Dive Coasters in England and Taiwan: Part 3 of our Steepest Coaster

Dive Coasters in England and Taiwan: Part 3 of our Steepest Coaster

Alton Towers is known for their innovative and secretive attraction project, code-named “Secret Weapon” and with a number attached to it. Secret Weapon 1 and 2 remained at the design stage due to challenges with its ride technology.  Secret Weapon 3 is legendary and thrust the park at the forefront of the park world: Nemesis, a Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) Inverted Coaster.  Constructed in a man-made pit in the former Thunder Valley area of the park, this ride changed how a looping coaster was designed.  In the now intimidating and scary Forbidden Valley, this trapped alien was unearthed in 1994 and lead to record attendance at the park.

Nemesis Alton Towers (3)

Nemesis at Alton Towers.

For Secret Weapon 4, John Wardley, the legendary park designer at Tussaud, scoured the earth for his next creation and he selected a new prototype from Bolliger & Mabillard, the “Dive Coaster”.  Like for Thunder Valley, the old Fantasy World fairground was closed in 1997 to allow for the unique construction process of Oblivion, the new roller coaster.  All of Fantasy World attractions were moved out except for the Black Hole enclosed roller coaster that was also given a suitably evil paint job on its tents.

Oblivion technically is a masterpiece as it features a steep 45 degrees lift hill and uses wider track with a large box to support it.  That was necessary due to the massive loads on the track, created by the large ride cars that were the widest ever built for a roller coaster: eight across.  Two rows per car allowed 16 riders per train and two trains can load at once in the station, giving the park precious capacity it needed at that point.  Interestingly, it was also the first roller coaster train to include “stadium seating,” where the second row is mounted a little higher than the front one.  It allows every rider a perfect view of the drop.

For the drop, John Wardley wanted a considerable element, but how do you do that when the park has restrictive planning permission requirements and the Festival World area is near the village of Alton?  Tunnel digging equipment was brought to the park and a large tunnel drilled in the middle of the zone, ending at the other end of the area.  The lift hill is a small 65 feet tall and as mentioned earlier, angled at 45 degrees to save precious land in the compact space.  Once at the top, the train disengages from the lift hill and slowly circles around until it aligns with the drop.  One of the ride colossal brake assemblies slows down the train until it matches speed with a pair of large vertically mounted drive tires.

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Oblivion lift hill and turnaround section in the X-Sector.

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Flex provided us with this overview of the lift hill and drop of Oblivion.

The drive tires feed the train into the so-called “Holding Brake” for the drop.  It is not an actual brake as it consists of a short lift chain mounted at the top of the drop.  The train engages that small chain and the chain slows down and inches the train down the descent, creating an incredible psychological effect for riders.  Eventually, the chain accelerates and this in effect launches riders down the record-breaking drop.

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A train going down into Oblivion.

The drop is angled at a very steep 87 degrees and is 180 feet tall.  Given the length of it, riders experience a long moment of weightlessness before experiencing powerful forces in the tunnel as the train levels out.  It then burst out of the ground, go through an elevated near 90 degrees curve before reaching the final brakes. It is a concise thrilling experience that provided the park with a tall roller coaster that fit its planning restrictions.  The area around the park was renamed X-Sector and themed a sinister X-Files like secret government base where shady testing on people occurred.  Black, orange, and concrete were the new looks of the area.

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You can see the architecture of X-Sector and the banked curve of Oblivion.

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The bottom of the drop.

In 2000, the Nice Group, the first private park operator in Taiwan, shocked the world when they unveiled “G5 Diving Machine”, also known as Flying Submarine in Chinese.  The Nice Group opened the Janfusun resort in 1986 in the founder’s hometown of Yongguang Village in Yunlin County.  Nice Group also operates hotels and department stores throughout the country, and the Janfusun Recreation Group runs on a mountain an amusement park, water park, coffee museum, a cinema and a hotel in one of the first non-Disney resort in Asia.

Janfusun Coffee Museum (1)

Janfusun Coffee Museum (2)

Two of the exhibits inside the Coffee Museum.

Janfusun Prince Hotel

Janfusun Prince Hotel.

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Nice Cinema near the hotel.

The unique park location made using the cliff side tricky, so after seeing Oblivion, they approached Bolliger & Mabillard with a unique challenge: could they create a new roller coaster for the park?  Both parties then realized that a modified version of Oblivion would work at Janfusun Fancyworld.  The layout was mirrored and the supports significantly extended as the banked curve and final brakes would now be located over a hundred feet in the air.  A small tunnel was built at the bottom of the drop, but most of it is visible and a bridge constructed in front so onlookers can look at terrified riders.

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The ride loading station.

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Given the park topology, escalators were installed to reach the lower level and you can see the station of G5 at the top.

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One of the ride train and you can see the Dive Coaster massive drive tires in front of it.

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The ride lift hill.

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A train going down the drop.

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The bottom of the drop with the bridge in front.

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Don’t look down…

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This picture illustrates quite well the incredible height difference between the ground and second half of the layout.

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The final brakes tower even over the large Tornado water slide.  The funnel on the Tornado is 60 feet tall.

G5 Diving Machine worked out so well that the park ordered a second roller coaster for 2002, a custom Floorless Coaster with four inversions.  It was placed at the bottom of the hill that G5 reigns over, so you have quite a unique sight in the park.

G5 Insane Speed Janfusun Fancyworld

Insane Speed, the Floorless roller coaster with G5 track in the foreground.

Amidst rumors of no-compete clauses and exclusivity supposedly held by Alton Towers, no other Dive Coaster was constructed in North America or Europe for six years after Oblivion debuted.  In 2005, Busch Gardens Tampa unleashed Sheikra, a huge bird of prey in the formerly sedate area of Stanleyville at the back of the park.  Sheikra took the Dive Coaster concept to the next level and laid down the blueprint for all future installations: one or two true 90 degrees vertical drops, inversions and high capacity three-row trains.  Sheikra stood at 200 feet tall and was the first roller coaster in Florida to reach that landmark height.  It features a 90 degrees 200 feet drop, a huge 145 feet tall Immelmann inversion, and a second vertical drop, down into a tunnel this time.  It was also the first steel roller coaster constructed in many years to feature a water splash.

Like at Alton Towers, the park used this opportunity to rejuvenate the surrounding area.  Here, a delicious restaurant called the Zambia Smokehouse was built near the splash area of Sheikra.  Amazing smoked meats and desserts are served at this facility.

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Sheikra at Busch Gardens Tampa.  It towers above the park.

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The massive Immelmann element.

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The second vertical drop and splashdown section end.

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The water splash generated by the train.

The trains were initially similar to Oblivion, with three rows in a stadium configuration.  That changed in 2007 to floorless cars and the load stations modified to include moving metal floors for loading and unloading.

As well in 2007, sister park Busch Gardens Williamsburg unveiled Griffon, the first dual-inversion Dive Coaster.  A Griffon is a mythical creature that has a lion body and the wing, head and front talons of an eagle.  This fearsome creature is a part of France mythology and thus, its placement in the Aquitaine area of the park.  In addition to a slightly taller 205 feet lift hill and drop, the ride foregoes the tunnel at the bottom of the second drop for a second inversion, another smaller Immelmann.  New ten-across trains were unveiled for this ride, and further large Dive Coaster installations favored those.

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Flex provided us with this picture of Griffon.

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The Immelmann.

Chinese parks were very interested in the Dive Coaster, and Bolliger & Mabillard ended up selling two more to Chinese operators in 2008 and 2009.

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Dive Coaster at Chimelong Paradise (Guangzhou, China) opened in 2008.

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Diving Coaster at Happy Valley Shanghai premiered in 2009.

In 2011, Bolliger & Mabillard evolved the Dive Coaster to make it a little accessible for parks; the construction costs had significantly raised due to the massive track and foundation work required to hold up the substantial structure of the ride up.  Larger parks were still buying the big Dive Coaster, but other facilities had different requirements that made those impossible to build at their park.  In response to that, B&M adapted their standard track and created new magnetic brakes and components.  A new six across ride car was designed, and tighter maneuvers were now possible.

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Krake at Heide Park (Soltau, Germany) was the first of the smaller Dive Coaster to open.  This was shot in 2011.

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The park then added a shipwreck getting pulled down at the bottom of the first drop.

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Baron 1898 opened at Efteling (Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands) opened in 2015 and has a custom themed lift hill and a 124 feet 85 degrees first drop.

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Oblivion: The Black Hole opened in 2015 at Gardaland in Castelnuovo del Garda, Italy.  Both this ride and Baron 1898 were the first Dive Coaster to feature an Heartline Roll inversion.

In 2016, Cedar Point unveiled Valravn, the world’s tallest, fastest and loopiest Dive Coaster in the world.  Standing 223 feet tall, it features a 214 feet tall drop, an Immelmann, an heartline roll and the first Dive Loop on a Dive Coaster.

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Valravn.  You can see the record breaking drop and lift hill in the back ground and the Heartline Roll in front.

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The train width is similar to the ten across cars but there are eight riders per row here.

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The reason for that is that the ride was equipped with soft vest restraints and those require more space than the standard B&M shoulder restraint equipped seat.