Mankind has always been fascinated with flying, so it should be no surprise that many roller coaster designers have attempted in their creations over the years to recreate parts of what is believed to be the sensation of flying.
In the early 80's Arrow Dynamics, a company well known for its innovative ride designs, decided it was time to push the envelope in coaster design. The basic idea was to design a roller coaster with cars suspended from a steel track. For decades adrenaline junkies had been riding above the tracks, so why not now have them ride below.
In 1981, this new concept was born at Kings Island. The Bat, as it was named, opened as the world's first suspended roller coaster.
Height: 90 feet
Max drop: 86 feet
Top speed: 55 mph
Length: 2,361 feet
Number of Trains:
2 - 24 Passenger
1 minute, 45 seconds
Minimum 48 inches
Unfortunately, The Bat did not live long, as design flaws forced its closure only three years later. Arrow refusing to give up, sent its engineers back to the drawing board. Working on a second-generation design, the designers opted for cars that would sway freely from side-to-side throughout the course.
A year after The Bat hung up its wings Arrow returned to unveil the second-generation suspended coaster, Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and XLR-8 at Six Flags Astroworld in Houston. Fortunately, the second time around the concept was a success and in part because of what the engineers had learned from their first attempt.
Over the next nine years Arrow continued to build seven more suspended coasters including four in North America: Iron Dragon (1987) at Cedar Point; Ninja (1988) at Six Flags Magic Mountain; Vortex (1991) at Canada's Wonderland; and Flight Deck (1993) at Kings Island.
There is not a lot of hype accompanying any of the suspended roller coasters. There are no record breakers in the genre. But in the roller coaster world you don't always have to garner records to earn recognition. Instead, a roller coaster simply needs to deliver thrills that make coaster connoisseurs chant "one more time" with enthusiasm.
If you've a fan of the "suspended coaster" then the time is right to talk about one of the best-suspended coasters ever built. If you've never been initiated into the suspended coaster club then please read-on, as this will likely convince you to race out to ride one.
In the Northeast there is a wonderful theme park in Canada, just outside Toronto that is home to what many suspended coaster lovers call "the best in the world." Of course, that's just an opinion, but its hard to argue that Vortex at Canada's Wonderland (formerly Paramount Canada's Wonderland) is anything less than one awesome thrill ride.
What makes the suspended coaster so enjoyable is the individual car's ability to swing freely from side to side throughout the ride. While riding you'll experience a smooth ride and plenty of powerful positive G-forces. Vortex has no inversions; no massive drops and you're certainly not going to break a speed record on this roller coaster. As with all suspended coasters, there is a "bonus" for riding in the front row. The uninterrupted view before you creates an environment as if you're flying.
Vortex begins with an ascent up into a massive, concrete mountain, which is at the center of this Paramount Park. The missing centerpiece here is the Eiffel Tower, found at Paramount's Kings Island and Kings Dominion. We quickly peak out at 90 feet, make a quick U-turn at the crest to see the steel track dive suddenly, off the side of the mountain. If you're seated in the front it's a slow initial descent, but if you're in the back, prepare to be whipped off the edge, as the train accelerates to a top speed of 55 mph!
The bottom of the first drop offers up the first lesson in what makes the suspended coaster so great. A sweeping turn to the right swings each of the six cars out to one side as the track begins an ascent up into a turn above the station.
Sweeping across the sky the train makes a quick flyby over the loading station and then dives down a curving drop towards the green lawn and murky pond below. From the midway the track may appear to be less than impressive, but once on board the experience proves that appearance means nothing.
Vortex concludes with a series of sweeping turns that lead to a sensational positive-G helix, hung only feet above the water. Each car of the train swings out in rhythm, positioned perpendicular to the ground, as it flies into and around the helix. On board, I challenge you to pick-up your fee after the positive G-forces have taken control, sucking your body to the fiberglass seat.
Charging forward, the return run is short and fast as Vortex makes one final sweeping turn into the break run, screeching to a halt with speed to burn. Don't be surprised to find your car swinging on the breaks. Vortex ends with the same powerful punch it began with.
Easing back into the station, the restraint releases and you're free to go. Well for suspended coaster fans and myself included. We are free to ride again, of course.
While Vortex may not be the perfect recreation of flight... it really does not matter. I certainly would not change it, as this adrenaline machine does a fine job of doing what any roller coaster should... thrill us. And as for the suspended genre, Vortex certainly ranks at the top of its league.
Photos and review by Eric Gieszl. Copyright 2001-2002 © Ultimate Rollercoaster.
Vortex logo courtesy of Canada's Wonderland. All rights reserved.