There are only four wing coasters currently operating in the USA.  X-Flight at Six Flags Great America was the second one to open and Gatekeeper at Cedar Point was the third. (The first was Wild Eagle at Dollywood and the fourth was Thunderbird at Holiday World.)

Layout, Theme and Setting

Gatekeeper is aptly named in that part of its track overhangs the entrance gates to Cedar Point.  It’s themed after a golden griffon and features a sprawling layout with 4, 164 feet of track.  X-Flight, with an air force theme, occupies a much smaller area with 3,000 feet of track.  The theming is nothing short of brilliant.  The loading station is designed to look like an airplane hangar, ride ops are smartly attired in flight suits and one of the components of the ride area is a real control tower rescued from Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  Add to that a soundtrack purporting to give instructions for the mission ahead and you have a very nice setup.  For theming X-Flight comes out way ahead.


Gatekeeper, travelling at a speed of 67 mph, boasts a 164-foot drop and six inversions (wingover, Immelmann, corkscrew, zero-g roll, inclined dive loop and inline twist) while X-Flight, flying at 55 mph, has a 120-foot drop and five inversions (wingover, zero-g roll, Immelmann, zero-g roll and inline twist).  Both coasters feature keyhole elements which ratchet up the thrills.  The elements are obviously quite similar but I would have to give Gatekeeper the edge here for greater diversity as well as greater height and speed.

Photo by Bobbie Butterfield

Photo by Bobbie Butterfield

Ride Experience

A ride on Gatekeeper begins with an ascent up a 170-foot chain lift hill.  This is followed by the wingover, which has the train rotating 180 degrees and dropping 164 feet in a half loop.   Off to a good start.   And Gatekeeper doesn’t waste any time ascending directly into an Immelmann, followed by a camelback which provides some nice negative G’s.  From there the train goes through a corkscrew/flat spin and zero-g roll. What’s interesting here is that riders are flipped into the zero-g roll while the train travels through the two keyhole elements near the park gates.  The remainder of the course is notable for an inclined dive loop, inline twist and 360-degree helix.  It’s a good ride that not only offers variety but covers a lot of territory.

Photo by Bobbie Butterfield

A ride on X-Flight likewise begins with a wingover, following an ascent up a 120-foot lift hill.  (Because a wingover is an aerobatic maneuver, it seems particularly appropriate for X-Flight.)  The train ascends into a zero-g roll, takes riders through billows of fog and goes up into an Immelmann.  From there it makes a turn over a pond, at which point plumes of water shoot up.  The next element is the second zero-g roll, after which the train makes a turn leading up to what is unquestionably the highlight of the ride.  This is the inline twist through the control tower.  It ranks among the most thrilling elements I’ve ever experienced on a coaster.  The perception of a near collision is so overpowering as to be alarming.  It was a case of omigod, we’re going to hit that tower!  I must have ridden X-Flight a dozen times and although I knew that we weren’t really going to hit the tower, the sensation of a near miss was there on each and every ride. Oh, and there’s more fog here to enhance the experience.

Photo by Bobbie Butterfield

The Winner

And the winner is…X-Flight.  I suspect that I’m adopting an unpopular position but there’s a good reason.  Although I suppose that an argument could be made for Gatekeeper being the more complete coaster, I’m giving X-Flight the win for superior theming, special effects and superior thrill factor.   The keyhole element on Gatekeeper didn’t give me nearly as much of a thrill as the inline twist on X-Flight because I didn’t get the same impression of an imminent collision. Don’t get me wrong; Gatekeeper is excellent; it simply didn’t blow me away the way X-Flight did. In short, the ride experience on X-Flight is awesome.  It’s a flight that’s not to be missed.

What’s your take?  Have you ridden Gatekeeper and X-Flight and if so, how do you think they match up?


About The Author

Hi! I took up roller coasters late in life, 8 years ago at the age of 59 and am trying to make up for lost time. Most of my favorite coasters were made by Intamin and lately, Rocky Mountain Construction. I love Hersheypark not only because it's the sweetest place on earth but because the three major coasters are Intamins. In real life I work in the legal profession.

4 Responses

  1. Eric

    Good analysis. I’m surprised that I’ve been on 75% of the wing coasters in the USA (Thunderbird was built 2 years after I visited Holiday World). The elements on GateKeeper were supercharged versions of those on X-Flight, but all the damn mayflies at Cedar Point kinda ruined my experience.

    I still maintain that X-Flight is the #1 coaster at SFGAm, given its pacing, size, and overall ride duration. Wild Eagle was graceful fun, but not as good as either of these.

    • Bobbie

      I likewise found X-Flight to be the best coaster at SFGAM. It was certainly the only one I liked enough to ride a dozen times. Not that I didn’t like others – Viper in particular was a standout – but X-Flight just had that extra kick.

  2. Brian MacDonald

    Great comparison, Bobbie. I haven’t ridden either of these yet (if I get very lucky with business travel this summer, I may get them both), but from what I’ve read, a lot of enthusiasts agree with you. The consensus is that while Gatekeeper is larger, size alone doesn’t make a good wing coaster. The only wing coaster I’ve ridden so far is Wild Eagle, which was a disappointment. It uses the terrain, but not effectively, and there are no near-miss elements at all, unless you count some trees. I think the lesson is that a wing coaster needs good theming and interaction to be effective.


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