By Katie Olszewski and
Eric Gieszl, Contributing Writers
Thrill seekers beware... a Phantom seeking revenge is lurking at Kennywood park. Will the Phantom get his revenge?
Kennywood is a traditional amusement park with a rich history dating back more than a hundred years. Walking through the Pittsburgh park is like taking a step back in time. Many of the park's primary attractions date back to the early 1900's and deliver thrills typical of the era.
Not resting on its laurels, Kennywood has tried to keep up with the modern amusement parks, while not forgetting its past. In the early 90's the park opened a ride that many would not have expected to find at a traditional amusement park, the Steel Phantom, a modern steel roller coaster so large that it would remain one of the tallest and fastest steel coasters of its kind for its existence.
But as times changed, what was once new suddenly became old and Kennywood made an announcement that was met with mixed reactions. The park's steel monster would be no more at the end of the 2000 season. Instead the landmark would be razed for something new and exciting.
The news of the pending closure thrilled some and saddened others. Fans let their concerns be known, while fanatics organized to "Save the Phantom." Kennywood quickly learned the Phantom was not easily going to be laid to rest.
"Since announcing our plan to replace the Steel Phantom with a new coaster, coaster lovers from around the world have expressed dismay at the thought of losing what many believe to be the best, most exciting drop of any roller coaster on earth - the 225 feet plunge which sends the Steel Phantom speeding through the Thunderbolt," said Kennywood President and CEO Harry Henninger.
With all the commotion, the Phantom began his plan... Secretly the Phantom was planning to return to Kennywood to get his revenge.
Kennywood Park decided in the late 80's and early 90s that they needed something big and fast in their park, so they contacted Arrow Dynamics the leading steel coaster designer at the time. After collaborating with Arrow Dynamics (now called S&S Arrow) they came up with something huge.
Named Steel Phantom, this monstrous steel coaster was so tall it stood above everything else in the park. It was also so large, that it became the dominant attraction visible from nearly everywhere.
Starting from the ground and working your way up to 160 feet high, the lift hill afforded you a view of the entire park. Cresting the lift hill, the track descended to the right leading to a straightaway then gracefully goes up a hill.
From a distance most riders could not see where most of this roller coaster went, but cresting the second hill, was the element everyone loved... the huge drop. From the top it appeared as if you were going straight down into the Thunderbolt. Instead, the track went underneath the wooden structure of the Thunderbolt roller coaster for a massive total drop of 225 feet and a blazing speed of 82 mph!
What followed the drop was a series of inversions that started with a teardrop loop and then three more inversions back-to-back around the Pitfall before the track led into the station. The Steel Phantom was 2 minutes, 15 seconds of pure speed and adrenaline, but the second half was not popular with roller coaster fans. The over-the-shoulder restraints, affectionately called horse collars by coaster fans made for an uncomfortable ride.
Back in 1991, Steel Phantom was the biggest coaster on the planet. Its only rival was the Magnum XL-200 in Cedar Point. With this addition Kennywood, a traditional park, now had an attraction to compete with the big parks.
At the time Kennywood decided to close the Steel Phantom, hyper coasters were the hot ride in the amusement industry. A hypercoaster is about size, speed and airtime, without any inverting elements.
After much deliberation over what to do to please fans, Kennywood hired Morgan Manufacturing to modify and redesign a portion of the Steel Phantom. Morgan Manufacturing had a growing resumé of successful hypercoasters they had designed and built for other amusement parks.
Combining elements of the original Steel Phantom, the roller coaster is unique in the sense that it retained portions of the rides original layout, track, structure and even the chassis for the trains. So the resemblance of the original roller coaster is still very much alive in this newer version.
"Kennywood has provided us with a very unique opportunity to create a totally new ride experience, while still retaining the Steel Phantom's world-class second drop through the Thunderbolt structure," said Dana Morgan, President of Morgan Manufacturing. "The new ride will be very fast, very smooth, and feature lots of airtime!" In other words, this will be a really fun roller coaster!"
Another distinct difference in the new roller coaster was the absence of all of the inversions. For Kennywood, that was an easy decision.
In the end Morgan added another 200-feet of steel track and another three feet of height onto the showcase 225-foot drop. With the addition of a high-speed fan turn and lots of airtime hills, this roller coaster was shaping up to be top ten material once again.
For the Phantom to return in style it of course needed a new look, so Kennywood decided to paint the supports black and the track lime-green. With the new makeover, the Phantom was looking better than ever.
The reinvented roller coaster at Kennywood, like the original is nothing typical of a ride you'd find in a traditional amusement park. Instead it's a ride of gargantuan size, bird's flight airtime and stealth like speed.
The first part of the Phantom's Revenge is basically unchanged. The original lift hill rises up out of the station sixteen stories. The original steel track bends to the right as it forms the first drop that then leads to the first hill. With the encasing over-the-shoulder restraints gone, riders are now afforded a better view of the new Phantom's exciting elements.
Once you crest the first hill, the anticipation is over as the train begins the impressive and equally famous 228-foot drop. Heading downward your heart starts racing as the train accelerates to 82 mph before diving under the wooden structure for the Thunderbolt roller coaster. With a high-speed turn to the left, the train ascend into a sweeping positive-G filled fan turn high above the ground.
Traveling back towards the impressive drop on a curvy descent out of the fan turn, the track travels again under the historic Thunderbolt roller coaster passing this time through a tunnel. Beware of a head chopper or two that might scare even the seasoned rider. Flying out of the tunnel, the track turns to the right, where roller coaster fans get a glimpse of the numerous, airtime producing bunny hills ahead.
Two small bunny hops near the Phantom's station and the track dives into an exciting double down, reminiscent of a ride on a bucking bronco. The ejector air caused by the negative G-forces will just about satisfy anyone who craves an adrenaline rush.
But beware of the Phantom, for he hasn't finished his revenge and has saved one more hidden surprise. Turning to the right the Phantom's hidden element sends you flying out of your seat as the Phantom pummels you with a double up just before the brake run.
The Phantom's trains hit the brake run with impressive force and speed. If there's one criticism about this near perfect ride, it's that it is too short. Why end the party by burning the speed with brakes when another thousand feet of track could've done the same. Of course, you can have too much of a good thing and with the desire for more, you'll just have to hop back in line for a second ride.
Phantom's Revenge delivers a superior ride experience, while retaining the best elements of Steel Phantom with new elements that make it more thrilling ride. It's no wonder that after five years, it remains Kennywood's star attraction and has placed in the top ten steel coasters in the Golden Ticket awards every year.
The final verdict is the new Phantom is a flat out winner, and it's the kind of revenge we love.
Height: 160 feet
Max drop: 228 feet
Top speed: 85 mph
Length: 3,200 feet
Double Out and Back Layout
Number of Vehicles:
2 - 28 passenger trains
1 minute, 57 seconds
May 19, 2001
Morgan Mfg., Arrow Dynamics
West Mifflin, PA
Photography by Eric Gieszl and Mark Rosenzweig.
Phantom's Revenge logo courtesy of Kennywood. All rights reserved.
Content and photos copyright © 2001, 2006 Ultimate Rollercoaster.