Roller Coaster of the Day: Big Bad Wolf – Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Name: Big Bad Wolf

Location: Busch Gardens Williamsburg, Williamsburg, PA

Operating Year: 1984 – 2009

Built By: Arrow Dynamics

Top Speed: 48 mph

Height: 100 feet

 

 

The Big Bad Wolf was the world’s first successful suspended coaster – a roller coaster where the vehicles, instead of sitting on the rails, are suspended beneath them.

The concept of cars-beneath-the-track roller coasters were nothing new; in fact, during the 1920’s, a few businessmen had experimented with the idea, but they had all fizzled without success – partly because of the lack of engineering know-how that could allow them to be built safely and efficiently, and partly because they were simply boring.

For the next few decades, the trains remained firmly on top of the rails, until Arrow Dynamics – fresh off their success with Knott’s Berry Farm’s Corkscrew – wanted to take it to the next level. They started planning a prototype of the newly-dubbed “suspended coaster” concept, where the cars would be free to swing below the track. The prototype was built at Kings Island, a theme park in Ohio, and was dubbed “The Bat”. It opened in 1981 to great fanfare.

 

The ill-fated suspended coaster prototype, "The Bat" at Kings Island.

 

Unfortunately, as is the case with nearly all prototypes, it quickly ran into several unforeseen problems – the biggest problem was the amount of stress the free-swinging cars were placing on the track. There were many instances when the vehicle would swing up nearly 90 degrees – perpendicular to the track! Needless to say, this wasn’t good on neither the vehicles nor the track: the ride spent more time getting fixed and tweaked than in operation as engineers frantically tried to find a solution. However, its continuous problems eventually led to The Bat’s demise just two years after it opened – it closed in 1983.

However, Arrow Dynamics quickly learnt from their mistakes with The Bat – they realized that the main problem lay in the design of the track: namely, the lack of any sort of banking. They had erroneously assumed that the swinging motion of the vehicles would negate the need for track banking – they were wrong. In fact, swinging cars tended to place even more stress on the track and the supports.

After tweaking their design, Arrow Dynamics unleashed their second-generation suspended coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, called “Big Bad Wolf”.

It was a resounding success.

 

 

 

 

The ride is themed to an out-of control ride through an Alpine village, culminating in a dizzying drop followed by a sharp curve above the “Rhine” river (the ostensible name of the river that flows through the park). It was one of the most photogenic roller coasters ever built: Busch Gardens Williamsburg, as a whole, is a very beautiful park – one of the most landscaped, lush, and well-themed parks in the world.

Arrow Dynamics built ten suspended roller coasters around the world until they fell out of the limelight in the mid-1990’s. Unfortunately, they’re a dying breed – as of the time of this writing, there were only 5 suspended coasters left in operation. The Big Bad Wolf, the forerunner to all suspended coasters, closed in 2009.

 

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