like Hydro and Colossus go to show that Intamin’s insanity knows no
bounds. Indeed, even before these rides, Intamin were one of the most
innovative and pioneering manufacturers of modern times.
can be accredited with inventing the first river rapids ride (Thunder
River, Six Flags Houston), had involvements in the first modern vertical
looping roller coaster (Revolution, Magic Mountain) and in the early 80s
debuted the first theme park freefall ride (Six Flags Magic Mountain).
Freefalls were quickly refined from the clunky and cumbersome
first-generation rides into the must-have ride of the 20th Century. The
first-generation rides took a car of four people vertically up a lift
shaft before pushing them out onto a ledge, dropping 13 stories, curving
out at the bottom of the drop onto your back before stopping and
uprighting again in the station.
only real marketable string to the first-generation’s bow was the
sensation of freefall, something that hadn’t yet been available to
theme parks. Like many of history’s greatest prototypes, capacity was
so-so, reliability was poor and the concept needed refining before it
could really become popular.
second-generation Freefall was unrecognisable.
of an unwieldy latticework structure, a single, slender pillar would
take anything from 4 to 8 separate cars up a vertical track before
dropping them vertically. Instead of curving out at the bottom (a waste
of drop and a waste of parks’ valuable real estate at the same time),
cars would be stopped vertically thanks to permanent magnets.
advantages over the first-generation Freefall were almost innumerable.
Second-generation Freefalls sold like hotcakes around the world, parks
using their versatility to climb closer to the sky and rival
manufacturers using the basis of the ride on which to make their own.
manufacturers have since copied the idea to the point that the humble
tower ride is nearly at saturation point. New twists were devised;
launches, accelerated drops, combinations of the two and turning
stepping in from the sidelines, Intamin were quick to prove that they
could push the envelope where, so far, nobody dared push it. May 2000,
Drayton Manor, and the World’s first stand-up tilting freefall opens.
further to this, Drayton Manor took the first step in providing the true
Neapolitan of Freefalls with a flavour for everyone, initially including
two standard sit down cars as well as two stand up cars that tilt
forwards 15-degrees as they climb the 180ft tower.
the ride had become established, in 2002 Drayton Manor launched ‘The
Fifth Element’, making use of the yet-unused fifth side of the tower.
This fifth side is not only ‘stand up’, but also floorless, again
tilting to 15-degrees off vertical as you rise. This wicked new flavour
tests the palette of the most hardcore thrill ride enthusiast.
20 January 2004
floorless sit-down cars
Two stand up
cars with floor, tilting to 15°
Single stand up
car with no floor, tilting to 15°
Although second-generation Freefalls aught to be remembered
with chocolate and watches as one of Switzerland’s best exports, the UK
never really enjoyed the success of Intamin’s Freefalls. I’d speculate
much of this is down to many parks’ inability to install 200ft tower
rides due to planning regulations, but also due to the fact that Britain
was late jumping on the freefall bandwagon. By the time there was an
active interest, more alternatives were available, including Oakwood’s
Huss tower (combining launch with accelerated freefall) and Blackpool’s
Space Shot (launched), with the honour of only Intamin Freefall in the
country going to Trocadero in London which was made unique by its indoor
Whilst Drayton Manor’s Apocalypse was made unique by the
stand up cars, two of the cars were standard sit down cars and were as
vanilla as they come. Therefore, Apocalypse gives you not only one of the
most intense freefalls in the country, but a ‘warm up’ drop ride too.
Standing at 180ft, Apocalypse doesn’t do much to
re-assure the anxious rider, and Drayton Manor revelled in this making the
experience even more foreboding with an (aptly) apocalyptic brick-red
bunker surrounding the base of the grey tower and plodding soundtrack. The
‘Manor have eased on the fear juice recently, though, instead playing
BRMB (who, along with Walls have sponsored the ride) which unleashes a
terror in an entirely different disguise; namely in the form of various
disposable teen-pop bands.
The choice of whether to sit or stand is made at the foot
of the bunker where you bear right to sit, climbing a set of stairs and
entering the industrial interior of the building. The queue wraps around
half of the circumference of the conical building with the tower plunging
through the centre. Not only does this deserve a nod for its conservative
use of real estate, but it also affords a convenient gallery from which to
watch the cars drop into view.
Intamin’s sit-down drop rides are furnished in much the
same way as B&M trains with comfortable body-hugging seats, chunky
restraints and a single seatbelt between the legs. Once sat, a siren
sounds and the car slowly crawls up the tower.
As you reach the top of the bunker and enter daylight, the
pace quickens as you smoothly accelerate up the tower, detail on the
ground becoming vaguer and your view of the park better.
As the cameras creep into view, you slow to a halt.
Heartbeats count down the seconds before without even a hint of a warning
you drop 180ft at 50mph, stopping in a matter of feet as you re-enter the
Apocalypse compares well to other British freefalls with
only Detonator up to the challenge of taking it on. Even on a global
scale, the sit down side is above average although it does fall short –
literally – of many newer Intamin freefalls. Whilst height most
certainly isn’t indicative of the drop quality, extra height does well
to intimidate even the most hardy of riders.
Of course, sharing the same tower with two alternative drop
rides is its Achilles heel – it compares poorly to the stand up tower,
and is less ‘fashionable’ than the new Fifth Element side.
Even so, it allows more hesitant riders to test
the water. If you’re up to the challenge, the stand up drop is a larger
step than you might think, if not, then at least the ride was over in a
20 January 2004
Almost as acknowledge the forthcoming freefall frenzy in
the UK, Drayton Manor made sure their freefall grabbed the headlines from
the outset giving riders the option first enjoy the ride in it’s most
vanilla form before having the option to move onto the novel stand-up
side. In fact, despite Intamin offering all the different car types of
Apocalypse as optional ‘upgrades’ to existing towers, Apocalypse is
still one of only a few such rides in the world.
Freefalls are rightly criticised for their lack of
longevity owing mainly to their one-trick nature. It’s a hell of a
trick, but there’s only so many times you can see a rabbit pulled from a
hat before you know what happens. Apocalypse expands upon the humble drop
ride and opens a new chapter in the book in the form of a stand up
freefall. And, from 2002, this chapter formed the pre-amble to yet more
enjoyment in the form of the Fifth Element.
Drayton Manor have proved before that something original is
more marketable than something out of the box. Fortunately, though, since
Shockwave the application of standing up has been refined somewhat. The
clunky design of the seating and restraints has been developed to consist
of a vertically sliding saddle and single overhead restraint, and dealing
with only a maximum of eight riders at a time, the staff can make sure
that riders adjust their ‘seat’ to the correct height before the
position of the saddle locks.
A klaxon sounds as the car slowly creeps away from the
platform. A sinister touch in design is that the headrests angle downwards
which means that by the time you approach the top of the bunker, and the
car quickly tilts forwards 15-degrees, you have little in the way of
alternatives in where to look.
As you enter daylight, the ride picks up a gear and slowly
accelerates as it climbs the tall tower affording a view just beyond the
outskirts of the park. The now-familiar routine of slowing to a halt as
the cameras creep into view is no less intimidating having ridden the
sit-down side as you stop 180ft above the ground.
Without warning, you drop.
If you’re expecting a similar experience to the sit down
side, you’ll soon have the wind blown out of you as the stand up side
offers a feeling of freefall that is far more drawn out, intense and
As you enter the building, still almost at full speed, you
stop within feet of the elevated queue line and slowly ease down the last
few feet back to terra firma.
This isn’t scientific, mind you, as it is entirely
possible that the cars drop at a similar speed to their sit down siblings
opposite, but the sensation is there, and frankly it’s terrifying.
Furthermore, the reliance upon the restraints as the car
tilts a relatively small, but nevertheless terrifying 15-degrees is
fiendish. Even the headrest is angled downward meaning that you have no
choice but to stare your fate right in the eyes.
Even on its own, the stand up drop tower is completely self
sufficient, but not only does this offer a stand-up alternative to the sit
down tower, but it offers a completely different ride that is leagues
ahead of an already fairly decent drop tower.
25 January 2004
Up Floorless: The Fifth Element
For two years,
Apocalypse's fifth track lay dormant. The initial plan was to wait and
see which of the two existing types of car was the more popular, then
fit one onto the fifth track, but that was to be abandoned in favour of
fitting a whole new type of car.
original opening of Apocalypse, Intamin continued to build their Giant
Drop rides at parks throughout the world, and to tinker with the way the
ride worked. When Six Flags Over Georgia announced their version of the
ride, gentlemen the world over winced at the thought of riding in a what
was billed as a "floorless stand-up" car. Soon it became clear
that this was what track 5 would host.
Hear'Say were at Drayton Manor to open Maelstrom, and while they were
there, the group's newest member, Johnny Shentall opened what the park
were calling "The Fifth Element". What's that? Hear'Say? You
know, they were the winners of Popstars. No? Oh, never mind. It got
opened, that's what matters.
To ride The
Fifth Element, just follow the queue as if you were going to ride the
normal stand-up cars. When you reach the gates, just continue past the
older cars. Once you have made your way around the tower, it is time for
the secret of floorless standing to be revealed. Brace yourself...
You sit down.
all there is to it. Can't get to grips with the idea? OK, let me
demonstrate. Go and find yourself a high stool. Now, sit on it and
shuffle forwards so that you are right on the edge of the seat. You are
now doing a perfect impression of Apocalypse's "floorless
standing". A more precise description would be "uncomfortable
As with the
original stand-up cars, you begin to rise and soon find yourself leaning
forward slightly as the car tips outward. At this point, you'll realise
that it is best to have your restraint as tight as you can possibly have
it, as you feel your weight acting against it. This isn't very
comfortable, and it seems obvious that if the car is going to tilt, it
should do it at the top of the tower.
The drop is
exactly the same as on the sit-down cars, and is great fun. Hitting the
brakes isn't anywhere near as painful as spectators would assume, but is
still not as comfortable as on either of the other types of car. It is
at this point that you see the sense in tilting the car, as it means
that the majority of your weight is taken by the restraint, rather that
concentrated on the partial-posterior planted on the seat.
Element still gives a great ride, just not as great as the existing
cars. It seems a shame that what should have been a step forward has not
fulfilled its promise. Queuing for The Fifth Element takes a lot of
patience, partially because there is only one car of this design, partly
because the hype that its presence has generated means everyone wants to
try it, and partly because (like the old stand up cars), the climb to
the top takes an eternity compared with the much lighter sit-down cars.
line (bottomless line if you prefer) is that if you only get one chance
to ride Apocalypse, you should definitely go for the older stand-up
cars. With a more comfortable riding position, they offer a far superior
ride. The Fifth Element is a nice novelty, but nothing more than that.
6 March 2003
You can work up to the
standing floorless version
Highest freefall in
the UK with a good feeling of height
Often only certain
Depending on how the
car is loaded, Apocalypse can be quite rough
▪ Short ride