster answered the call and opened at Alton Towers in 1998, with a drop of 183 feet and a course of only 1,243-feet. Seven trains that featured one car per-train, looked a lot different than the typical coaster car. Each car held sixteen people, eight people spread out horizontally over two rows. You are probably wondering how this was done, considering the fact that B&M's track accommodated trains that were four passengers wide. The companies simply added to the terror by having half of the sixteen passengers sit in cars with nothing below them. The trains ascended the lift, made a u-turn, paused at the top, screamed down a near-vertical drop into a black hole and followed a bunny hop and turn back into the station. Although the track after the drop is short and unsatisfying, an 89-degree drop at 183-feet was enough to take rider's breaths away.

Universal wanted a theme park that would be as revolutionary as Disneyland and they succeeded by opening Islands of Adventure in Orlando. They wanted to create a theme park that was different and better than any other in the world. To accomplish this they contacted B&M to create two coasters that were extreme, yet also different from other coasters. The Incredible Hulk coaster was the B&M's first attempt at a launch, but this was different than any previous launch. It was done with a system that engaged at the top of the ride's lift hill by wheels that accelerated the trains by making contact with panels on the sides of the trains.

Islands of Adventure was known for extensive themeing, and the Incredible Hulk coaster was no different. In the queue line the riders were told of a story about a gamma accelerator run-amuck. Then, they strapped themselves into the comfy B&M coaches and quietly left the station. The train disappeared up the lift into the tunnel and after about ten seconds a wall of screams filtered back into the station. Now was your turn. Two-thirds up the hill you were thrust back as you exited up and out into a corkscrew, dove into a cobra roll, a vertical loop that dove under a bridge into a smoke-filled tunnel, some curves, a corkscrew, a loop, the mid-course brake and another corkscrew.

Medusa, Six Flags Great Adventure
Medusa at Six Flags Great Adventure debutted as the world's first "Floorless" coaster when it opened in 1999. Enlarge Photo

The Swiss pair was not done with creating new thrills for 1999. That year Medusa, the world's first floorless coaster, was born at Six Flags Great Adventure. Although guests have never understood how Medusa fit into a western area of the park, that thought was relegated to the back of their minds as they saw the train's front car. The riders looked like four people on the front of a jet as they screamed through the layout, which is similar to Kumba at Busch Gardens in Tampa. How exactly does it work- quite simple, really. B&M, ever the innovators of coaster technology, devised a simple rollaway floor for their new style of ride. Two plates of flooring were under either side of the car and before the train dispatched they rolled under the train.

Walter Bolliger explained the thought behind the style of coaster, "The inverted coaster was the first step to give the freedom to the guests-removing the floor. But, one of the disadvantages of that was the roof above you, which does not allow you to see the sky and feel really free. With the floorless coaster, with no track above you and you don't have a floor below you- you see the track running below you. So, I think it gives that feeling of speed."

The last coaster that premiered in 1999 could not be found in any park for some time. To date Stan has revolutionized the thrill ride industry with his Space Shot, Turbo Drop, Combo Towers and Double Shot rides. In a nutshell, Stan's rides utilize compressed air to shoot riders up, down-or both! If you have never seen the exploits of this crazy designer, check out the S&S Power site.

In October 1999 he debuted his newest devilish creation, The Thrust Air 2000. From a distance this creation looked more like a bridge straight down to the nether region instead of a roller coaster. The ride he premiered at his plant was a straightaway followed by a 90-degree climb up 170-feet of track (which can go much higher). The train went from straight up to straight down and the riders were accelerated straight down to the ground. Aside from having a unique feel, these accelerations make an LIM coaster look a like driving a Model T. The Thrust Air 2000 accelerated to 80 mph in 1.8 seconds -- intense. Paramount's King's Dominion debuted the first S & S roller coaster in 2001. Dubbed "Hypersonic XLC (Xtreme Launch Coaster)", the ride was unfortunately a "one-trick pony" and featured only a launch and one hill. Hopefully the traditional layout S & S envisioned will soon be a part of the equation.

Vekoma debuted one of the last great coaster inventions of the century. When the flying coaster was announced in the spring of 1999 at Paramount's Great America, people were a bit shaky on whether or not the Dutch company could successfully design a groundbreaking coaster. Their newer rides, like the "Invertigo" (inverted boomerangs), got rave reviews for their intensity and smoothness, the time seemed ripe for this company to create a new style of ride. Once guests approached the Stealth coaster they realized something was different. The riders looked like they were literally soaring above the midway.

The trick was in the seats themselves. Riders boarded sitting up, faced backwards and before the train left the station they lowered. As the train ascended the lift hill riders have no idea what is coming. The train flipped over and all of the sudden they hung against the restraints, arms outstretched and 24 passengers were speeding through the air like so many Supermen. A ride on Stealth was unique and gave sensations unlike anything they had experienced. After the debut of Stealth Paramount chose to cancel the contract (and the exclusivity clause) and Six Flags bought two Flying Dutchmen for the 2001 season.

This decade was nothing short of breathtaking. Accelerations, flight, and floorless coasters- the sky and the depth of pocketbooks appear to be the only two limitations when it comes to building new sit-down steel coasters in the Twenty-Second Century.

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