Theme Park Insider

America's First Launched Wing Coaster, Thunderbird, Debuts at Holiday World

April 23, 2015, 11:51 AM · SANTA CLAUS, Ind. — Thanksgiving just can't get any respect.

Walk into just about any store in America on November 1, the day after Halloween, and the you'll see the Jack-o-Lanterns and ghosts immediately give way to snowmen and Christmas trees. It's as if Thanksgiving has become America's forgotten holiday.

But there's one theme park that hasn't forgotten Thanksgiving, and, ironically, it's in a town called Santa Claus. Indiana's Holiday World honors Thanksgiving with some of its best attractions, including the award-winning The Voyage roller coaster. And this morning, Holiday World showed even more love for Thanksgiving with the launch of its newest coaster, Thunderbird, in the park's Thanksgiving land.

Thunderbird is America's first launched wing coaster, from Swiss designers Bolliger & Mabillard. And it's the park's first all-steel coaster, joining highly rated wooden coasters The Raven and The Legend, as well as The Voyage, in the park's line-up.

Thunderbird
Photo courtesy Holiday World

Wing coasters provide you a choice when riding: left or right? And that's part of the appeal of wing coasters to theme parks, prompting Holiday World to join Dollywood, Cedar Point, and Six Flags Great America to add this increasingly popular model of coaster to its line-up. The choice of riding on the left or right wing inspires many visitors to want to ride a second time (or more!), to experience the ride on both sides of the track.

Whichever side your choose, crashing thunder and a blast of fog greet you as you depart from the loading platform, an omen of the thrills ahead. Then Thunderbird flies out of its station, accelerating from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, lifting riders immediately into a 140-foot-tall Immelmann loop.

Thunderbird launch

From there, you sweep into a 125-foot loop before crossing The Voyage's track on your way through a pair of overbanked turns, twisting in each direction to give both wings a turn on top.

Horseshoe turns

There's no block brake on Thunderbird, as on Cedar Point's Gatekeeper, nor will you find that ride's long sections of straight track to offer you a pause between the twisting elements. Thunderbird keeps throwing its elements at you without hesitation. After the horseshoe turns, you twist through a zero-G roll and an S-curve before the first of the two "headchopper" keyholes.

Wing coasters typically add these illusions to play on the unique perspective of riding at the side of the track, where you feel more exposed to the surroundings than on traditional designs where you ride above or below the track. But these headchopper illusions feel superfluous in Thunderbird's wooded setting, where an abundance of trees will spook riders into pulling their knees close throughout the ride. Indeed, the proximity of the trees help Thunderbird feel faster than its 60 mph top speed.

With no pause between elements, the thrill factor amplifies throughout the ride, reaching its peak with the second headchopper and the heartline roll that follows. You truly do feel that you're about to fall from your seat as you invert through the heartline, emphasizing the wing coaster's suggestion that you are not bound by a track on your flight.

Final roll

And just when you're ready for a break from the action, it's over. With a ride time of 1 minute, 18 seconds, it's not a long flight, but don't forget that you're not wasting any time on a lift chain, making a slow crawl up an initial lift hill as on other wing coasters. It's all action on Thunderbird, and while there's no break, the ride left me ready and eager to go again, to experience flight on the other side.

Let's take a ride, with complete POV and reverse POV views:

So why the rush to Christmas? With Thunderbird joining The Voyage, we have all the more reason to linger in Thanksgiving instead.

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Replies (10)

April 23, 2015 at 11:58 AM · I love it! I'm excited that B&M's first launch coaster finally opened. (Apart from Hulk.) But to me, the most important question is: Is it a smooth, comfortable ride? Any vibrations?
April 23, 2015 at 1:52 PM · It's coasters like these that make me long for the day that I expand my horizons to start visiting parks outside my home state of Florida
April 23, 2015 at 3:06 PM · I've grown wary of making pronouncements about the smoothness of coasters, because on their media days, almost *all* coasters are smooth! And this one's especially tricky, as it was in the 40s when I first rode this morning, and coasters sometimes ride differently in cold weather than how they'll ride when it's 90.

That said, I loved the ride on this one. B&M went down to five rows on this wing, in an effort to reduce weight, which should (should!?) help with the vibration problem that many riders reported on Gatekeeper after a few months. We'll see.

April 23, 2015 at 4:21 PM · Superb review! One of the reasons I make TPI a daily visit. And, oh, Mr. Niles is much braver (crazier?) than I to take these lunch liberators on.
April 23, 2015 at 8:32 PM · Thank you for the great review, Robert! Looking forward to riding Thunderbird myself in about six or seven weeks!
April 23, 2015 at 10:32 PM · Great review, Robert! After my experiences on GateKeeper and X-Flight last year, I was expecting a good ride but not necessarily one worth traveling a long distance for. Based on what I've been hearing, it sounds like this is the ride to travel for and Fury 325 can wait (not that Fury 325 is bad, it's just less unique). It won't happen this year (especially since I just visited last year), but hopefully I can get back to Holiday World soon to check out Thunderbird for myself.
April 24, 2015 at 12:26 AM · Despite enjoying my visit to Holiday World last year, I probably won't go back for a really, really, really long time. However, as long as the park makes great additions like Thunderbird, I may have to eventually reconsider.
April 24, 2015 at 5:41 AM · I know I might have some who disagree, but I much rather go to Holiday World any day compared to Kings Island. There's just something very organic about holiday world. The theme park is awesome and the water park is amazing. The two water coasters they own is worth the trip alone IMO. Nice to see Robert Niles out on debuts outside of the Disney and Universal parks.
April 25, 2015 at 10:21 AM · I enjoy visiting and reviewing top-quality attractions outside the Disney and Universal parks, and Holiday World's coasters, food and customer service certainly qualify. Still, it is telling how much more attention and traffic stories about the most trivial elements of anything at Disney or Universal will get on the site than posts about major attraction debuts at other parks.

So if you're a Holiday World fan, please share this review and the video with your friends!

April 26, 2015 at 2:45 PM · I still can't believe I haven't visited this park yet.

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