Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Scott and Carol Present: More On X-Flight At Six Flags Great America

On Thursday May 10th we covered X-Flight's opening ceremonies (if you missed that, check it out here) and from the cheers, clapping hands & smiles heard throughout the day the first announced "wing coaster" in the country proved to be a tremendous hit!

Things happen fast and often on X-Flight, starting with a diving inversion on the 120 foot first drop. Riders experience five inversions, including a zero-g roll, an in-line roll and a barrel roll over three minutes while sitting in trains with cars located on either side, not on the track, with their feet dangling.

The $15 million, 3,000 foot long thrill ride, designed by Bolliger & Mabillard also has a kick butt signature element, a sideways roll through an air-traffic control tower replica. Referred to as the "Keyhole," it is followed by an inverted "head chopper" which the park has named “The Yellow Jacket.”

The ride is smooth, fast and very re-ridable. Over the course of the day we had the opportunity to ride various seats on the train and while the ride experience differs greatly from the front to the back, there isn't a bad seat on the train.

Between rides Scott took the opportunity to interview a few people and find out a little background information.

Park President Hank Salemi was walking around, grinning from ear to ear, watching the newest addition to the park. When asked to about working with Bolliger & Mabillard, Hank replied, "What a dream for a Park President to be able to build this one-of-a-kind coaster that really delivers."

"We have a long history with B & M here at Great America and we just sent Walter and his team a copy of the space available and asked them what they could do with it. We are very landlocked so to put something in we have to take something out but this is a terrific area right across from the food court and game area."

Salemi also commented on shoe-horning X-Flight into the County Fair section, "We were able to fit an incredible coaster in a fairly defined space. We wanted to add as much theming as we could to the ride with both the space and budget we had to work with for this project. We think it is the top coaster in our park and that makes it one of the tops coasters in the country and we want to invite everybody to come out and try it out."

The park's Director of Maintenance/Construction, Gary Pohlman spoke more about the site preparations than the finished product. "We brought in a grinder and used it to recycle all the old concrete by grinding it into gravel and covering the entire site about 2-3 feet below grade. We gave us a good surface to work on and we reused the spoils from the caissons for the footers. Then we put black dirt on top for the landscaping."

"Through the middle we knew we had a large pipe where we pumped out storm water to the retention lake out front so we exposed it and gave ourselves an open water way. We use that waterway as a catch basin for the water cannons and misters."

Pohlam also gave us a bit of a history lesson, "B & M are great people to work with and they provide great rides. Their roller coasters are easy to put together. They (B & M) gave us a list of parts that are common to all of their rides here in the park. They did their first independent ride project when they built the cars for the bobsled coaster formerly in the park and we also used to have their first ride, Iron Wolf. They built their first Batman coaster here also."

Les Hudson, the Vice President of Design was happy to elaborate on X-Flight's premise, "We wanted to follow the theme of flight testing so we chose the wing rider design and the design elements to accentuate the visceral features of the ride like articulation of the trains, nearly 90 degrees from front to back, and also, despite how large the train is, how nimble and maneuverable it is."

"The physical sensation of the ride is the best part, but the elements and experiences add to the enjoyment of the ride, but it could be built in a parking lot, and it would still be a terrific experience."

“The design evolved as we were working with B & M and nowadays we have the good fortune of being able to work with simulation of the ride and computer generated models so before we actually clear the ground and start building the coaster we can visualize the experience, like a flight simulator."

Hudson added, "We look for the best places to do flybys and experiential things and then we want to make sure the ride is also fun for the people watching it, being impressed by the maneuvers and things that they see and as we all know, people wait in line to do this so we wanted to put them right in the middle of the experience for as much of that time as possible so they are being entertained and in a dynamic space while they are waiting to ride."

"We like to do things that add to the value of the experience of a great roller coaster so we try to focus our efforts on things that are truly going to help the experience and be something that people are going to remember.

President and Co-founder of B & M, Walter Bolliger spoke of the company's newest ride, "We like to give a lot of freedom to the passenger, thus the inspiration for the wing rider. We continued to dream about the flying seat and we like acrobatics too. So we did acrobatics with a crazy pilot and the passengers sitting on the wings, feet dangling, nothing overhead, and a lot of distance to the next passenger. We wanted lots of acrobatic elements like wingover drops, Immelman, inline roll, and things like that. We not only ride in acrobatic planes, we also read about acrobatics and attempt to work not against but with the G forces and use them to our advantage."

Addressing X-Flight's tight fit, Bolliger stated "This ride was very challenging, but this is what we like. It’s a tight area, because there is not a lot of space left at Six Flags Great America, and we wanted to put as many elements in the ride. We wanted to arrange them not one right after the other but with a certain distance so you can enjoy each element."

"We made a lot of studies about what people with special needs required to be able to go on the ride while also being safe. Of course being safe is the first priority. This required a lot of testing and mock ups. It is our goal to allow as many people as possible on the coaster."

Wing walker, Tony Kazian, spoke of the similarities of riding X-Flight and walking on the wing of a real airplane, "The first drop and that first barrel roll, that’s exactly what it feels like on the wing of an airplane. We do that first drop as a part of our air show, only we drop from about 1,000 feet to about 200 feet. But that is the same feeling and the barrel roll it feels like there is nothing out there. This is the best roller coaster I have ever been on, it doesn’t matter how long the line is, it is worth it to ride this coaster."

Six Flags Chief Corporate Engineer, Larry Chickola explained the complications caused by a 17 foot wide train, "The trains are heavier and bigger than they have used in the past, which require larger footers than we have used in the past. The custom design was modified to get the large sweeping turns and the roll above the midway for as much show for people moving along the midway. We wanted to get as many ride elements in as possible. The train looks like a 747 so there is a huge rotation through the elements."

We would like to thank Six Flags Great America for a wonderful, fun filled day! We suggest everyone make a trek to Six Flags Great America and take a ride on X-flight. As you can see if you watch the video below, we really enjoyed!