Coaster Tech: An Insider's look at inverted coasters
Written by Russell Meyer
This new coaster tech series is going to look at the different major types of roller coasters around the world, and how they differ from other types and each other. This first piece will cover one of the most popular styles of roller coasters outside of standard “sit-down” coasters — namely, inverted roller coasters. Not to be confused with suspended coasters (such as Ninja at Six Flags Magic Mountain and Flight Deck at Kings Island), inverted roller coasters are characterized by seats positioned beneath the tracks that allow riders’ feet to dangle free. Most inverted roller coasters have some type of inversion or loop, but there are some around the country designed for kids and families that are completely free of inversions. The one drawback of the design is that riders not seated in the front row are “flying blind,” as it can be difficult for riders, particularly inside ones, to see what’s coming, or to feel the rush of wind in their face. This typically creates extremely long lines for front seat rides, but those that have come to love inverted coasters have probably discovered that the ride is just as good, if not better, in the back row, where forces tend to be more intense.Tweet
In 1992, Bolliger and Mabillard introduced the world to the revolutionary inverted concept with the opening of Batman: The Ride at Six Flags Great America, outside of Chicago. The coaster was so popular that there are a dozen clones and mirror-clones (same layout except starting with a right turn off the lift instead of a left turn) of the ride all over the world. BTR and its many clones feature a layout the is about as intense as they come, with no mid-course brake run (MCBR) and a non-stop barrage of maneuvers that at the time was unlike anything on the planet. Add to that a level of theming that was pretty impressive for Six Flags parks, complete with a Batmobile outside the queue entrance, and B&M had a hit on its hands. The B&M inverted design also employed a four-across seating arrangement that was seen previously only on B&M stand-up coasters (starting in 1990 with Iron Wolf at Six Flags Great America, later relocated to Six Flags America in 2012, as Apocalypse). The design allowed the designers to create a relatively high-capacity ride with a relatively small load platform (8 rows), and doubled the number of front seats, some of the most popular on any roller coaster.
As BTR clones started popping up around the world, B&M also worked on custom inverted coasters for a number of parks that have become part of any coaster aficionado’s bucket list. While B&M’s first custom invert, Flight Deck (formerly Top Gun) at Great America in California, does not rate particularly high, the list of custom inverts that followed is about as good as it gets. Nemesis at Alton Towers with its predominantly underground layout, Raptor at Cedar Point (the first six-inversion inverted coaster), Montu at Busch Gardens Tampa (the first seven-inversion inverted coaster), Alpengeist at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (still the tallest non-launching inverted coaster in the world), Afterburn (formerly Top Gun) at Carowinds, and Talon at Dorney Park are all must-rides for any coaster fan on the planet. Each one is similar, but with a unique character and similar elements that feel completely different with different sequences. I frequently ponder which one of these incredible coasters is the best, and my own opinion varies typically deferring to the one I rode most recently (I have yet to ride Nemesis though).
Raptor at Cedar Point is a people-eating machine that is operated at peak efficiency throughout the Sandusky park’s season. The layout is relatively compact compared to other custom inverts, but it packs a ton of elements into a small footprint.
Alpengeist and Montu at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa, respectively, took the inverted concept to new levels. Montu, themed around an Egyptian myth, combines a pulse-pounding layout with a design that has riders constantly confused as to which way is up. With ravines and numerous underground sections, including an uber-intense Batwing, Montu’s track is about as unique as they come. Meanwhile, Alpengeist probably features the most cleverly themed inverted roller coaster on the planet. With props and design elements to make the coaster look like a runaway ski lift, the coaster is quite possible one of the best-themed “big” roller coasters in North America.
Afterburn at Carowinds features a Batwing element like Montu, but instead of using ravines and tunnels, the jet-themed coaster instead uses trees and the park’s natural terrain to conceal the most interesting maneuvers.
Throughout the 1990’s, a number of Vekoma-designed clones (known more commonly as the Vekoma Suspended Looping Coaster – SLC) were built around the country. From Mind Eraser at Six Flags America to Kong at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to Thunderhawk at Michigan’s Adventure, the Vekoma SLC spread like the plague, bring head-banging, uncomfortable, and rough rides to all corners of the globe. The design almost gave the invert a bad name.
In 1998, Intamin built its first inverted roller coaster, which to this day is still the fastest complete circuit inverted roller coaster in the world. Volcano: The Blast Coaster, at Kings Dominion in Virginia, literally blew the Vekoma SLC design away. It features a linear induction motor launch from 0 to 70 out of the top of a 155-foot volcano. While the overall design of the coaster is rather pedestrian after the explosive departure from the mountain, featuring a series of slow barrel rolls and turns, it’s still one of the most unique coaster experiences in the country.
In 1999, B&M took the inverted coaster to a whole new level with the installation of two intertwined inverted roller coasters at the newly-opened Islands of Adventure in Orlando. Dueling Dragons, while individually not the greatest inverts, worked together to create a one-of-a-kind experience full of near misses, flybys, and a climactic game of roller-coaster chicken that has the trains speeding towards each other until flipping away at the last moment. This is accomplished through a very complicated lift system that can weigh each train on the ascent to ensure both trains traverse the course at the same time, to optimize the timing of the interactive elements. Sadly, mischievous behavior by riders on Dueling Dragons, renamed Dragon Challenge when The Wizarding World of Harry Potter debuted in 2010, caused Universal to ceasing “dueling” operation on the coasters, and they are deliberately dispatched to eliminate the interaction between the trains.
At the turn of the century, inverts began to fall out of favor, but there were still some notable installations. Dorney Park’s Talon was one of the first coasters in the world to feature sound dampening features, in the form of sand and foam in the track supports to reduce the decibels of the roaring train, necessary to comply with Allentown’s sound ordinances. Similar to the BTR design, Talon is devoid of an MCBR with a layout that maintains intensity throughout.
B&M also brought the United States more custom-layout inverts, in the form of Silver Bullet at Knott’s Berry Farm and Patriot at Worlds of Fun. Both designs are far superior to any of the Vekoma SLCs, but were not early as special or unique as B&M’s previous custom creations.
With virtually every park in the country already featuring an inverted coaster, the style fell out of favor in the United States for years while parks installed floorless coasters, hyper coasters, dive machines, and flying coasters. That was until 2014, when B&M returned to the US with a new custom inverted coaster design featuring a new restraint style similar to those used on their flying coasters. Banshee at Kings Island has opened this spring to rave reviews, and features some unique elements along with a layout without a MCBR.
With inverted roller coasters in just about every theme park in the United States, and in hundreds of parks overseas, the success of Banshee may not necessarily signal a renaissance of the design, but perhaps a reminder of how incredible it is to ride underneath the rails.
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