Bobbejaanland Family Park
Today innovation in the amusement industry is seemingly hard to come by unless it involves an expensive gimmick: a launch, a record-breaking height or a coaster that lets riders "fly". But, nestled in a quiet Bavarian village is a company called Gerstlauer Elektro creating roller coasters and amusement rides that combine quality, marketability and affordability.
Gerstlauer Elektro has come a long way since Hubert Gerstlauer founded it in 1981. Some of their unique projects include: the control and lighting systems for Rudolph Barth's Olympia Looping roller coaster (the largest portable ride in the world), the first spinning coaster with face-to-face seating and one of the largest portable Ferris wheels ever made, a 60-meter wheel owned by showman Peter Hablutzal.
Gerstlauer took its largest step forward with the debut of the Euro-Fighter concept at Interschau 2002 in Dusseldorf, Germany. The creation drew a lot of interest, especially from the owner of BonBon-Land in Denmark. While the model on display was too large for his facility Gerstlauer worked with him to design a smaller, customized Euro Fighter that fit BonBon-Land's demographic.
Type of Coaster:
Triple Out and Back with Figure 8
Height: 84 feet
Descent angle: 97°
G-force: 5 G's
Top speed: 50 mph
Length: 2,198 feet
63-foot Loop, Double Heartline Roll, Heartline Roll, Vertical Lift
Number of Vehicles:
8 - 8 passenger
1 minute, 30 seconds
1,400 per hour
April 10, 2004
The model also caught the eye of Bobbejaanland owner Jacky Shoeppen. He had been looking for a replacement for his 1979 Schwarzkopf Looping Star for some time and the Euro-Fighter fit many of his requirements. The Gerstlauer and Schwarzkopf rides shared similar footprints and the new concept offered a marketable experience: a 97-degree first drop, a vertical loop and three heartline rolls.
The deal was signed and work began at the Gerstlauer facility. 2004 had become a busy year with the company also working on Bobsled Coasters for Klotten (Germany) and Lagunasia (Japan), Spinning Coasters for Worlds of Fun and Camp Snoopy in the Mall of America (United States), a Junior Coaster for Legoland (United States) and a wooden coaster train for Falken, the S&S Wooden Coaster, at Farup Sommerland (Denmark). With all of these and Typhoon, a Euro-Fighter model 670-8, the growing company was having its biggest year ever.
"The Typhoon was the largest coaster we had built at that time," said Siegfried Gerstlauer, the company's head engineer, referring to the most challenging aspects of the ride. "It was a real challenge to pack that much excitement and structure in such a small footprint."
While the bulk of the coaster's vehicle engineering had been done for the 2003 BonBon-Land coaster, engineering the final layout had to be done in order to get the preliminary calculations off to Ingenieur Buro Stengel in time to complete their static calculations. After the Munich-based company finished its analysis of the layout parts for the Euro-Fighter appeared on-site at the Gerstlauer factory.
Throughout October curious passers-by watched as the coaster, which sat on a base frame, was assembled behind the facility. For many in Munsterhausen this brought back memories of the early eighties as Gerstlauer uses one of the facilities formerly occupied by the Schwarzkopf Company. Because the ride was set up in the yard Gerstlauer electricians, engineers and control systems experts were able to work closely with the ride system before it was out in the field. According to Franz Maier, the company's technical director, after working through the ride and completing as much testing as possible the coaster was shipped on thirty-three trucks up to Bobbejaanland in Lichtaart, Belgium. Assembly and commissioning only took around four weeks since the crew knew the ride well from the factory erection.
The new coaster, dubbed Typhoon by the park, was the centerpiece of a large expansion year that also included a Huss Giant Frisbee and custom Vekoma Roller Skater. The park advertised that guests would have "25 Meter freier Schrei" (25 Meters of Unlimited Screaming) and successfully incorporated the new coaster as the centerpiece of their marketing campaign. The Euro Fighter not only helped bring people through the front gate, it was one of the most popular additions Bobbejaanland had seen in some time. A wide range of ages stepped up to the station to ride the country's first "beyond vertical" coaster.
When stepping in the station the ride vehicles appear a bit smaller than one might expect for such a large coaster. However, Hubert Gerstlauer had the rolling stock (two rows of four passengers) in mind since he first came up with the Euro Fighter concept. The ride utilizes over-the-shoulder-restraints (OTSRs) but outside of that it is different from vehicles by many other manufacturers. Each set of wheels is attached separately so no main axle is needed, the car has the ability to "flex" between the two rows and it can navigate the sharp turn over the top of the lift hill.
After getting in, the shoulder restraints are lowered, and the brakes are released. The car flows out of the station and parks at the base of the vertical tower. After a few seconds a specially-designed catch mechanism on the lift chain grabs the car and in no time riders are looking straight up at the sky. The chain lift at Bobbejaanland is programmed to slow halfway up the tower so riders can think about what they are in for before resuming normal speed.
The rollover at the crest is so sharp that it seems like one second you are looking at the sky and the next you are staring straight down. The drop is good and sets up a unique-feeling transition from the loop's exit into a tall rise. The positive g's here are strong (but comfortable) and pin you in the seat until the block brake gives you a chance to relax. There isn't much quiet time as the ride quickly transitions into two head-over-heels heartline rolls. Siegfried Gerstlauer said that they were designed so that passengers could enjoy the unique sensations of a heartline roll.
Typhoon passes through another block brake and has a nice swooping dive that leads into the third block. From here the track snakes to the ground and pull's some nice positive g's as the coaster speeds through an upward helix. The coaster sprints through the last block, rolls riders upside down one last time and treats them to a downward spiral before the magnetic brakes bring the ride to a smooth stop.
The production of a large Euro-Fighter model is certainly a milestone for Gerstlauer. Several years after Hubert first scribbled the concept on a napkin the Typhoon is thrilling people of all ages in Belgium. As Siegfried Gerstlauer said, "The great thing about the Euro-Fighter concept is that it lends itself to unlimited layout possibilities that parks of all sizes can afford."
We couldn't agree more! This is a great concept and coaster riders can't wait until the company sells its first Euro-Fighter in the North American market.
Photos courtesy of Gerstlauer and Bobbejaanland used with permission. All other photos copyright © 2004 Ultimate Rollercoaster. All rights reserved.