Friday, October 23, 2009

A Blast From The Past - Busch Gardens Europe's Drachen Fire

Editors Note: For those of you looking for The Blast yesterday, please except my apologies. Circumstances beyond my control prevented me from posting this story yesterday. I hope you will think it was worth the wait.

While Drachen Fire only operated 7 seasons, it has grown to Legendary status since it's demise 7 years ago (it was SBNO from 1999 to 2002.) It's the Arrow that was almost a B&M. Busch Gardens had ordered two coasters from a then relatively unknown Swiss company. These new guys had never even designed a sit down looping coaster! Early talks centered on concepts of both coasters, one would be located in Tampa and one in Williamsburg. Discussions stalled and the little Swiss company was becoming more and more popular with amusement parks. The ability to produce two coasters for Busch was deemed more than B&M wanted to tackle. It was agreed that the Swiss would build only one ride and that ride would be locate in Tampa. That ride, named Kumba, turned out very well!

With the Williamsburg coaster well into the concept phase, Busch decided to chat with a well established company that they already had a relationship with and Arrow agreed to complete the project. The project was vastly different than anything Arrow had ever done and included elements that were unique to Drachen Fire. The Swiss concept included a loop over the lift hill, which can be experienced on Kumba. Arrow could not figure out how to make that work, so they created an original element, a corkscrew midway down the first drop. This element was never used by Arrow again.

Drachen Fire opened with the park on April 4th, 1992. The fearsome creature was, at the time, one of the biggest steel roller coasters in North America. The theming was based on a fire breathing dragon (drachen is German for dragon) with 3550 feet of electric-blue track and trains with multicolored flames on the sides. Expectations were high, perhaps to high, it seemed Arrow many have gotten in way over their heads! The original B&M concept was a radical departure from anything that Arrow had ever done at that time. The ride featured many unique elements, add to that cars were also a new body style for Arrow, they were a bit more streamlined and featured lights along the side which looked very cool at night.

While coaster enthusiasts drooled over Drachen Fire, the general public was a much different story. Seems they were much to busy being brutalized by Drachen Fire's roughness to be overwhelmed by it's unique qualities. The number of guests complaining of head and neck injuries and low ridership prompted Busch to make some changes.

Originally built with 6 inversions, the diving corkscrew which immediately followed the brake run was removed after the 1994 season. The problem was the element itself but more the transition from the drop off the mid-course into the corkscrew. The park had hoped that this would reduce the punishment and complaints.

In the end the renovation was not enough and in July of 1998 the ride closed due to roughness. And, Busch wasn't all that thrilled with it's location. Drachen Fire was located in the Rhineland, Germany section, behind the Big Bad Wolf. The entrance path was between the Festhaus and the first lift on Big Bad Wolf. It's now the entrance to the Black Forest Picnic Area. The station is still standing, it's used for the Sleepless Hollow Manor at Howl-O-Scream.

Initially Busch planned to modify the roller coaster. Then they decided to try to sell it. But, the coaster was up for sale for two years and it seemed no one wanted it. Drachen Fire was razed, starting in the fall of 2001 completely removed by March of 2002. The steel was sold for scrap and when the park opened it was hard to tell the coaster even existed.

The legend of Drachen Fire will live on and continue to grow as the years pass by. Drachen Fire is on our growing list of defunct coasters we have ridden. While I would like to ride again (once) for old times sake, I would still rather stand in line for any of the existing Busch Gardens Europe roller coasters.


Nicholas Tucker said...

I would've loved to ride this coaster. Nice feature!

StellaVista said...

I still wonder about the involvement of B&M and Arrow with those two rides.
I am not saying that your report is wrong, but I do have the feeling that the DF/Kumba-story is a result of internet yarn. I am reading international forums for a long time and the story about Drachenfire as it is now up on wikipedia took some time to develop into its current form.

For one B&M insists that they never had anything to do with DF (that´s understandable of course), but as you might know: Werner Stengel and his company were doing all the dynamics for B&Ms looping coasters.
The book about Stengel, which was published in 2000 lists all of his projects up to that date, including unbuilt and unfinished projects. There are project numbers for several unbuilt rides for many amusement park chains, but nothing for BGW. This would mean that Stengel was never contacted with working on the layout for DF.

It is also unlikely that B&M would have given their designs to their competitor Arrow. This did happen once at Bush Gardens after Schwarzkopf went bankrupt during the construction of BBW.
However, many parks approach the manufacturer with a fairly developed design idea and concepts what the ride should do. This would explain the Batwing/Boomerang inversion and the interlocking corkscrews being an original idea by BGs planners.

After all Vekoma invented that element in the early 1980s for the Arrow trains. It shouldn´t have been anything too unusual for Arrow, especially given the fact that the Bowtie element was essentially the same (only in a different set-up).

As for Arrow being unable to design a loop wrapping around the lift: They invented the interlocking loop! Looking at rides such as Viper at SFMM (and its predecessors) it shouldn´t have been too difficult for the coat-hanger designers to do exactly that.

I actually think that Arrow felt the competition at this point. After Schwarzkopf went out of business and before Intamin went into overdrive there was only Arrow and to a smaller extent Zierer/BHS and TOGO. Except building higher rides there was practically no evolution at Arrow. There is actually a quantum leap between Kumba and Drachenfire and after B&M dominated the 1990s Arrow were a thing of the past.

Anonymous said...

I almost missed my chance to ride the Big Bad Wolf. Unfortunately, Drachen Fire was a out of my reach until after it closed. Busch has sure seen their hardships with arrow. These coasters were sure beautiful while they lasted. It is definitely an interesting track design for Arrow. Thank you for the feature!

Unknown said...

I wish I could of had the chance to ride this!