On June 30, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom opened Superman: Ultimate Flight, the first DC Comics superhero-themed coaster at the park. The name is familiar to enthusiasts, but the ride unique. Join our intrepid reporter Tom Zeliff after the break to learn what makes this Superman different from all the rest.
Late summer 2011
Amusement parks across the country are announcing their 2012 additions. Letís see what we have to look forward to: We have a major car-themed expansion land -- nice detail; a 3-D transforming robot ride -- should be cool; another huge chair swing -- that should finish the collection; a couple of launched family coasters, one with a drop in a themed building -- nice; a couple of coasters moving to new homes -- ride rotation program strikes again!; a funky new train from Intamin -- zippy fun airtime-filled layout; a grafted-on giant drop ride, 400-plus feet? Wow!; a few more B&M wing riders; and oh ...
What. Is. THAT?
That just doesn't make sense. Itís super compact. It has a loop that does not invert. It crawls through a heartline roll 150 feet in the air. It rolls 180 degrees when flying up and plummeting down vertical track.
Lap bar ONLY?!?
Itís so, so wrong!
I MUST RIDE THIS.
Thus went my thoughts upon first discovering what Six Flags Discovery Kingdom had in store for 2012. I dropped my jaw and nearly dropped my phone as I read the news posts. I repeatedly watched the animations. I downloaded the artist renderings.
I practically salivated over this coaster. I could not wait for it to open.
I vowed not to miss this coaster. Bad luck and infrequent trips to the San Francisco Bay Area resulted in my missing Tony Hawk Big Spin and Whizzer. I managed only one magical ride on Zonga after a long rain delay, and the closest I got to riding Stealth was a construction tour of the finished track layout the year before it opened. I had no intention of missing Superman.
As fall cooled into winter, local bloggers followed the deconstruction of Big Spin. Parts were carefully dismantled, labeled and shipped off. By February, the site was clear, but there was no sign of Superman. March came and went with nary a new bolt. What was keeping this ride? Premier had many engineering and design challenges to overcome on a prototype ride system. Patience is a virtue, but the announced spring opening was coming up quickly.
At long last, supports and track began to appear in April. Over the next couple of months a steel framework was built on Zonga's old concrete pad. From this framework sprouted a pair of blue-painted, intricate steel support structures. A bright string of red and yellow track threaded the towers as they grew higher and higher. The pile of parts dwindled as the support towers reached their full height. A final span of track holding the single heartline inversion completed the circuit and connected the two halves of the structure on June 8.
Opening date was set for June 23, and I immediately booked my flight. As luck would have it, I was attending a wedding in Napa on Fatherís Day weekend and witnessed the ride testing while en route to the ceremony. My passengers had to remind me to watch the road more than once! Dark clouds of worry appeared the next morning when I spotted a crane working on the first tower. Could my curse strike again? Would the ride be delayed? My heart sank as the park announced the opening was delayed a week.
Luckily Southwest Airlinesí generous flight change policy and some vacation day finagling at work allowed me to shift travel and vacation plans to accommodate the new opening date. Take that, evil curse! I wonít be defeated so easily this time!
The final week of June arrived. Videos of Superman testing began to appear on YouTube with increasing frequency. Best of all no new postponement emails! The rest of the week was a blur of flight, rental car, midnight photos from across the street, hotel, Starbucks, park, tram, walk, check-in, introductions, speeches, rope drop, power walk, watch a train launch, climb aboard, secure lap bar. Time slows. Waiting ... waiting ...
"Clear, dispatch." A hiss of air. The holding brake releases.
Waiting ... waiting ...
Electricity surges through powerful linear synchronous motors. Waves of magnetic force yank the train forward into the sunlight and up the first tower. The train clears the LSMs and loses momentum, stalling as the front car begins to twist on vertical track.
The train rolls back and immediately hits another magnetic wave, this time pulling in reverse. In the blink of an eye the train hurtles through and out the back of the station, accelerating all the while. Climbing into a large loop, the train rolls on its side as the train nears the crest of the loop, stalling just short of the midway point. After a momentary pause the train rolls forward, picking up speed rapidly as it dives into the launch tunnel.
Another magnetic blast fires the train forward, clearing the station in half a blink. The third launch hits a top speed of 62 mph and flings the train up the first tower, through a rapid vertical 180-degree twist and finally clearing the 150-foot hill. Supports threaten with illusionary head-choppers. Centripetal forces test the security of the restraints. Ejector airtime greets you as the train crests the first tower. There is no time to enjoy the view.
Without pause, the train slides directly into the signature inversion of the ride: a 150-foot-high heartline roll. You hang upside-down precariously as the train gradually completes a full rotation. Any loose change will be quickly removed from your pocket. Leveling off from the roll, the train begins to dive down a vertical drop. Magnetic brakes briefly delay the inevitable plummet. There is just enough time to take a deep breath.
Magnetic attraction loses the battle with gravity. The train plummets over the edge and into the teeth of the second tower. You ride the lap bar over the edge and through another sharp 180-degree twist. Powerful G-forces shove you back into your seat as the train narrowly averts crashing into the station. Up, up and around a huge, round, vertical loop. The train performs a full roll through the top half of the loop, keeping you upright as you careen next to a giant Superman shield. Finishing the roll the train dives into the launch tunnel for a final time. LSM motors whine in protest as your speed is brought under control. A final and brief trip up the first tower, and the train rolls backward into the station, stopped right where it started.
Elapsed time: 45 seconds.
Stupendous, unbelievable, phenomenal, excellent, relentless, magnificent, awesome, near perfection. I will exhaust a thesaurus full of superlatives before I run out of enthusiasm for this ride. The layout is so compact that the station is the only straight section of track, a fact even more impressive when you consider the short train!
That leads me to the big green kryptonite elephant in the room. The rideís only weakness is low capacity. The two-car train holds 12 riders. Crews can load the train quickly, thanks to a simple lap bar system that does not require any additional seat belts, but even with that system the fastest cycle time observed during the first day of operation was two minutes. That is 30 trains in an hour, or 360 riders per hour if the crews can keep up that pace. Expect the throughput to average 250-300 an hour. These are Dťjŗ Vu-level numbers. The line will move slowly for this one, folks.
Six Flags introduced the first DC Comics-themed attraction at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Local park guests may not be aware, but enthusiasts will note that this is the fourth Superman Ultimate Flight-branded coaster. Though to be fair, this is the first without a hyphen, according to RCDB. I think that a ride like this deserved a unique name and theme, if for no other reason than to get unique merchandise featuring artwork for this ride and not the recycled logo from other flying coasters. But that is such a minor complaint that I hesitate in staining the review with it.
I could not be happier with this ride (unless they engineer the same brilliant transfer track mechanism of the Mr. Freeze coasters). Itís intense, smooth, frightening and amazing. I left my voice at the park after a dozen rides on media day. Book your flight now, get there early, and ride it all you can. This Superman may not be the first coaster to bear that name, but I think itís the ultimate.
Review and photos by Tom Zeliff
Special thanks to Nancy Chan for inviting ThrillNetwork to the Media Day preview.
Extra special thanks to Premier Rides and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom for building this awesome ride.