Batman: The Ride: the first part of our look at Inverted Coasters

After building another stand-up for KECO (Kings Entertainment Company) in 1991 at California’s Great America (Santa Clara, CA), Jim Wintrode, the general manager of Six Flags Great America went to B&M with a concept that would revolutionize the industry:  a roller coaster with cars dangling under the track… capable of inversions.  Arrow Development had tried to throw a barrel roll/corkscrew inversion on their swinging suspended roller coaster prototype and it did not work out.  After Jim Wintrode and engineer Robert Mampe worked on the concept, B&M fleshed it out with 4 leg dangling seats suspended rigidly from a chassis.  Known as the “Inverted Coaster”, the train would be trailered like their Stand-Up coasters, but the need for a “zero car” was eliminated.  The Zero Car is the decorative car mounted in front of the Stand-up coaster that is rigidly linked with the second car and provides the stable wheel base from which the other cars are trailered from.  The new layouts were calculated and designed so that seats could hang from the Zero Car and thus, the ride had increased capacity.  A new restraint with a redundant seat belt was designed along with the most comfortable seats in the industry was developed for the seats.  Originally, a torsion bar installed under the seats to keep the seats in place, but eventually, it was removed from custom models by 1996 and by 2002, from the new Batman models.

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http://www.negative-g.com/ provided us with this great shot of the train on Batman: The Ride at Six Flags Great America.  You can see the torsion bar at the bottom of the seats.

Over in the station, a moving metal floor was designed so that the clearances would be safe when moving trains in and out and to make it easier for shorter guests to sit.  One interesting feature is that a visible pedal or handle was not included to manually release restraints.  Instead of a long restraint release bar, 4 smaller bars were installed and this unlocks restraints by pair of cars.  A ride operator would call out to the console operator a row number and only that row and another would unlock.  This greatly sped up operation and is also easier and safer for ride operators who don’t have to kick pedals or use a special handle every time they need to open one restraint.  Outside the station, a Hex Key is inserted into the locking pipe near the chassis and the ride operator can manually unlock a row at a time.  It is almost never used during regulation operation.

Previously, Giovanola and B&M had used large vertical pusher tires to move trains in and out of the station and on block brakes.  Now that the track was over the train, it would have required a lot of work to redesign those tires to work with the Inverted, so they looking at other ways of moving trains.  They eventually settled on pairs of smaller tires that are joined by heavy duty springs and firmly squeeze the brake pad section of the chassis.  This mean that even in pouring rain or other slippery condition, the train won’t slip or move.  It worked out so well that starting in 2000; the Floorless and Hyper Coaster models started using that kind of pusher tires.

The lift hill is quite unique since it features a much bigger spine that hides the chain return.  The lift hill motor is at the beginning and pusher tires are included (with one exception) to slow the approaching train to the same speed and anti-rollbacks teeth’s are mounted before the lift hill and this is to “test” the anti-rollbacks on the train to make sure they engage properly.  In case of an issue, it is much simpler to deal with a train on a flat surface than one on a lift hill.

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http://www.negative-g.com/ provided us with this shot of the lift on Batman: The Ride.  Notice the bigger track spine. The lift hill featured a single staircase on the right and a motorized platform is used to access the lift for maintenance workers and when an evacuation is deemed necessary.

Six Flags saw the model and their owner at the time was Warner Brothers.  They saw dollar signs and an obvious tie in to one of their most popular intellectual property:  Batman.  The chassis V shape and futuristic look made it an obvious tie-in to Batman and the name was simple:  Batman: The Ride.  The chassis and seat assembly were painted black with various decorative pipes and gauges installed, as this was to be Batman’s newest crime fighting vehicle.  The seats were purple with Batman logos engraved in them and the restraints yellow.  The wheel covers have a yellow and black design on it.

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For maintenance reasons, the park sometimes remove the seat covers, like in this picture.  http://www.negative-g.com/ provided us with this shot.

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http://www.negative-g.com/ provided us with this 1999 picture of Batman: The Ride at Six Flags Great America.  You can see the original ride colors.

The ride initial colors were simple:  black supports and track spine with grey unpainted running rails and crossties.

There was an issue with the proposed location though:  the park wanted to replace Tidal Wave, the park Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop roller coaster, but it was a narrow and long strip of land in the middle of the park.  B&M managed to squeeze a 105 feet tall roller coaster with 2700 feet of track in that piece of land while preserving a lot of the forest in the second half and a stream of water.  When Six Flags saw what they could do with the layout and small space it required, they were impressed and started planning to add the same roller coaster to all their parks.  Tidal Wave was put in storage and reopened as the Viper at Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, GA) in 1995 and then it ended its thrilling career as the Greased Lightning at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom (Louisville, KY) in 2003.  The ride closed in 2009 and was dismantled in 2012.  When Batman: The Ride opened, the nearby Schwarzkopf Monster was renamed the East River Crawler and repainted to fit the nearby roller coaster.

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In this overhead picture provided by http://www.negative-g.com/, it was shot in the 1980’s and you can the back spike of Tidal Wave on the left.

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http://www.negative-g.com/ provided us with this great shot of Tidal Wave at its last home in Kentucky.

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The ride entrance for the East River Crawler.  Picture appears courtesy of Nolan Thiele.

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East River Crawler with Batman: The Ride in the background.  Picture appears courtesy of Nolan Thiele.

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You can see the ride heritage as the Lobster on the center piece.  Picture appears courtesy of Nolan Thiele.

Batman: The Ride start with the 105 feet lift hill and once at the top, the train dip slightly to disengage the chain before quickly dropping to the left in a tight curving first drop.  The train is still quite a few feet off the ground before engaging the 77 feet vertical loop.  It then rises up into the “Zero G Roll”, a very tight barrel roll that make riders feel a brief moment of weightlessness.  It then drops down closer to the ground and go through the second vertical loop, which is even tighter and intense than the first one.  The train then goes right to the ground into the ride most intense segment before turning to the left into elevated turns that allow riders a brief moment to catch their breath.  Before long, we drop to the right into the first “Flat Spin” before hitting the world’s first overbanked turn that split the two flat spin inversions.  The track curves beyond 90 degrees and what follows is a very quick Flat Spin before the train rises out to the left into the final brakes.

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The train is about to dive into the first Flat Spin in this picture.  http://www.negative-g.com/ provided us with this shot.

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At Six Flags Great America, the ride received an incredible theming package that went beyond even what Disney did for most of their rides.  You started the line by going into the Gotham City Park where things are all pretty and a beautiful water fountain relaxes everyone.  The queue wind through the park until it goes through a break in a construction wall that says “We’re building a better Gotham” and we see the real side of Gotham City:  graffiti everywhere, junk littered everywhere and a police car has even crashed into a fire hydrant that still shoots water.  We then head into a storm drain with a working fan and then explore the sewers until somehow… we end up in the Bat Cave.

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The extended queue built to the left of the entrance.  Photo appears courtesy of Nolan Thiele.

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The Gotham City Park queue.  Photo appears courtesy of Nolan Thiele.

There is a large Batman logo in the ceiling and the Bat suit is in its safe on the unload side.  Originally, there would be blasts of LN2 (fog) that would burst out of the moving floor when a train left the station, but that effect did not last very long.  Last, the whole station is lighted with black lights and theatrical lighting, giving it a very unique look and atmosphere.  Even the ride operators were part of the show as they wore Butler tuxedos to fit in with the fact they were supposed to be on Bruce Wayne household staff.

The reaction to the ride was incredible:  it sent shockwaves through the amusement industry and B&M went from relative unknowns to the hottest company in the world.  Their Inverted coaster was high capacity, low maintenance and provided a unique and incredible experience beyond anything available on the market at the time.  It proved so popular that parks that had other major rides in very advance design stages abandoned them in order to try to secure a new Inverted Roller Coaster.  It eventually worked out that in order to protect their customers marketing; B&M would sometimes sign “exclusivity” contracts where rival parks within a certain distance could not order one.  Those exclusivity contracts usually lasted 5 years and this had an effect on at least one park.

The ride small station building and transfer track was themed to a Gotham City Public Works building originally, but this was changed on later installations.   One of the thing the park realized is that the Gotham City Park and under Roadway waiting line was too small and they always had to install a large temporary waiting line up front.  Next, the station queue area was too small and would get too hot and uncomfortable for riders.  This was corrected in 1993 when the next Batman: The Ride opened, at Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, NJ).  The ride there replaced another shuttle loop, this time by Arrow Development and called the Lightning Loops.  The same layout as the original Batman: The Ride was used, but the extra land allowed Six Flags to build a huge Gotham City Park and larger back alley queuing area.  The station building was expanded to allow a roomier Batcave and this proved to be a boon as again, the ride was a complete success.  They also improved on the “skid row” aspect of the waiting line by building a destroyed elevated roadway over the section of queue that go by the crashed police car.  This has an interesting effect where when the train comes down from the Zero G Roll, it appears to be jumping off the road.

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The Batmobile at Six Flags Great Adventure.

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The ride going through the loop at Six Flags Great Adventure.

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The ride exit at Batman: The Ride in New Jersey and the ride station building in the background.

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Flex provided us with this great picture of the ride view from the exit path.

The ride was originally painted fully black with steel running rails but like at Six Flags Great America, they were repainted.  In 2004 they both received a new coat of black paint on the supports and the track and running rails a bright yellow color.

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The train going down the first drop.

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