Remembering ShockWave at Six Flags Great America

While most posts on Coaster Critic focus on “what’s new” in the world of theme parks, I wanted to take a moment to highlight something we seldom think about—defunct rides. Whether it’s the short-lived rush of Hypersonic XLC or the existence of the mysterious Tomb Raider: The Ride, these thrill machines may be removed from park maps, but they’ll always live on in our collective hearts.

My original intent was to cover all of the major roller coasters that previously existed at my hometown park, Six Flags Great America (among these were Ragin Cajun, Déjà Vu, Rolling Thunder and several others), but for now I’m going to emphasize one particular ill-fated ride: ShockWave.

The Record-Breaking ShockWave at Six Flags Great America

This record-breaking roller coaster from Arrow Dynamics opened in 1988 as the world’s tallest and fastest looping ride, breaking the inversion count of then-holder Vortex (6) with seven. The striking white supports and royal blue track made for a visual treat at the very front of Six Flags Great America.

With an impressive height of 170 ft, a wild top speed of 65 mph, and septet of inversions (three vertical loops, a batwing element, consecutive corkscrews), ShockWave was the most intense coaster in existence at that point, and remained so for some time thereafter. Eventually Arrow completed their trilogy of the “terrifying triplets”, with Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Great Adventure and Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain, but this was the original bad boy.

The general public hated on this coaster for the unpleasantly rough ride it delivered, most notably the section immediately preceding the MCBR (mid-course brake run) after the 3rd vertical loop. Trains took a sharp left turn and everyone on board was subjected to an extreme moment of head-banging. You could prepare in advance of this, but for those caught unaware, it was painful. Low ridership, rising maintenance costs, and frequent reports of mild injuries (mostly head-related) were the nails in the coffin for this one.

Needing a spot for their newest ride, Six Flags Great America opted to tear down ShockWave in 2002 instead of the beloved Whizzer, one of the last operating Schwarzkopf speedracer coasters. Although Superman Ultimate Flight is a decent replacement, it isn’t terribly unique and definitely not record setting in any way.

The trains from ShockWave were sent to sister parks in New Jersey and California for spare parts use on Great American Scream Machine and Viper, respectively. Of these three sibling coasters, only Viper remains standing.
90% of the track and supports were whisked away to a nearby scrapyard and the sign was donated to the ACE museum, while the lift motor and small segment of track were re-used on Demon. For years, pieces of the track and supports could be seen rusting on a hillside just east of the park, next to where Dark Knight now stands.

Only the ride’s large metal entry gates can still be seen in use as part of the park’s Fright Fest event…and that’s all that remains of this once illustrious roller coaster.

What’s Your Take?
Did you ever ride ShockWave? What’d you think? Leave a comment below.

Photo Credit: Pieces of ShockWave by Jonrev [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons