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 The Bat at Kings Islandgroundbreaking 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.

The Bat at Kings IslandIt’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 1991 Kennywood Brochureterrorized 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.Steel Phantom at Kennywood 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, X at Magic Mountainbut 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.

X at Magic MountainArrow 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.

Addendum
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.

Bat logo courtesy of Wikipedia. Bat photo courtesy of RCDB. Kennywood brochure courtesy of NewsPlusNotes. Steel Phantom post card courtesy of Mike’s Historic Amusement Parks. X images courtesy of JoyRides.

About The Author

Founder of CoasterCritic.com. My favorite coasters are B&M hypers and gigas. I'm also a huge fan of terrain roller coasters.

31 Responses

  1. The Coaster Critic

    I know it's Friday, but this was supposed be posted yesterday. Due to a technical issue it wasn't. I just wanted to acknowledge that I know the days of the week before someone pointed it out. 🙂

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    The way I understood it from a visit to SFMM was that Six Flags was looking for a brand new and innovative coaster. B&M and Intamin didn't impress them, and so they turned to Arrow. On the brink of bankruptcy and desperate, Arrow designed the entire concept for X. It was a last-ditch effort to avoid bankruptcy, and ironically, the long-lasting technical failures ultimately caused it. Fortunately, they were bought out by S&S Power and X was overhauled into X2, one of the most intense coasters on the planet.

    Reply
    • adavis

      I have no doubt that what you said is true, its just so awful for SFMM that in the year X was started, Millenium Force was built, and a couple years later along came Top Thrill. Either of those rides would be a complement to pretty much any other park, and though X2 came out well, it took seven years to get to that point.

      Both Intamin and B&M had tremendously innovative years while X was being fiddled with, and I have to imagine that no matter how happy SFMM may be with their current ride, they quite literally could have gotten two for one.

      Reply
  3. Prof. BAM

    Arrow got what they deserved. My worst coaster experiences have all been on Arrow coasters. The only other bad experience was on Iron Wolf after a power outage. Arrow was washed up from the day they built X. Arrow may have invented the steel coaster, but other companies were thinking of the same thing, Arrow got there first. Where dis B&M get the inverted coaster idea from? Arrow's suspended coasters. When I hear the word 'suspended' I think of hangman, and how people were hung from the neck until dead. X was Arrow's Hangman. Intamin has 4-D coasters, B&M is working on something like that too. When I first sae the title of this post, I thought of the next Top Three Thursday's topic. Vekoma's bad ideas.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    What would be even better is to have Vekoma's Top 3 good roller coasters followed by a blank article!

    Reply
  5. Merle

    Its sad that b&m or intamin didnt take to the 4th demension concept because had they have created another one of thier masterpecies we would have yet another new type of exiting thrill machine not that the idea is dead be any means but i dont ee al that many parks looking to build one

    Reply
  6. Franco

    Rumor has it that B&M is building a 4th dimension prototype in Europe – sans the spinning seats (because it is their first creation, it is, however, expected to appear in potential later designs). Hopefully, the design will be successful (and better than X2 or Eejainaka) and will appear in some American parks within the next few years.

    Reply
  7. Nick Sim

    Really great read Aric. It's worth noting that new coaster models aren't always a disaster…Thirteen at Alton Towers for instance features the world's first freefall drop element and has been running reasonably well during its first season. It's had plenty of downtime, but nothing on the scale of X (it has had some lousy reviews though). The problems here seem to stem from the crazy levels of ambition of some of Arrow's projects – but I can't help feeling a little sad that they dragged the company under. I'd still rather see parks like Universal Studios pushing the envelope with experimental rides like the Rockit than installing off-the-shelf yawn-fests.

    Reply
    • adavis

      Nick,

      Agreed entirely, I'd much rather see a coaster company take risks than none at all, as far as that goes, without Arrow we'd still be riding on just wood.

      You're right on the money on the second half, Arrow's problem was ambition, they were so desperate to nail the next Matterhorn that they simply never saw that kind of inventive leap as being impossible to duplicate.

      I would have loved for Arrow to have made it through those ugly growing pains, but the real proof of their ultimate failings are still ride-able today. If nothing else, Arrow's OTSRs would have doomed them eventually, even when better options were readily available, they ignored them. Even today, most looping Arrow's still ride with those awful bibs that seem to fit no one correctly.

      Reply
  8. CFC

    I'm not so sure Steel Phantom was as bad as you say it is. You said the loops were the worst part of the ride, but everyone I've asked (about 10-12 people) have all said they loved the loops. And besides, even if the loops were bad, the rest of the ride is excellent! If the loops had to be taken out, they would be. The result is Phantom's Revenge, an excellent, if a bit unconventional, hyper coaster.

    Reply
    • adavis

      CFC,

      It was not my intention to make a list of the worst Arrow coasters, more the ones that cost Arrow and their contractees the most money and goodwill with the public.

      I've no doubt that some people loved the loops, I imagine those most prone to enjoying coasters of that era or coasters in general would be most apt to really dig on a ride like that, if for no other reason than it's uniqueness and extremity.

      Joe Public on the other hand, and I'd imagine many enthusiast types, found the ride uncomfortable for the most part. For many, due to the restraints, for some, to the point of blackout.

      As for Phantom's Revenge, I was nothing but complimentary, and I think the last paragraph about the ride sums that up well. Kennywood went from having a very tall coaster that less and less people were interested in riding every year, to having a very tall coaster that most everyone enjoys.

      Reply
  9. Coaster In My Heart.

    I think Arrow has made so many looping elements so far, though a lot of people still say those coasters have apparently got a few but pretty big problems. I must feel truly sad to see what they have done for the layouts. Seemed like their works were not paid off well, again it's just sad. Thinking of Corkscrew, one of the first looper in this world…..

    Reply
  10. Surya

    I think their demise was because their shakefests couldn't compete with the smooth rides offered by Intamin and B&M. X was only the final blow.

    Reply
  11. Tom

    Adavis , i know your not such a big fan of X / X2 or anything , but its a very good ride . This 2010 its been voted top 15 . That's really good you know , although Arrow was bankrupped S&S Saved them .. Now S&S is planning to built a 3rd 4th Dimensional Roller Coaster at China . And now x2 has over 1000+ riders per hour.

    Reply
  12. Jaggedy2k

    Steel Phantom was an awesome ride. While an extreme ride…I never heard of anyone "graying out or worse" on the ride as you stated.

    Reply
  13. Dillon

    I think Arrow didn't know what they were getting themselves into when they developed X. It's kind of like Son of Beast. It's just to advanced for it's time. Overall, I just HATE Arrow. The only Arrow coasters I've ever liked are the Mine Train coasters.

    Reply
  14. Jack

    I dont know why people call it x now these days its called X2 and there is only one of its kind

    Reply

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