Superman-Ultimate Flight

It's All About The Pretzel, People.

Before another word is written, I must give mad props to Vekoma for pioneering the concept of a "Flying" coaster (see Paramount's Great America's Stealth, Six Flags America's Batwing, Six Flags Worlds of Adventure's X-Flight). That honor is theirs, and theirs alone, forever.

But Monthey's Bad Boys are making Flying coasters now. And after one ride on the new Bolliger & Mabillard Flyer at Six Flags Great Adventure, I must say that the days ahead look pretty dark for Vekoma's Flying Dutchmen.

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Who among us wasn't totally psyched to hear that B&M would engineer its first Flying coaster for Alton Towers in 2002? Not that most of us in America would get to ride AT's AIR any time soon... but surely, we prayed, it wouldn't be long before a U.S. park picked up a flying Beemer.

Prayers got answered double-quick; just weeks after AIR opened, Six Flags Over Georgia premiered Superman Ultimate Flight. And we here in the States got something the British didn't: the world's first "Pretzel Loop."

Unlike Vekoma's Flyers, B&M's flying machines put the emphasis on sweeping "horseshoe" curves and low-to-the-ground dives, rather than inversions. As much as I like Vekoma's loops, flips and corkscrews, one does get a much better sense of flying when in the face-down flying position. But what I heard the most about from early SUF riders was the Pretzel Loop, specifically, that it rocked. Very hard.

Now, for 2003, both Six Flags Great America (Illinois) and Six Flags Great Adventure (New Jersey) have SUF's of their own and on April 17th, Great Adventure invited some folks over to make like the Last Son of Krypton.

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(A quick aside about the weather and why public relations directors need a good sense of humor to survive: on April 16th, the day before the SUF media preview, the sun was glowing and the mercury hit 88 degrees. Just awesome. On April 17th, cloudy skies, a harsh wind and an air temperature of around 40 degrees had many of us on the verge of hypothermia.)

Yeah, yeah, so the whole "Superman's Ultimate Steel Escape Flight" thing is perhaps a bit tired for those of us (me included) who are paying too much attention. But for the "norms," this particular name and theme suit this coaster like tight blue spandex and a flowing red cape—which is to say "really well." For if ever there was a roller coaster that gives you a taste of super-heroic flight, this is it. Even if you despise the profligate exploitation of DC comic book characters, you're gonna love the way this baby goes about its business.

First, it looks good, residing on a former patch of parking lot adjacent to the main gate approach, all red and blue and yellow and curly... very sexy. And it looks even better when we're standing directly beneath everything, which is just what the queue forces us to do.

Second, and here's where B&M puts Vekoma to shame, the new restraint system they've developed is an ergonomic work of art. A heavily padded chest harness and a pair of little clamps around the shins move in tandem and lock into position with one-two-three simplicity. No belts to cinch, no tricky buckles to fool with. Ride ops can get a whole train loaded and ready to roll in a matter of seconds, not minutes. And given the parameters required by safety issues, you couldn't ask for a more comfortable solution.

Third—and this is what inevitably startles neophyte riders—the rear of each car is pulled up in one quick, smooth motion, putting us into "Up, Up and Away!" mode in a heartbeat (I took much pleasure listening to the chorus of gasps and squeals every time those trains went horizontal). And that means, of course, that we're not going to climb the lift hill on our backs, staring up at the sky, as we do on Vekoma's Flyers. No, we'll be looking straight down, a much more interesting way to start things off.

One of the great things about Flying coasters is that every row has pretty much the same view. So from a visual perspective, it doesn't matter where you decide to ride.

However, if you want to experience the full brunt of Superman's power, you'll be waiting for the last row, surprise, surprise.

The train glides out of the station, makes a turn to the right and starts movin' on up. Now as I've said many times before, I'm fairly freaked out by heights (Six Flags Great Adventure's big Ferris wheel is the scariest ride in that park, far as I'm concerned). But even with nothing between us and the ground below, I didn't register the mildest alarm. That's how snug and secure those B&M harnesses made me feel.

We crest the top of the lift, at about 115 feet, and begin a roaring, sweeping descent, arms aloft, heads into the wind, ready for action.

This is just good, clean fun: silky smooth, thoroughbred fast and supercool watching the ground blur as we skim low and arch back up. You'll be thinking this is a ride you could take almost anyone on.

But then we enter the Pretzel Loop.

Leaping tall buildings in a single bound, we surge skyward. See those rails far below? That's where we're gonna be in about two seconds.

Suddenly we're upside down as the train makes a headfirst plunge.

And then we're on our backs at the base of the Pretzel.

Oh... dear... lord...

It was all I could do to scream. Because every molecule of oxygen was being squeezed from my lungs by one of the most ferocious periods of sustained positive G-forces I've ever encountered. Man, does that ever rock hard.

If you want to keep things a bit more under control, ride in the front row. Believe me, you'll still feel some amazing forces, but they're not quite as brutal in the lead car. Plus, you'll actually catch a little airtime just before heading south.

Fortunately, the ribcage compression doesn't last too long and soon we're streaking back up and into normal flight position. And we can start breathing again.

Once the Pretzel Loop is behind us, it's all exhilarating turns and graceful dives. Whipping to the left, banking and dropping, we soar down low, and then back up and then back down, zigzagging through the air, feasting on the unique pleasures that only a flying coaster can provide.

While it may not have the aggressive impact of the Pretzel Loop, this second half of the trip is packed wall-to-wall with giddy delights. As you can see in the photo on the left, we sometimes bank more than 90 degrees on those turns.

And before we hit the brakes, there's one last dip that skirts some vertical supports (close enough to make me pull my hands in a bit) and then a tasty little inline roll, twisting us around 360 degrees. "Wheeeee!"

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Great Adventure and Bolliger & Mabillard have done astounding things together: Batman-The Ride, Medusa, Nitro and now SUF. And for the most part, I'd say that this coaster is probably the most ride-able of the quartet for anyone relatively new to the sport. It certainly doesn't have the head-spinning, multi-inversion intensity of Medusa and BTR, nor does it have the blistering speed and appalling height of Nitro.

But there's the Pretzel Loop... yeah, that should maybe make a newbie think twice... which is too bad, because minus the Pretzel, this coaster is gentle as a pussycat.

The important thing is that SFGAdv. has further solidified its reputation as the Northeast's thrill ride capital with four righteous B&M coasters. How many other parks can make that claim? And Bolliger & Mabillard have further solidified their reps as modern-day alchemists, once again turning raw steel into scream machine gold.

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Superman-Ultimate Flight

  • TRACK LENGTH: 2,759 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 60 miles per hour
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 115 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 100 feet
  • CARS: Three trains composed of 8 cars. Each car accommodates four passengers across.
  • DESIGN AND ENGINEERING: Bolliger & Mabillard

SUPERMAN and all related characters and elements are trademarks of and © DC Comics.





© Robert Coker.
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