The idea of a roller coaster is a simple one. Its like a big high slide, where you, the rider, are slowly taken to the top of an incline, before gravity takes over and you slalom your way back down a twisted and contorted circuit. Due to velocity, and other scientific titbits your physics teacher bored you with, you and the train can traverse dips, climbs and loops before the ride is stopped by brakes before gravity has its way and stops the ride prematurely.
Whilst a lifthill can often add to the suspense and intrepidation of a ride, to blast you straight into the heart of the ride is, at the moment, novel and fun. It isn’t a new idea though, Schwarzkopf and Intamin have been playing with the idea for years. The flywheel launch was one of the most commonly used, and still some exist, and which require a cable on a drum turning, where at the time of launch, a clutch mechanism fires the train into a vertical loop.
From here, many other techniques were adopted, but the current trend is linear induction motors and linear synchronous motors, both of which use a line of magnets to do what the flywheel launch did, they just do it with style.
Even with this idea, the variations are pretty diverse. To simplify matters though, a long line of magnets is used to propel the train along the stretch of track. As each magnet turns on, it pushes the train to the next, and so on. Its like a magnetic mexican wave, and when it works, its very exhilarating. Its still a new technology though and as a result many rides have been delayed by anything up to a year because of this.
Vekoma's linear synchronous launches are different to most in that the magnets push a carrier which is under the train. At the end of the launch, the carrier stops and the train is thrown into the spaghetti bowl of track at the end.
Its seems to work though and appears to be very reliable too. So far two of Vekoma's launched coasters have opened, and neither were significantly delayed. LSMs also have the advantage of being much more versatile than the flywheel launch and have much more control over the train.
Superman The Ride is a complete clone of Rock N Roller Coaster, the Floridian prototype Vekoma LSM coaster. As an attraction its received many thumbs up and I always knew it would be interesting to ride this ride outside so that you could actually see what was going on track wise.
To tie in with the superhero theme the track is a rich red and the supports a deep blue. Its just like the Pepsi Max Big One and looks great. However, due to a mix up the ride was originally going to be Jokers Jinx and therefore where the paint is wearing off you can see the original green colour scheme underneath.
The ride is tucked away around the back of the park and whilst the views of the launch are great, for the rest of the ride, it's hard to see as its way off out the back. This is a shame, and its a very American thing to have the ride away from the paths, but enough is visible to see what you’re about to let yourself in for.
The entrance of the park actually takes you through a large building which houses a couple of small eateries, as well as the obligatory shops and stalls. It also has a navy blue doorway, through which, Superman The Ride can be found.
You climb a flight of stairs, turn to the left, and into the main part of the queuing, which takes place inside the main floor of the Daily Planet, the fictitious paper known for two famed reporters at least, Lois Lane and Clark Kent. Around the side, the offices of the said reporters with box files, desks and lights. Its not too well themed, but it sets the plot for what the ride is all about, and from here you go through a corridor and then outside.
Once outside, you cross over the station track, and zig zag down a bright blue walkway down to the station. Theming here is non existent other than the paint scheme. A red corrugated roof protects you from the elements, and the controls are housed in what appears to be a garden shed.
The platform is quite small, although, should you feel the need for speed, with the clever use of your elbows you can push your way to the front or back, as most people sharing the platform seem to be unawares.
The ride runs two trains, one blue with orange and red highlights, the other red with blue and orange highlights. They’re not themed, just run of the mill Vekoma trains, but its a great colour scheme that goes well with the rest of the rides colour scheme.
When the train arrives, riders exit away from you, before you’re let onto the trains. The back of the seats are questionable in their comfort, and its interesting to see Vekoma have added a lump between your legs now. Now that you’re restrained, you leave the station, turn to the left before straightening out, then stopping.
The train pulls back by about one foot, and then accelerates, faster, and faster, your head pinned back against the head rest. The launch comes to an end as the track peels itself away from the ground as you start what seems to be a vertical loop. At the top, you’re pulled out from the side into a corkscrew, continue into another half corkscrew dropping out into the other side of the loop.
Its just like a cobra roll, it's just that it exits backwards, and is a lot of fun. You fall back to earth towards the water that the ride is built over before you enter a long swooping clockwise turn that spirals up and around the ride.
You do a full revolution of the ride, before again, the same clockwise turn begins to climb up to the second highest point of the ride, a long straight stretch, the track that's a brake run on Rock N Roller, before an under-banked turn to the left throws you into the second part of the ride, a long anti clockwise turn, again, a revolution later, the turn tightens before climbing and throwing you into the roughest part of the ride, a corkscrew.
From here, the turn sharpens before you climb and head through a mid-course brake run, which does little to slow the train. Like before, a virtually un-banked turn follows which swoops down into a stretch of track that takes you behind the ride, featuring a few undulations, including a jump over the launch track, before you hammer into the final brake run.
The ride is all about the launch. The launch could even be improved upon by theming it, but as it stands, when the time comes, and you’re thrown into the first inversion, its hard to improve upon. Its a long launch, and once it gets to the top speed, it stays there until the very end.
It's good that a ride starts off this powerful. They’ve also learnt from the mistakes of Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris. So that you have no need to slow towards the end, you go straight into the first two inversions of the ride.
Both of these inversions are great fun, and are really tall and drawn out. They’re also smooth, at the moment, and well engineered to put your head in the right place at the right time.
From here though, it all goes downhill. The ride loses a lot of speed, and although the turns are fun, it all gets a bit repetitive, and dare I say it, laborious. Each turn is the same as the last, even to the direction in which it turns, all up until the track where its missing the mid course brakes.
From here, the track does exactly the same, just in the opposite direction. Here, the monotony is broken up by the corkscrew, and the dips on the way back to the brake run, but all in all, after the first inversions, there are no real elements to entertain you.
It must be said though, this is certainly a front seat ride. It's twice as good as the rest of the train, and the launch is far better than in the back, where the launch is probably worst experienced. The rest of the ride is far improved at the front by the improved visuals and the wind in your face, but there is still the niggling feeling that something is missing...
The theming is also missing a lot. Six Flags parks don’t go for completely immersive theming, however, if they at least make the effort in parts of the queue, it should be consistent and remain throughout. The theming on the ride wasn’t up to the standard of the rest of the park, and the launch and return run take place over poured concrete. Bit disappointing in that respect.
Niggles aside, praise must be given to Vekoma though, not only for the launch, which is outstanding, but also for the improved ridability of their coasters. Each is far better than the last, although only time will tell if they degrade as badly as their original coasters