From the ashes of the Apocalypse rises Firebird. That sounds like the tagline for the latest summer blockbuster, but instead summarizes the debut of the new floorless roller coaster at Six Flags America. At the end of last season, the Largo, Md. park announced that the park’s Bolliger and Mabillard (B&M) stand-up roller coaster was being retrofitted with floorless trains for the 2019 season. Thus, the park brought an end to Apocalypse and the rise of Firebird.
What many guests to Six Flags America might not know is that Firebird is the second reincarnation of the same B&M coaster track. Prior to being Apocalypse at Six Flags America, this coaster was known as Iron Wolf at Six Flags Great America. Not only that, but the coaster was the very first B&M roller coaster ever installed. It’s true — the Swiss manufacturer that has become a major player with more than 100 coasters installed around the world can trace its genesis to the former stand-up coaster originally installed outside of Chicago. That means even as a “new” floorless roller coaster, Firebird stands as a unique piece of roller coaster history.
Cedar Point completed a similar stand-up to floorless conversion a few years ago when it changed Mantis to Rougarou. The result there was a coaster that has a much higher capacity with a less complicated and time-consuming loading process, but a ride that was not all that different aside from having slightly less painful restraints and a more comfortable riding position. Firebird’s conversion from Apocalypse has similar features to Cedar Point’s conversion. However, a notable change is that the new floorless trains on Firebird have only six rows of seats compared to the seven that were found on Apocalypse/Iron Wolf. While I didn’t notice a big difference with this change during the damp media preview day, the theory is that trains go through elements slightly faster, reducing hangtime and increasing positive G’s.
As with Rougarou, guests will not find the new generation of over the shoulder restraints on Firebird like those on Banshee, Gatekeeper, and other new B&M coasters installed over the past 4-5 years. Because of the gauge of the existing track, the newer restraints could not be fitted to the narrower trains. This means that guests with larger chest and upper body measurements will need to seek out the seats that have the double seat belts near the middle of the train.
While the rise of Firebird may not be a major investment in Six Flags America, unlike the millions (or even billions) that other theme parks are spending this year on new attractions, it does breathe new life and interest into a roller coaster that guests could practically walk on even on the busiest days. The fact of the matter is that Six Flags America is not going to be given the resources of bigger parks like Magic Mountain, Great America, and Great Adventure, but smart additions and modifications like this are what will drive success at the park.
The ride on Firebird is an improvement over Apocalypse, but judged against more modern floorless coasters with more inversions, airtime, and steeper drops, Firebird still feels subpar. Also, there are still a couple of transitions between elements that induce some headbanging. Compared to Rougarou, I think Firebird stands as a more significant improvement over its previous incarnation. While it isn’t a must-see new attraction for 2019, Firebird rising from the ashes of Apocalypse still represents a modest addition for a humbler and more financially limited theme park.
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