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Son of Beast

Wild Child.

Sequels can be a tricky thing. Take The Exorcist, for example, an unqualified masterpiece. Exorcist II: The Heretic? A megaton bomb so deplorable, even the crater was embarrassed. But then there was Alien, another masterpiece, and its follow-up, Aliens. In that last instance, I'll argue till I'm blue in the face that the second film is more satisfying than the first.

Now, Paramount's Kings Island's Son of Beast (Cincinnati, Ohio) is really just a "sequel" in name only. But let's face it; the park's creative types threw down the gauntlet when they settled on this coaster's moniker. Intentionally or not, they implied that this new machine would strive to equal, or perhaps outdo, the magnificence of its "father," the exalted Beast®. Quite a challenge.

The good people at PKI, Roller Coaster Corp. of America, Premier Rides and the master Werner Stengel himself (the entire team behind Son of Beast), certainly didn't shrink from the task. Son, as announced way back in Spring of 1999, would upstage Pops with not one, but two massive spirals and the first vertical loop on a woodie since the dawn of the 20th Century. Even more, Son of Beast would be the tallest and fastest woodie ever built. They were talking 218 feet tall, another 84 feet higher than The Beast's largest drop and 78 miles per hour, about 13 MPH better that the Beast can muster during normal operation.

This past Spring, it opened. And almost immediately shut down for some minor retracking. And then reopened with just one train on the circuit. Much enthusiast grumbling ensued.

But over time, this beastie boy has settled in, with dependable two-train operation becoming the norm. And more and more people, yours truly included, have finally been able to sample this outrageous record-smasher.

So is it Exorcist II or is it Aliens? Or is it something else?

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Before we get to that, a little history. According to roller coaster authority Robert Cartmell, efforts to include loops on a coaster started as far back as 1846, primarily in France. An engineer by the name of Clavieres is credited with the design of the "Centrifugal Railway" and samples of these diminutive rides appeared in Paris, Havre, Bordeaux and Lyons. Passengers would board a single car at the top of a 30-foot-tall, 100-foot-long slope, glide down and somersault through a 13-foot-tall loop, and rise up another ramp, where they'd disembark. Novel as they were, these Centrifugal Railways proved to be little more than curious oddities with little appeal and went the way of the dodo in short order.

But the idea was revived at Coney Island's Sea Lion Park in 1895. Designed by Lina Beecher, the Flip-Flap was another modest single-looper, yet a bit grander in scale that Europe's early models. This time, a two passenger car was hauled up a lift hill, made a left-hand turn, and dived to whistle through a 25-foot-tall loop. Sadly, the Flip-Flap's perfectly circular inversion was a literal pain in the neck; as riders entered the base of the loop, they received a sudden jolt, resulting in numerous complaints of whiplash. The addition of taller back supports in the seats did nothing to alleviate the problem and the Flip-Flap was razed within years of its debut.

Fortunately, another Coney coaster soon appeared that improved upon the Flip-Flap's flawed engineering. Edward Prescott's Loop-the-Loop, erected in 1901 at a then-staggering cost of $400,000, featured an elliptical, more tear drop-shaped inversion that eliminated the Flip-Flap's unpleasant neck-snapping effect. But even this marvel, while garnering nationwide attention, failed to generate the kind of business that justified its expense. More folks watched the Loop-the-Loop in action than actually rode it (signs posted around the attraction warned "Beware of Pickpockets") and those that did ride felt little need to come back and do it again. The sole gimmick of flipping upside-down just wasn't enough to generate enduring fascination. A smattering of additional Loop-the-Loops were constructed elsewhere in 1902, but within a decade, all had disappeared.

Flash-forward to 1975 when Arrow Development (now Arrow Dynamics) unveiled the first modern looping roller coaster, Knott's Berry Farm's seminal Corkscrew. With tubular steel rails, polyurethane wheels and man-on-the-moon technology, the Corkscrew blew the barn doors open wide. And unless you've been living in a cave since then, you're well aware that loop coasters almost instantly became a worldwide rage, growing into freakish spectaculars equipped with more varieties of inversions than anyone back in the early 1900's could have possibly imagined: Barrel rolls, Zero-G rolls, Cobra rolls, Top Hat inversions, Immelman dives, Heartline spins, etc., etc., etc. But every last one of them has been fabricated with the same basic steel track and polyurethane wheel configuration.

Until now.

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Big Daddy prowls unseen through the impenetrable forest at the back of the park. Its spawn, on the other hand, lives large right up front, baring teeth and rising up on its hind legs so's we get an eyeful of him from the moment we enter the Kings Island's Action Zone, just to the left of International Street. And what an eyeful it is: the colossal lift hill of the world's first and only hyperwoodie.

And then, as a train climbs up that lumber Mt. Everest, we hear him growl, a metallic clatter that seems to carry for miles. Sonny Boy may be many things, but bashful ain't one of them. "You wanna piece of me? I'm right here...Come and get me."

Come and get him we will, in a sunburst yellow/fire engine red Perimeter Surveillance Vehicle, a Premier Rides-designed contraption specifically engineered to handle the high intensity "hard target" pursuit we're about to begin. Our point of departure is Outpost 5 and to get there, we've got to stroll up a series of ramps. It may seem odd; they could have built the station far closer to ground level. But the reason they didn't will soon become clear.

As we reach the top of the ascending queue, returning PSVs slide into the station on our left. Very slick, these angular go-mobiles, with their wheel covers, warning stripes and biohazard-like graphics. And best of all, no over-the-shoulder restraints. Excellent.

Before you board, be sure to look down over the edge of the platform. We are up there.

Settling into the seat, you'll understand why shoulder harnesses aren't necessary - a bulky wedge-shaped lap bar tucks into our hips for a very secure lock-down.

And now it's time to find out if this critter's bite is as bad as his bark.

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He sure does start the party with a bang, snarling right down a 51-foot-tall plunge. Think about how many woodies you've ridden that never fall that far... and then chew on the fact that it's only one-quarter the size of what's comin' up next. Makes yer fillings tingle, doesn't it?

We swing around to meet the base of the lift. And as that chain grabs hold and we begin scaling this Southern Yellow Pine brute, the Son's growl becomes an unholy racket. In every way possible, this coaster is totally aggro.

Finally at the pinnacle, we curl over with the park's Eiffel Tower off in the distance. The PSV picks up the pace, rumbling through a righteously unsettling swoop curve and I say unsettling because this isn't a whisper-quiet, butter-smooth steel coaster maneuver; this is a down and dirty, rock 'em-sock 'em woodie swoop curve nearly two hundred feet in the sky. Dang-diggity!

Up out of the turn. Rushing forward. And there it is, people, a 214-foot-deep chasm, laminated parallel rails diving at a 55.7-degree angle. Holy Mother of Mary...

And as the Son goes up, so must the Son go down.

Roaring like a hellhound, the train flat-out meteors into this timber gorge. We thunder faster and faster and by the time we're starting to climb back up again, traveling at that 78 MPH velocity, you'll be thinking we're going twice as fast, 'cuz this is old school, friends. The vertical loop blurs by on the left, but you'll barely register it. And before you know it, we'll be screaming to the right, gettin' ready to enter Spiral Number One.

Seems like we've regained some serious altitude, yes? We have, brothers and sisters, about 164 feet. So entering the spiral means plummeting down the second tallest wooden coaster drop currently extant. And here's where things start getting seriously hot and heavy.

Ever been in an earthquake? Having spent many years living in Southern California, I've gotten a taste of more than a few. The minor ones just shake things up a bit. But the serious ones do more than rattle the windows; the ground rhythmically heaves underneath your feet. And this is about as close as I can get to describing the sensation of exploding through the Son's mammoth spirals.

The train doesn't just shiver. It convulses through this magnificently fierce counter-clockwise whirlpool. Call me a madman but I was totally groovin' on it. And it lasts a good, long time, 540 degrees, up and down, around and around, non-stop bestial rage. Like father, like son, this puppy runs the rings hard.

But once we've escaped that chaos, there's an amazing moment of grace coming. And that's the loop.

We pull out of the spiral, scoot across a mid-point brake run, make another descent. And then we get to watch the world turn upside down, woodie-style.

In any other context, this single vertical inversion would be fairly unremarkable. But in contrast to the agitation we've just endured, the tranquility of this element is a real surprise. And with no upper body confinement, arms can spread wide, reveling in it all. What a rare treat, that. Up and over we soar, about 100 feet high... Nice.

Don't think Sonny's done thrashing yet, though. There's Spiral Number Two, a clockwise gyre, right in front of us. It's not quite as large or as intense as the first, but it's still plenty ferocious. Traveling at a headlong clip, we plow through this clockwise cacophony deep in the shadows of the gargantuan lift structure.

And then we give up the chase, dropping out of the second helix, rising over a gentle bluff, and whipping around 180 degrees. There's a tasty final drop and we leap back up to the load station's elevation.

Whoa... Friends, this coaster is something else.

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Is it as wondrous as The Beast? Sorry, kiddo, not quite. But that's hardly a criticism. And is it the roughest roller coaster on the planet, as some have stated? Ain't even close, at least in my experience. (Been on the Coney Island Cyclone lately? I love that coaster too, but it's a bare-knuckled brawler.)

But even if it falls little short of measuring up to the Old Man, Son of Beast is certainly a dazzling finale to Paramount's Kings Island's incredible two-year, $40 million expansion, following 1999's Face/Off inverted Boomerang coaster and the Drop Zone Gyro-Drop freefall tower.

Welcome to the family, lad! Just makes ya wonder, though...

Will we ever get to meet Momma?

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Son of Beast

  • TRACK LENGTH: 7,032 feet
  • TOP SPEED: 78.382 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 218 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 214.01 feet
  • INVERSION HEIGHT: 118 feet, Structure; 103 feet, Track.
  • RIDE DURATION: Approx.3 minutes
  • TRAINS: Three trains composed of six cars, accommodating 36 passengers per train.
  • TRAIN DESIGN: Premier Rides, Millersville, MD
  • CAPACITY: 1,600 guests per hour
  • DESIGNER/MANUFACTURER: Roller Coaster Corporation of America, Atlanta, Georgia; Werner Stengel

Son Of Beast logo artwork TM Paramount Parks. Reproduced by permission.

 

 

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© Robert Coker.
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