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.Tweet
I love B&M inverted coasters. Truly, riding beneath the track is my favorite type of roller coaster.
I have experienced most of B&Ms mentioned in your article and have to say my favorite is Montu. Being avid skiers, my kids and I enjoyed the theming of Alpengeist but felt that bigger did not always mean better. I hope to make it up to Kings Island soon to try out both Banshee and Diamondback.
If a park has a B&M inverted coaster, that's usually my first and most frequent coaster ride of the day. They're a great way to start and end the day at a theme park. As far as the Vekoma inverts go, what a disappointment. I'll ride them, but Vekoma inverts look paltry when compared to B&M inverts.
The double LIM launch element to Volcano: The Ride is awesome, and then they do so little with the subsequent elements. It's a shame they waste all of that kinetic energy on weak elements around the volcano when the ride would be more visually appealing if the track were routed away from the mountain, and a few more loops and rolls were added in before the track returns to the volcano.
The second half of Volcano makes sense thematically since the train slowly makes it's way around the volcano like lava oozing down the side of a summit. It's not the most interesting or exciting, particularly after the amazing launch, but it works in context. The fact that the designers built the coaster around an existing structure (former Haunter River shoot the chutes attraction), meant they were probably limited with what they could do with the layout. They also had to work around another roller coaster, Avalanche, directly adjacent. Volcano has a very interesting history...Intamin was a little ahead of their time (similar to what happened with Top Thrill Dragster) and the first year of Volcano's operation occurred with trains with half the number of seats as originally designed. The launch (there was initially just one) was not powerful enough to reliably push a fully loaded train over the top, so to reduce weight, the even numbered rows were removed, meaning the capacity was 8 people per train. When they finally added the second booster launch, right before the track twists upwards, the master controls had difficulty timing the second launch to actually accelerate the trains, and frequently it would slow the train because of the poor timing. It took nearly 3 years to get it right, but it's been running pretty consistently since. Lesson---Don't expect to run an Intamin coaster at full capacity in the first year plus of operation.
I also didn't realize that they added the second set of LIMs on the approach to the volcano at a later date. It seems odd that Intamin didn't over-engineer the original design, but I suspect that limited funding coupled with the fact that the ride goes into a hard turn right after the first set of LIMs set a ceiling on what they could originally do.
You and Bobbi are spot on about Talon. A great coaster in a nice park that doesn't seem to get the appreciation that they deserve. There seems to be an unwritten rule in eastern Pennsylvania that families go to Hersheypark and teenagers go to Dorney. I don't get it, because Dorney has a nice atmosphere with a good mix of rides.
Rollercoaster enthusiasts in the Washington D.C. area are so lucky. Six Flags America nearby (okay, maybe not so lucky), and Kings Dominion, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Hersheypark, Dorney Park, Knoebels, and Kennywood all within a few hours drive.
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