It has been a crazy decade in which we’ve seen one of the most rapid theme park expansions ever. When Tussauds (now Merlin) first bought Thorpe Park it was little more than a small family amusement park attached to a petting farm. The first mega-attraction installed was the record-breaking 10 looping roller coaster Colossus, in 2002, and in just 10 years they have added an incredible 4 roller coasters, 4 flat rides and a water ride.
To celebrate 10 years of frantic spending (totalling well over £50 million) Merlin are spending their largest sum yet (£18 million) on what looks to be a fantastic new rollercoaster, named The Swarm.
Thorpe Park have no particular allegiance with any rollercoaster manufacturer; they’ve used pretty much all the big names over the years, but this time they’re going back to a proven formula with Bolliger and Mabillard, the Swiss master engineers. Nemesis Inferno, the park’s 2003 B&M inverter, is one of the most reliable, popular and critically-acclaimed rides in the park so it seems like the park are stepping up on customer satisfaction, and sparing nothing in terms of investment.
The coaster itself will be a Wing Rider, B&M’s latest model, where, instead of being seated above the track, riders are seated in pods of 2 on each side of the track. This gives an unrivalled feeling of freedom; there is no track beneath or above you. 2011 is the first year the Wing Rider has been introduced, Gardaland’s Raptor being the first, and already B&M should have 4 installed across the globe by the end of next year.
A rise of a design this quickly hasn’t been seen since Intamin’s Accelerators first took off, and it is a testament to the success of the aforementioned Raptor. That ride, situated in one of Thorpe Park’s sister parks, seems to have been a test as much as anything, a first attempt at the model to try out elements and gain an idea of what the new train system is capable of. Despite the prototype feel it has, it has still garnered fantastic reviews, although some say it is a little too tame. This is where Thorpe Park will step it up dramatically...
The Swarm will stand at an impressive 127 feet tall, making it the second tallest attraction in the park, behind only Stealth. Originally the ceiling height of the park was 100 feet, but this seems to have been permanently increased now by local planning authorities. Although no official statistic has been released for speed, from the height it seems likely that The Swarm could top out at over 60 miles per hour. Following the lift hill the ride begins with what could be one of the most interesting elements in the rollercoaster world: the train rolls 180 degrees so that it is hanging upside down, before performing a half loop, dropping down to ground level.
The Swarm's first drop is set to be one of the ride's most unique elements. Image © Thorpe Park
This first drop/inversion will hopefully provide hang time aplenty, as well as strong airtime on the bizarre drop.The train then travels through a zero-G roll, standing 100 feet tall, before a twisted mess of highly banked turns and a corkscrew. It then turns back towards the station, flies through a barrel roll and back home. That’s a total of 4 inversions, over a length of about 2700 feet, making it one of the longest rides in the park, along with Colossus. Placed on a newly-made island behind Flying Fish and painted a charcoal grey, The Swarm will likely be the most imposing ride in an already impressive skyline.
Exactly what The Swarm's theme is we don’t know yet, but overall the idea is of a war zone. Slogans such as ‘the end is near’ and ‘war is coming’ suggest that we are in the middle of a battle with another race, presumably the titular ‘Swarm,’ and it seems us humans aren’t doing too well. Plans submitted to date show very extensive theming set pieces; the station will be themed to a ruined chapel, the trains will fly under the wing of a destroyed plane after the first drop, and there seems to be a helicopter crash scene as well. We can only hope that Thorpe Park holds firm with all these ideas, if so it could easily become the UK’s best themed coaster.
It is great to see something this bold from Thorpe Park. With the disappointment of Thirteen, Merlin have gone all out to rectify their mistakes. There is no doubt that this is the most anticipated ride in the UK for 2012, and it could well be the best ride here since Nemesis back in 1994. The Swarm adds to Thorpe Park’s incredible ride arsenal, and it already has both enthusiasts and the general public salivating. With its planned extensive theming and intriguing layout, there is no reason it shouldn't live up to the lofty expectations.