Batwing at Six Flags AmericaNighthawk & Batwing | Vekoma Flying Roller Coasters
Flying roller coasters are about the closest thing to human flight that the amusement industry can offer. Riders are treated to a thrilling face down riding position with nothing between them and the ground, but the ride’s restraints.

My first Vekoma flyer was Batwing at Six Flags America in Maryland. While I’m a huge B&M fan, in some ways I preferred it to B&M’s Superman: Ultimate Flight clones. It’s pretty similar in layout to Carowinds’ flying coaster so I’m going to review them together.

Vekoma introduced the first large scale flying roller coaster back in 2000 with Stealth at California’s Great America. In 2003, the roller coaster made a cross country trip to Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina where it became BORG Assimilator. Now, in the post-Paramount era, Carowinds has dubbed it Nighthawk.

A Strange Ride Experience
The ride experience begins quite differently than your typical roller coaster. Guests board four-across cars that, at first, have upright seats facing backwards. Once the lap bar and over the shoulder harnesses are in place, the train reclines and now the riders are on their backs facing the ceiling of the station. The train dispatches with guests feeling like their strapped into some kind of weird torture device. After a strange trip up the 115-foot lift hill the train inverts putting the riders in a face down flying position.

Batwing at Six Flags America

Nighthawk & Batwing Take Flight!
The train dives towards the ground and then back up into a wide swooping turn called a horseshoe (pictured above). Then, riders are flipped over to their backs once again setting them up for an inside vertical loop. Where B&M’s flying coasters like Manta and Tatsu feature pretzel loops that send riders diving towards the ground for a downward loop, the Vekoma loopers perform a somewhat typical vertical loop. I say “somewhat typical” because it feels nothing like a vertical loop experienced from a traditional seated position. It’s a pretty unique and disorienting feeling that’s hard to describe. When I first experienced it, I equated to what it must feel like to be tubled in a clothes dryer. 

Nighthawk at Carowinds

Then the train returns to face-down flight mode for a twisted finale. On Batwing, the train traverses a pair of tight in-line twists. On Nighthawk, the ride finishes with a wider, but similar, pair of corkscrews. I prefer Nighthawk’s double corkscrews as the transition to set them up is rather jarring and unpredictable. Going from fly-to-lie position, taking a short turn, and then being thrown into that first corkscrew is a wild sequence of elements. Meanwhile, Batwing is a bit longer as it treats riders to a tight downward helix after it’s in-line twists.

My Take
Enthusiasts are a little surprised when I speak positively about Vekoma flyers. They have a pretty bad maintenance Nighthawk at Night - Carowindsrecord as was apparent during Nighthawk’s absence from the night time exclusive ride time at Coaster Stock. Loading is very slow even with the four-across trains and Batwing’s dual loading station. This causes long lines no matter how busy the parks really are. Lastly, they’re not as smooth as B&M’s flying coasters.

To their credit their more open layout is fun and they feel a good bit longer than the Ultimate Flight clones although Nighthawk is about the same length. It must be all of the switching from fly-to-lie and vice versa that makes them feel longer..7.5/10 - Good - Approaching Great At the end of the day though, I’d put both of these flying roller coasters slightly above B&M’s Ultimate Flight clones (which I gave a 7), but nowhere near as good as Manta and Tatsu (which I both awarded 9’s). Final Rating – 7.5 (Good Approaching Great)

Intense Roller Coasters - For Adventurous RidersNighthawk & Batwing are rated ‘IN’ for Intense. They’re a 4 out of 5 on my Thrill Scale for of their extreme riding position.

Note – All of those transitions from lie-to-fly and from fly-to-lie with the actual loop and twisted inversions bring these roller coaster’s inversions to a total of 5.

What’s Your Take?
What do you think about Nighthawk at Carowinds and Batwing at Six Flags America? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment below. Image 5 courtesy of CoasterImage.

About The Author

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

20 Responses

  1. Judy P in Pgh

    Can we throw King's Island's Firehawk into the mix, too? I like all three coasters, but dread the lines that inevitably come with the Vekomas. There has to be a faster way to load! This past summer at King's Island, they actually loaded both trains at once, then sent them out one at a time, then unloaded both. Is this common practice? It seemed like a tremendous waste of time to not alternate so that one was loading/unloading while the other was on the course.

    As for the Superman clones, I watched a trainload of people get stuck for almost 20 minutes (6 Flags Over Georgia) just before re-entering the station and decided right then and there that if I was ever going to get stuck on a flying coaster, I'd rather be on my back than suspended face down.

    I will agree, Joel, that Manta is far better than the others mentioned above. (I have not ridden Tatsu yet.) I like the elements, the smoothness and especially the theming. As for Firehawk, is it possible that it was a better ride as X-Flight at Geauga Lake, or is that just an old woman's imagination playing tricks on her?

    • The Coaster Critic

      We can definitely include Firehawk in the discussion. I can't speak to how it is though. I skipped it when it was X-Flight at Geauga and when it was Firehawk at Kings Island. Lines were too long at Kings Island that day, but I really should have ridden it when it was X-Flight. Geauga was empty that day.

      Can someone else speak to X-Flight/Firehawk?

      • Christopher

        Firehawk is a good ride. Lines weren’t great, but they were alright. I don’t know why I skipped Nighthawk the two days I was there. Firehawk is smooth, fun, and doesn’t feel like you’re going to fall out, unlike knock offs, like Soaring Eagle at Coney Island. Next time you go, you should definetly check it out.

  2. Gearhart

    Great review. I remember Nighthawk rode smoother back when it was Stealth at Great America, but even with the rougher ride I agree it's better than the Superman clones. It's one of the better Vekoma designs and I never understood the decision to remove it from Great America which is in desperate need of a good compliment to Top Gun err… Flight Deck. Load times seemed quicker back there as well, I mean it's always been slow to load, but Carowinds was very inefficient when I was there recently. Still one of the better rides at it's new home though.

  3. Frog

    I MUST ride a flying coaster some day!!! Nighthawk seems really fun, but i'm not sure if it would be better than Top Gun/Flight deck though. Inverted coaster bias 🙂 Oh well, people have their favorites. I hope that I can ride Manta, it seems so smooth!

  4. Prof.BAM

    I still say that an inversion should be classified as when the passengers invert, not the track as currently counted. The lie to flys are just roll-overs, We don't invert. With how an inversion is counted now, 3/4 of a flying coaster is an inversion.

    • Quil

      That't a good point, The only time when the riders actualy invert is during the loop, they stay in practicaly the same position during a barrle roll.

  5. DC

    I've ridden two of the Vekoma coasters, one at Geauga Lake and the other at SFA. I admit they were different but extremely restrictive in the comfort department. Being 5'8", many restraint systems tend be uncomfortable for us shorter guys, The same problem plagues all the off-the-shelf Vekoma SLC's I've ridden over the years, with the last seats innaffectionately know ans "Headache Row". While definitely different, I don't ever wish to re-ride the Vekoma flyers as they always ruin the rest of my day with a nasty headache. Plus the restraint design makes holding your head up to actually see where you're "flying' both difficult and painful. I still prefer the B&M version, as multiple rides don't yield a negative after effect.

    I'll qualify this with the caveat that as I get older, my body's ability to endure pain diminishes. I've been riding since 1956, with the Wildcat at Philly's Woodside Park being my first ever. (Many thanks to my sister for yielding to my blackmail and taking me on that beauty!)

  6. Quil

    My favorite part of batwing is when you do an overbank turn, but half way into it you twist and turn in the other dirrection. It actualy feels a bit like the pretsel loop on ultimate flight.

  7. Mike

    Batwing was one of the most intense coasters I've ever been on. I loved the forces it puts on you. I had never felt being pushed UP and pulled DOWN on any coaster like that one! Very good coaster.

  8. Mark

    I found the B&M flying coaster (Illinois) much smoother than the Batwing in Maryland. Perhaps it's the B&M approach of putting the wheels on the outside instead of the inside of the track. Also, it probably makes the ride much better to ensure all wheels roll on the track. On Batwing, you can see the upstop wheels are not moving as the train leaves the station, my guess is this approach results in a rougher ride. It felt like being suspended from the bottom of an aging Arrow coaster, a strange experience but not that pleasant. One ride on Batwing was enough.

    In contrast, the nearby Superman Ride of Steel Intamin hypercoaster was delightful, a dozen rides was wonderful. Nice airtime, good speed, definitely the highlight of Six Flags Maryland (their only highlight). The rest of their coasters ranged from OK (wild one) to bad (mind eraser) and rough (roar and joker's jinx). Of the Six Flags parks I've been to, it seemed the least taken care of.

    I haven't been to Riverside aka Six Flags New England since before Six Flags bought it, but imagine their "Superman" coaster is even better with its better design layout.

  9. Robert

    I would agree with rating the Vekoma flyers higher than the S:UF clones. Despite not having pretzel loops (which in my opinion are awesome) I preferred Batwing's overall ride to Superman's, and I'd assume the other two offer similar ride experiences as well. Although the loading times are horrible and the restraints are pretty uncomfortable, the actual ride was pretty good.

  10. DRU

    I agree that Batwing is a better ride than Great Adventure's flying Superman coaster. Mostly due to the lay-down orientation as you ascend the lift hill and unload. , As opposed to the hanging orientation on Superman. I did miss the hanging part for the lift hill but I was very glad to be laying down for the end of the ride. I remember on Superman the pain being very bad due to the blood flow getting cut off to my arms while we were hanging there waiting for it to be our turn to unload. My arms went totally numb. I was even in great shape then. I was in the station about to ride superman once when it was brand new and it had a breakdown. The coaster was hanging halfway up the lift hill for about 20 minutes. A girl who was on the stuck train must have broken some blood vessels in her eyes. It was crazy scary to see how red her eyes were as see unloaded. I have never seen anything like that before.
    I agree that being on your back for the loop is a crazy cool feeling. I also agree that it is difficult to look forward but well worth the effort. These flying coasters prove a cool point about pre-judging a ride. I remember saying to my friends how slow it looked while we waited for our first ride. I was then very surprised by how fast it felt and how intense the G's felt on the outward facing turns. You could tell that if it did go any faster through a turn like that our bodies could not handle it. It also becomes apparent why they put you on your back for the big loop.

  11. Lacie

    My sister says the Nighthawk at carowinds is a lot of fun. But can somebody answer me? I wanna ride the nighthawk very badly. But people say if feels as if you are going to fall out?

    • Joel

      Lacie, people may say that because of the weird riding position. You are face down much of the ride, leaning on the restraints. So I guess you could say that’s an accurate description. If you don’t think you’d like that feeling you may want to skip it.


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