What would be B&M’s next innovation? There was only one place to bring it to life: Alton Towers. After the debut of the subterranean B&M invert Nemesis in 1994, the British theme park eagerly assumed the role of a test bed and prototype park for new ride systems with subsequent “Secret Weapon” ride installations. And 1998’s was a feat: OBLIVION, a one-of-a-kind Dive Coaster. Sitting eight across in three rows, Oblivion hoists riders 66 feet, then precariously perches them on the very edge of a near vertical (87.5 degree) drop, gazing down into an inky black portal directly below.
Oblivion was a relatively simple ride – merely the climb, a 180 foot vertical plunge into a tunnel, and a return to the station. Busch Gardens’ debuted a more "complete experience" in its follow-up pair, each at last achieving a true 90-degree dive. In Tampa Bay, SHEIKRA (2005) is themed to the African bird known to dive straight down for its prey, soaring and spiraling through ancient ruins and misty ponds. At Busch Gardens Williamsburg, GRIFFON (2007) captures the power of the mythological beast soaring through a French vineyard. The latter even debuted unprecedented 10-across, floorless trains.
Busch Gardens seemingly had the North American lock on the technology for the decade after. While a half-dozen Dive Coasters spread across Europe and Asia in the ten years after SheiKra and Griffon, they didn’t return to North America until Cedar Point’s VALRAVN (2016), plus YUKON STRIKER (Canada’s Wonderland, 2019), and EMPEROR (SeaWorld San Diego, 2021). Altogether, fifteen B&M Dive Coasters are spread around the world – a sizeable collection that’s grown quietly, but steadily. And given that Dive Coasters are all about larger-than-life, swooping, graceful, powerful maneuvers, it’s a perfect showcase of everything B&M does well.
Despite not being the most proliferated of B&M’s coaster styles, the Hyper Coaster is almost certainly the most identifiable today thanks to a major rebirth in the last decade or so. 1999’s APOLLO’S CHARIOT at Busch Gardens Williamsburg wasn’t the first coaster with a drop over 200 feet (that would be Cedar Point’s Magnum XL-200 a decade earlier). But it was the first to both top the 200-foot mark and feature the buttery-smooth, perfectly-sculpted, weightless airtime hills you’d expect of B&M… and unlike Arrow or Morgan’s hypercoasters that strapped guests into claustrophobic trains, B&M’s elevated seats on sleds with just a simple “clamshell” restraint allow the full, weightless wonder of freed legs and arms.
The out-and-back, sailing, soaring style caught on quick with a number of Six Flags classics RAGING BULL (Great America, 1999), NITRO (Great Adventure, 2001), and two GOLIATHs (Over Georgia and La Ronde, 2006). Further U.S. installations include MAKO (SeaWorld Orlando, 2016) and CANDYMONIUM (Hersheypark, 2020).
In 2007, the Paramount Parks were sold to thrill park operator Cedar Fair, who quickly used B&M hypers to dominate several of their skylines and signal their intentions: BEHEMOTH (Canada’s Wonderland, 2008), DIAMONDBACK (Kings Island, 2009), and INTIMIDATOR (2010). Cedar Fair would later have B&M return to those three parks to produce B&M “Giga coasters,” topping 300 feet: Leviathan (2012), Orion (2020), and Fury 325 (2015), respectively.
B&M’s 300-foot-plus Giga coasters – while massive anchor attractions – have gotten a bit of flack from coaster enthusiasts for failing to deviate from the Hyper Coaster pattern. In other words, they’re still out-and-back layouts; still exclusively airtime hills; same trains; same look and feel. They’re just, y’know, taller and faster. To that end, we don’t quite count them as a new “style” of coaster; merely an “embiggening” of a classic.
As with stand-up, sitting, and hyper coasters, B&M didn’t invent the concept of a flying coaster, nor were they the first to produce a high-capacity prototype (that would be Vekoma with 2000’s Stealth at California’s Great America and 2001’s X-Flight at Six Flags Worlds of Adventure). But just as Walt Disney created the definitive version of Snow White, B&M’s flying coaster is – for most enthusiasts – what you picture when you think of flying coasters. That’s partly because B&M’s method for getting riders into the flying position is by far the most elegant on the market: Riders board what appears to be an inverted coaster, only to have their seats pulled upward, spines aligned to the track, and staring straight down before departing the station.
Their first go was 2002’s AIR at Alton Towers, which proved the flying coaster a natural complement to the kinds of adjectives folks use to describe modern B&Ms anyway: sleek, smooth, soaring, and awe-inspiring. (The ride is currently renamed Galactica; the remains of a short-lived VR overlay.) Air stays mostly low to the ground, merely swirling around an oasis-like forest tucked away in the park’s post-apocalyptic Forbidden Valley area. The next installations of B&M’s flying coaster model went a bit bigger.
Six Flags quickly jumped on the bandwagon with four B&M fliers (three clones of SUPERMAN – ULTIMATE FLIGHT at Over Georgia , Great America , and Great Adventure , and TATSU at Magic Mountain ). The most recognizable flying coaster on Earth might be SeaWorld Orlando’s MANTA (2009) with its iconic splashdown at the park’s entrance. The most recent is 2016’s FLYING DINOSAUR in Universal Studios Japan’s Jurassic Park area. Altogether, there are 11 B&M fliers, and a few parks that could benefit from one…
The latest legitimately new “style” of coaster developed by B&M, the Wing Coaster doesn’t just offer a new train arrangement; it redefines the ride experience. For one, riders sit on seats cantilevered out from either side of the track, with nothing above or below. Second, riders are essentially seated at the same elevation as the track, creating the potential for interesting physics and forces during inversions. Third, the train’s wide – but long – look creates a unique serpentine visual that’s used to amazing ends in RAPTOR (Gardaland, 2011) and SWARM (Thorpe Park, 2012), both of which make great to-do of spiraling past and through near-miss obstacles in visual clashes that leave onlookers shocked.
Nearly every Wing Coaster makes at least some attempt at using the “near-miss” visual element – like WILD EAGLE (Dollywood, 2012) and X-FLIGHT (Six Flags Great America, 2012). Interestingly, THUNDERBIRD (Holiday World, 2015) isn’t just a Wing Coaster… it’s the first (and to date, only) launch coaster wholly produced by B&M, who finally experimented with the once-too-unreliable launch technology using LSMs.
Despite being one of the most recognizable installations of a Wing Coaster (thanks to spiraling through the park's iconic mod entry gates), GATEKEEPER (Cedar Point, 2013) is often held up as an example of the modern mediocrity of B&M. Many enthusiasts hold GateKeeper up as evidence of B&M’s “neutering;” it’s a (statistically) huge ride, with massive inversions… but it’s largely considered relatively forceless and meandering; a far-cry from the ultra-intense rides of the ‘90s. (But to be fair, that may also have something to do with its size. Despite Cedar Fair’s continuous push for breaking records, sometimes “bigger isn’t always better;” see Cedar Point’s Valravn vs. Busch Gardens’ Griffon.)
And maybe that’s the perfect segue into the issue at hand… What could B&M have planned for tomorrow? Their 2020 patent application may surprise you… Read on!