For this week’s Top 3 Thursday, Aric Davis takes a look at Arrow’s three biggest design failures. Prepare for an entertaining history lesson.
Give just about any historical subject a long look in the rearview mirror, and you’re going to see some ugliness. Some things are worse than others of course, but for every VHS player, there is a Video Disc unit, clinging to the unfortunate shadows where failures dwell and die.
I want to get one thing out of the way first, Arrow was an amazing company, they provided more groundbreaking rides than perhaps any coaster building conglomerate of their time, and perhaps even of all time. That said, Arrow rides have aged, and in most cases, aged poorly. There are still some standouts, Magnum XL-200 is a ride I’d happily enjoy over and over again, even as it ages. Unfortunately, the Magnums of this world are few and far between, left in their wake are uncomfortable at best head bang o’ rama “rides” like the infinite corkscrew clones that pollute many smaller parks across the globe.
Still, besides such ignoble and still standing beasts like Six Flag’s Great Adventures Great American Scream Machine, the real Arrow disasters have either been lost to history or covered with a coat of paint so thick it makes one question where Arrow stopped and the refurbishment began. Shall we take a look together?
3. The Bat at Kings Island 1981
The majority of failed Arrow concepts come from an era before computers were being utilized to test the real life reactions of a concept before actual physical track was installed. With what we now know of The Bat’s creation, it’s probably safe to assume that Arrow would have refused the use of computers and just gotten drunk until the coaster was complete, physics be darned.
It’s not that the concept was bad, if anything the concept was brave and certainly a new twist on an old idea. The Bat essentially was a suspended coaster in the style of Arrow’s later, successful rides like Iron Dragon or Flight Deck. Only unlike those rides, The Bat had not been run through any rigorous testing to make sure it was safe to ride. Rather, they just put that sucker up and let the general public have at it. The general public, surprisingly, loved the free swinging, borderline out of control ride. Unlike its later decedents, which have a controlled swing arc that they will not surpass, The Bat took a less conservative approach. The Bat’s “free swinging” cars were exactly that, guaranteeing that no two rides on The Bat would ever be the same.
People who rode The Bat during its one summer of operation in 1983 praise it for being the out of control style of ride that really, considering King’s Island’s fairly insane history of rides, should have fit in pretty well. Mechanical failures, growing in frequency and stature as the months dragged on, killed The Bat before a furious insurance adjustor was given the chance. From the struts supporting the cars to really everything but the track and station needing constant TLC, The Bat was just too costly to operate, not to mention, the idea of impending injury had to have been looming over the park as well.
Where The Bat now stood is Vortex, a six inversion Arrow ride that seemed to fix the problem of The Bat by throwing as many loops as possible at the issue. The particularly observant will notice that The Bat’s old station is still in use.
2. Steel Phantom at Kennywood 1991
As many problems as The Bat may have had, it was a sound concept that was later proven through research-imagine that-to be a solid foundation for a ride. Steel Phantom, born in the summers after Magnum first terrorized the Midwest, was originally to be a hyper coaster designed to help keep some of the Pennsylvanians from traveling to Ohio, and on paper, it looked great.
While Steel Phantom’s first drop was to be a not quite earth shattering yet still awesome 160 feet, the second hill slopes into a ravine and debuted with a drop of 225 feet, a world record at the time of its installation. Steel Phantom’s first half was an amazing coaster, a true successor to Magnum that used its terrain to complement the ride. The second half? Not so much.
Imagine being assigned a project at work, doing everything by the book and then letting some fly by night intern get a bug in your ear when it came time to complete the piece. It would be ridiculous to listen to them, right? You’ve come this far, why screw it up with unproven ideas? Ahh, Arrow.
Steel Phantom’s second half was rife with inversions, really rough inversions that punished the train and its riders with extremely intense positive and negative g-forces. It was, according to those who have ridden the beast, not uncommon for riders to gray out or worse.
I suppose, as with The Bat, Arrow can be at least partially commended for trying a new thing, had it not been on someone else’s dime, such commendation would be even more commonplace. Instead, for nine years Kennywood was stuck with a lemon of a coaster that the general public, and even most coaster-philes, found too extreme.
In the year 2000, someone at Kennywood said enough’s enough and hired Morgan Manufacturing to fix the ride. Reopening in 2001, Phantom’s Revenge was overhauled, to the extent that the inversions, the only thing wrong with an otherwise awesome ride, had been removed entirely. The new, appropriately designed when factoring in the human element of things coaster, was lauded immediately for its successes, mostly because an airtime hill just makes more sense than a corkscrew when you’re traveling at eighty miles an hour. As of this writing, Phantom’s Revenge is ranked eighth in steel coasters on the Golden Ticket awards.
1. X at Six Flags Magic Mountain 2002
I don’t even know where to start with this one. X quite literally destroyed Arrow. That could really be the end of this, but I’ll share some dirt first. I have no idea who first came up with the insanely ambitious idea for X, which was to be a fourth dimension coaster, but whoever it was probably should have looked into who they were contracting before the project really got going. Coasters like The Bat, Phantom’s Revenge and Drachen Fire helped make room for coaster neophytes Bolliger and Mabillard and Intamin to really make some noise in the United States and abroad.
At the time X was being built, either of those companies could have been hired to bring the idea to fruition. Whether they refused the idea or not is a mystery lost to time. What wasn’t lost however, was that Arrow was contracted, despite its recent failures at ambitious projects, to head up perhaps the most ambitious roller coaster build ever.
X was to have cars that seated four across, but the seats were to be on either side of the track as opposed to on top of or underneath it. The concept was to allow the cars to roll in a set pattern as the coaster made its way around the track, allowing for extra inversions and other exciting moments that would be impossible to judge by merely watching the ride from the ground. Rarely in the world of roller coaster is a truly new idea brought to fruition. Rides like Magnum, Batman and Kingda Ka are few and far between as far as original concepts go, and X is more ambitious than all of them combined. Unfortunately in 2001, it didn’t work.
Yep, in X’s debut season, it was a no show. If you’ve read any of the negativity associated with delays on new rides this year alone(seriously, calm down, Shoot the Rapids is not going to be that great), you understand just how much vitrol was thrown at X, Arrow and Magic Mountain. And yet our modern delays have nothing on the year plus delay that X had. Oh yeah, its season ended early too, X was down for the count by June and didn’t open again until August, reports online seem to suggest its track record for running before that wasn’t too great either.
This is really the part in the article where Magic Mountain is supposed to realize that they screwed up and just have to deal with the outcome. I assume it was Arrow’s track record that allowed them to say “no way”. Amazingly, and unlike everyone else on this list, Six Flags would not take no as an answer.
Arrow was forced to get the ride working, much to the fears of their investors. Though the project was completed, Arrow was destroyed financially in the doing. S&S Power was hired to do a renovation after another lengthy failure in 2006, reopening the ride early in 2007 with new trains. S&S Power, now S&S Arrow, did a full renovation in 2007 on the ride, transforming it into X2. The total cost of X and X2 to date? Forty six million dollars. Yep, they could have built Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster instead. Or both Intimidator coasters. Or really pretty much anything. This most of all folks, is why we don’t do R&D while we’re on the jobsite.
Even with all of their financially disastrous and only funny from afar foibles, Arrow will most of all be remembered for their successes rather than their failures. However, it’s important to note that the next time you’re complaining about why coaster company A doesn’t try new stuff anymore, it could be that they’ve gotten a good look at history. Innovation is a wonderful thing, but expecting it to happen without sacrifice has caused the deaths of more companies than just Arrow.
What’s Your Take?
What do you think of Arrow’s design failures? Leave a comment below.