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



Q: Do you consider Bolliger & Mabillard your main competition today?

A: "In terms of rides we can't sell. We don't have anything to compete there. I think if we offered a similar product - and we were talking to all those parks about it - we'd be there."

- Ron Toomer, Arrow Dynamics

Raptor, Cedar Point
Bolliger and Mabillard's "Inverted" roller coaster is one of hottest innovations to hit the amusement park industry. Enlarge Photo

Inverted Coasters

Although people were impressed by the stand-up roller coasters created by Bolliger & Mabillard for Six Flags Great America (1990's Iron Wolf) and Paramount's Great America (1991's Vortex), they were not groundbreaking. Both coasters were smoother than the TOGO stand-up's created in the mid-80's, but the layouts were not much more complicated. However, these coasters were only a teaser to the ride the firm unleashed in 1992.

B&M will forever be remembered for creating one of the largest innovations in the roller coaster industry, the inverted coaster. This style of coaster took Arrow's suspended coaster one-step further. Instead of cars swinging beneath the track, this new coaster featured 4-abreast seating and a layout where the trains went upside down. B&M said they were inspired by the ski lift. Walter Bolliger said, "Maybe it was the fact we came from Switzerland, where there are a lot of ski-lifts. We thought we could do something like a chair which was suspended, without any floor for their feet so people feel like they are flying through the air-with a lot of freedom." Whatever the inspiration, everyone was taken aback by the ingenuity and intensity of the first inverted coaster - Batman The Ride.

B&M was very busy during 1992, as they were building Vortex at Carowinds and deciding whether or not to build Drachen Fire at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Eventually they decided to that they could not build the inverted and a sit-down coaster in the same year, as both would be a first for them. Under pressure from Six Flags, they decided to not do Busch's project, which was given to Arrow Dynamics and spent all of their time and energy on Batman The Ride.

Batman The Ride, Six Flags Great Adventure
Batman The Ride (Six Flags Great America) was the first inverted roller coaster, initially designed by B&M exclusively for Six Flags Theme Parks. Enlarge Photo

At 100-feet tall, 2,693-feet long and a top speed of 50-mph it may not appear to be the statistics of an intense ride, but Batman The Ride delivered. There were always inquisitive looks as first-time riders sat with their fit dangling and only an "Over The Shoulder Restraint" and seatbelt that held them in. The ride was intense, as it has an amazing first drop, two loops separated by a negative g-roll, a couple of turns and two corkscrews. This coaster flew through its course and had such quick pacing that riders were blown away. Batman The Ride was so popular that several copies were built at Six Flags parks, including: Six Flags Great Adventure (1993), Six Flags Magic Mountain (1994), Six Flags St. Louis (mirror image-1995), Six Flags over Georgia (1997), Six Flags over Texas (1999) and the Great White coaster at Sea World has a almost identical design and was built the same year as Six Flags Over Georgia's version. For the 2002 season LaRonde opened a mirror image clone called the Vampire and Warner Brothers Movie Land in Spain opened El Fuga de Batman.

The next logical step from the prototypical design is the freeform, and B&M took little time getting up to speed creating some of the best-looking and intense coasters in existence. 1993 saw the opening of the three-inversion Top Gun at Paramount's Great America, the following year Cedar Point followed suit and ordered Raptor, B&M's largest undertaking at the time. It featured a loop, negative g-roll, the firm's first cobra roll on an inverted coaster, two corkscrews and a great helix. The ride featured wonderful pacing. The helix pulled good G's and the coaster became a permanent part of the Cedar Point midway. Its unique green track beckons to everyone passing by to look, if not ride.

Mind Eraser, Six Flags New England
Netherlands coaster designer Vekoma designed their own inverted roller coaster which they call a Suspended Looping Coaster. Enlarge Photo

That same year Bolliger & Mabilliard and British designer John Wardley collaborated on a coaster that became yet another legend. Alton Towers came to the designers with sizeable problem, the park had a height limit that could not be breached-yet they wanted a coaster which was just as thrilling as Batman or Raptor. The solution was simple but expensive- dig. Nemesis was built in a large hole, with the lift barely peaking above ground. The ride featured four inversions and some wonderful near-misses with the walls that left riders coming off a bit shaken but full of adrenaline.

In 1994 Vekoma's SLC (Suspended Looping Coaster) opened at Wabili Flevo (now Six Flags Holland) in the Netherlands. The following year four coasters with similar layouts in the United States, The Great Nor'easter at Morey's Pier, Hangman at the now defunct Opryland USA, Mind Eraser at Six Flags America and T2 (Terror to the Second Power) at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. The layouts were nearly identical, featured a heart-shaped element where riders went upside down twice, a curving corkscrew and two more flat rolls. The ride has a nice look to it, but that enjoyable feeling ceases when you ride it. Some call them "hang and bang" coasters and are not too fond of SLC's. These coasters traditionally gave a very rough ride and have a problem very similar to Arrow sit-down coasters, very bad transitions. The interesting thing was that the problems were not from headbanging, but from the awkward motion of the seats slamming into rider's backs. Morey's Pier's coaster has some extra thrills added, as Vekoma and the owners had to work very carefully to fit it in between the many levels of attractions found on the piers.

Montu, Busch Gardens Tampa
Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa is one of the largest inverted roller coasters and features seven inversions. Enlarge Photo

Busch Entertainment felt they needed to re-identify themselves as one of the top family and theme parks in the 1990's. This process started with the building of Drachen Fire and Kumba. They noticed that the general public enjoyed the new style of inverted coasters and added some to their parks. Montu debuted in 1996 at Busch Gardens Tampa. It opened as the largest inverted coaster and featured a loop, immelman, negative G-roll, a batwing, another loop and a corkscrew. This was the first inverted coaster with a batwing, which was essentially a cobra roll turned upside down, and an element which pulls great positive G's as passengers flew down into a tunnel. The coaster is also noteworthy because it was well-themed and had several trenches and "Egyptian" grottos that the trains quickly flew through.

The next year Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened Alpengeist; a coaster that was a well-themed Alpine monster. Fake snow, skiers embedded in buildings and skis attached to the backs of the cars are the small details and thought which Busch parks put into their rides. The coasters also had unique names and themeing. Montu was named after an Egyptian god and featured live crocodiles before the lifthill and Alpengeist was named after a mythical monster that lived in the Alps. Few parks can live up to the beautiful surroundings and amazing themeing that Busch put into their coasters.

The Invertigo coaster was the next step for Vekoma's SLC coaster. This ride was a variation of their boomerang using cars riding below the track. However, there were many small modifications that made this new version more intense and smoother. First, Vekoma created a train in which everyone, except the first and last passengers, got to face two other guests and watch as they went through the same experience. The ride was also one of Vekoma's first coasters to feature a double-spined support, which adds strength to the structure. Many enthusiasts enjoy this more than the SLC's and boomerangs because they run very smoothly, and the front and back seats give very intense (albeit short) rides.

Vekoma wanted to use LIM technology on the Invertigo and were intent to utilize them on the first installation-the Hang Over at Liseberg Park in Sweden. It was supposed to open in 1996, but unending problems with the technology resigned the company to put a traditional chain lift on the coaster. The first version to open in the U.S. was Invertigo at Paramount's Great America for the 1998 season. The standard Invertigo coaster stood 138 feet high and attaineds speed of 55 mph. Although short, only 985 feet, the Invertigo pulled some heavy g's through the cobra roll. It has been followed with installations at Six Flags America (Two-Face 1999) and Paramount's Kings Island (1999).

Intamin's first large coaster in a few years opened in 1998 at Paramount's Kings Dominion. Volcano: The Blast Coaster was unlike any other inverted coaster in that it used LIM's to launch it to full speed-twice. However, it had a lot in common with other electro-magnet coasters in that there were many delays that kept the coaster from opening on time. For the 1998 season, the park allowed the coaster to run with only half of the seats installed because it did not have the power to accelerate a full train through the circuit. The following year the power problem was alleviated and Volcano now runs 16 people per-train.

Sandor Kernacs-President of Intamin, Ltd said, "This ride was very complex engineering for various reasons. Nobody built a linear induction motor, inverted coaster at that point. This is a very exciting, new technology and I believe the limits are almost endless."

The Volcano experience was one of a kind. To start with, the coaster had a great location- inside of a manmade mountain. Riders in the queue watch train after train explodes from the top of the mountain. As riders boarded Volcano: The Blast Coaster they were lulled into a sense of security. The brakes were released, they turned to the left, but that usual burst of speed was nowhere to be found. However, as they stared stare down that long, black tunnel they knew what was eminent. All of the sudden it hit and they flew around the mountain and into it. Then another set of LIM's propelled passengers straight up through the top of the mountain where the cars flipped over and did three more drawn out barrel rolls before they flew into the brakes.

B&M got back in the game with another new design that took roller coaster technology to places never thought possible. Islands of Adventure, part of the Universal Studios complex in Orlando, opened in 1999 with extensive themeing done on a magnitude never before attempted. Put right in the thick of this park are three Bolliger & Mabillard masterpieces, two of which madee up Dueling Dragons. This ride features two inverted coasters that ran at each other three separate times throughout the course of the ride.

The journey started as passengers entered the long and well-themed queue that appeared to be part cave and part castle. The story told of two dragons that feuded for centuries. After winding their way back to the station riders chose between the Fire and Ice dragons, whose trains are red & blue and had finely detailed dragon mouths and bodies on the train. Each ride is loaded and dispatched, but something different happens on the lift hill. Watching from off the ride, it appeared as if the trains were jockeying for the lead as they ascended the lift. In reality, each train was weighed and the lighter one was let off the lift first so they met at three designated places at the precise moment. The first duel occurred when ice did a barrel roll under fire dragon, the second occurred as the two trains speed along the track at each other-only to be pulled up into a loop (the opposing feet seemingly inches away) and the third fly-by happened when each train sped through a corkscrew. Most enthusiasts agree that the Fire Dragon gave a more intense ride than its Ice counterpart, but they both unnerved riders as they saw that other trainload of passengers flying at them before pulling away at the last second.


Stand-Up Coasters

Bolliger and Mabillard created some of the best coasters on the planet, but they were not newcomers to the coaster design scene. They were employed by Intamin for many years and some say involved with the production of the 4-abreast seating found on Intamin's stand-ups, such as Batman the Escape at Astroworld (dating from 1986), and the space diver model, which was first built in 1985 and now stands at Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Mantis, Cedar Point
Mantis at Cedar Point is a well-loved stand-up coaster designed by Bolliger and Mabillard. Photo © Eric Gieszl. Enlarge Photo

The little-known firm got their own start when they worked with Six Flags Great America and developed the Iron Wolf, a two-inversion stand-up roller coaster that opened for the 1990 season. It featured a loop, a corkscrew, four-abreast trains and smooth ride that had not been seen before on the stand-ups by Arrow, Togo or Intamin. 1991 brought with it the Vortex at Paramount's Great America and the next year another Vortex blew into Paramount's Carowinds. Both had similar layouts to Iron Wolf, but for some reason all three of these coasters have not aged as well as their inverted counterparts. However, the problem did not stop with these smaller rides.

Cedar Point, the park that says, "We've got to have that," felt they needed to add yet another coaster to their huge lineup, this time a stand-up. They enjoyed working with the Swiss masters on Raptor and planned to have the company create a free-form stand-up coaster that was a step up from B&M's previous stand-up designs.

Much like with Raptor, Cedar Point allowed the designers to go beyond their basic design and branch out with a longer length and several new inversions. Walter Bolliger said they really enjoy working with the park because, "Cedar Point is a great park. They always want the best coasters, the highest, the largest, the fastest and they let us invent something new-go beyond what was ever done." This new coaster was the first stand-up to feature a 45-degree tilted loop and an Immelman element.

Chang, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom
Chang a stand-up roller coaster larger than Mantis operates at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. Enlarge Photo

The new stand-up coaster was supposed to be named Banshee, but caught flack from several religious groups, so they changed the name to Mantis. The coaster had some problems with excessive roughness, especially in the first loop. So, a trim brake was added on the first hill that noticeably slowed the train and gave interesting hang time through the first set of inversions.

Premier Parks (now Six Flags) was so impressed with the stand-up produced by B&M that they hired them to build Chang at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in 1997 The Riddler's Revenge at Six Flags Magic Mountain in 1998 and the Georgia Scorcher at Six Flags Over Georgia in 1999. Both Chang and The Riddler's Revenge had initial drops of about 155 feet and performed several acrobatics above the crowd waiting in line. Riddler's Revenge even wraps around a "first generation" freefall [1] providing some great visual effects. The parks seem to be more smitten on B&M's inverted coasters for the 1999 and 2000 seasons, but who knows what the future will hold.

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1. The first generation freefall is a tower ride manufactured by Intamin AG. They featured a four-passenger car that is hauled up a 130-foot tower and dropped down an L-shaped track so that riders end up on their back. Pictures can be found in the Thrill Rides section.