Storm Runner

Intamin's Rocket Coaster Gets Loopy.

Pennsylvania's Hersheypark usually gets high-fives for its woodies: the classic Comet and even more so, the two modern wonders, Wildcat and Lightning Racer. That's not to say the major steel coasters at this park are losers; far from it. Great Bear, the Bolliger & Mabillard inverted coaster is way cool and Intamin's single-inversion Sooperdooperlooper has gobs of retro charm. Okay, Trailblazer, the half-a-minetrain coaster is sorta dopey yet I always ride it.

But, until recently, if you mentioned Hershey to your average coaster fan, they'd rave about the lumber and little else.

That's going to change.

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For those not up to speed, as it were, a bit of history. 2002: Intamin introduces the first hydraulic-launch "Rocket" coaster at Knott's Berry Farm, dubbed Xcelerator. Zero to 82 miles per hour in under three seconds. Vertical climb and vertical descent, to and from a 200-foot peak. Awesome. 2003: Cedar Point takes a blowtorch to the record books with Top Thrill Dragster. Zero to 120 miles per hour in four seconds. 420 feet tall. Beyond awesome.

Now, for 2004, Hersheypark has its own Rocket. It's not nearly as fast, nor as quick, nor as tall as its cousins. But this pocket Rocket does something the other two don't: It goes upside-down.

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Storm Runner was the "above the title" star of the RideWorld/ThrillRide Coaster Conclave 2, held over the weekend of June 19th and 20th, and on that Saturday morning, lucky attendees gathered early at Hersheypark's main gate to register and prep for some Storm Runner ERT. Sadly, the full hour we'd hoped for didn't happen, due to startup issues. We were informed that the coaster didn't even open until 1:00 PM the day before. But everyone was a good sport about it and we waited.

Then, the fates smiled upon us and we were escorted back to the ride at 9:30 AM. Testing was underway and we managed to get a couple of rides in ahead of the general public.

The first thing almost everyone admired was a new and improved station and boarding procedure. There are two parallel tracks and passenger platforms under the station's roof, so while one train is in action, another is packing them in. And when there are no hiccups, trains are hustled on their way with remarkable efficiency. (Throughout the day, the lines were really, really long, but they moved.)

But it's once you're in a train that those familiar with Rockets really start paying attention. These puppies have shoulder harnesses, not what we're used to. But they are as comfortable as can be expected and quite necessary, as will soon be discovered.

Sitting up close to the front, you'll likely be thinking, "man, that launch track is short." Yes, we're going to get right down to business without wasting a moment. We roll forward to the go-zone and stop. The metal deceleration fins that line the rails drop... the train drifts backwards... and then the storm breaks.

The push at our backs is strong, not lung-collapsing (like Dragster's), but it's a laff riot nonetheless; it's more of a "Whoo-Hoo!" experience than a "Holy $#&%$!" kind of thing. In two seconds, we're at 72 miles per hour and before we know it, we're looking up at the heavens — and entering them — mighty quick.

Like usual, this Rocket spins us 90 degrees as we climb, this time to the right. And, like usual, we scurry over the top — staring at the sky, staring at the horizon, staring straight down — lickety-split. But from here on in, there's no more "like usual."


The train shrieks down 180 feet, straight and true all the way, hitting Storm Runner's top speed of 75 miles per hour. And with all that momentum to spare, we surge right back up. And up. And over, 135 feet above the terrain. Spicy!

Pulling out of the inversion, we flip and plummet to the side in a very nice bit of aerobatics. Call it an Immelman, call it a Cobra Loop, call it whatever you'd like. Whatever it is, it's all right. And it's just a warm-up for what's comin' next.

Peeling out of the bottom of the Immelman-slash-Cobra Loop, we head back up and level off to whip through a one-two punch of corkscrewy pleasure.

We start with inversion two, a super-elevated heartline roll, far, far above the throngs below. Our vehicle tips over to the starboard side, gently tossing us into those shoulder harnesses. Whoa... Nice to have that on-board equipment now.

There's some choice hangtime way up there, rolling over and over until we're back up right for a second. But it is only a second before we enter the last inversion, an element that has been crowned a "Flying Snake Dive."

Is it just me, or does that sound like some kind of bogus kung fu attack maneuver? ("Your pathetic 'Tiger Claw' is no match for my lethal 'Flying Snake Dive!' Mwhahaha!") Regardless, this particular element is Storm Runner's signature moment.

We continue to spin around the horizontal axis but by the time we get completely inverted again, we've already begun to descend and rip to the left.

It's somewhat like the Cobra Loop we've just encountered, but far more intense. The inversion seems longer-lasting and the drop far steeper, making it one hell of mind-twisting way to fall from the sky. More than one rider compared it favorably to the Manhattan Express' infamous "Twist and Dive" element.

And once we regain some sort of normal posture, Storm Runner pulls us through a grand sweep of a valley, scoots up, and pitches us to the right before sliding down the final brake run.

Short, perhaps, but very, very sweet.

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The consensus seemed to be that while Storm Runner didn't run with quite the same mad fervor we've come to expect from Rocket Coasters, the new goodies it brings to the table more than compensate for its less ferocious disposition.

And there is no doubt now that when members of our community talk about Hersheypark, the woodies won't dominate the conversation any more.

That said...

I must add that for Conclave 2 both Lightning Racer and the Wildcat were at the top of their game. As the day went on and things heated up, both coasters ran like the wind. And while the Wildcat may not be quite as smooth as it was the day it opened, it still shocks and amazes with its non-stop action. Whatta pair of woodies...

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Storm Runner

  • TOP SPEED: 75 Miles Per Hour
  • LENGTH: 2600 Feet
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 150 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 180 Feet
  • MAX. ASCENT ANGLE: 90 Degrees
  • MAX. DESCENT ANGLE: 90 Degrees
  • RIDE DURATION: Fifty Seconds
  • CARS: Two trains, 20 passengers per train
  • MANUFACTURER: Intamin AG, Wollerau, Switzerland





© Robert Coker.
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