Since the inception of the roller coaster, amusement parks and their fans have been on an insatiable quest for thrill machines that climb ever higher and go faster. Through the years, designers have responded to the challenge by creating coasters that surpass previously unimaginable thresholds.
It’s not scheduled to open until 2023, but when Falcon’s Flight arrives at Six Flags Qiddiya in Saudi Arabia, it will not just break, but it will purportedly destroy existing height, speed and track-length records.
Is the world ready for a roller coaster that climbs 655 feet, drops 525 feet straight down, accelerates to 156 mph, and navigates a track that spans more than 13,000 feet? Because that’s what officials say is on the way.
“We want to do things that have not been done before,” says Philippe Gas, CEO of Qiddiya. The 79-acre Six Flags park will feature six themed lands filled with 28 attractions, many of which will be one-of-a-kind and break records. The Sirocco Tower, for example, will be the world’s tallest drop-tower ride, topping off at 475 feet, according to Gas.
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Falcon's Flight roller coaster: What we know
But Falcon’s Flight will be the headliner, encircling the park and piercing its skyline. Based on a video rendering of the planned ride, it will start by climbing an enormous lift hill and hitting a potent 94 mph for its first drop. That’s only the beginning.
One of three magnetic launches will catapult the ride’s train up a 655-foot-tall cliff. They will then drop over the edge and plummet at a 90-degree angle toward the valley while accelerating to about 100 mph. The train will enter a tunnel that appears will be carved into the base of the mountain, then another launch will rev the cars up to their top speed, a G-force-manic 156 mph.
Passengers will then climb another gargantuan hill, drop down the other side and break 100 mph yet again. Passing under the walkway to the park’s main entrance and over an adjacent racetrack, Falcon’s Flight will toss in a couple of inversions and a banked helix for its finale.
The three-minute ride will traverse more than 13,000 feet, or roughly 2½ miles of track. That’s about 5,000 feet, or 63% longer, than the world’s longest coaster, Steel Dragon 2000 at Japan’s Nagashima Spa Land. Why so long? “When you are going 250 kilometers per hour, it has to be long,” Gas says. “Otherwise the duration of the ride is going to be very short.”
For height, the current coaster champ is the 456-foot-tall Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. And the fastest coaster, at 149 mph, is Formula Rossa at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They were both designed and built by Intamin, the European ride company that is also helming Falcon’s Flight.
“We have the experts; the designers; the know-how; and most importantly, the experience,” says Gerard Slenders, Intamin vice president, explaining why the company gets tapped to create such extreme rides. He adds that the Saudi Arabia park offers an ideal site. “The natural cliffs as well as the unique setting are perfect to design an architectural masterpiece in steel.”
Qiddiya’s Gas says that while it’s great to break records, they can be fleeting. What will be striking about Falcon‘s Flight and what will endure, he says, will be the marriage of the unnerving ride with its environment. “It’s not the fact that it will be the tallest or the fastest, but the fact that this ride will take you through the Arabian Desert, along the landscape of Qiddiya, and embrace its cliff.”
Among other highlights of the Six Flags park will be Sea Stallion, described as a unique interactive ride on which passengers will be able to control the speed and acceleration of horse-like vehicles. The trains on the Iron Rattler Mine Train coaster will stop midcourse, high in the air on a dead-end track section. It's decidedly not for the squeamish: A hydraulic motor will slowly tilt the track and its trainload of hapless passengers 90 degrees, then release them into an underground, effects-filled mine shaft.
Unlike other Six Flag locations, the distinctive Qiddiya park is not planning to include the chain’s signature DC superheroes such as Batman and Superman or Loony Tunes characters such as Bugs Bunny.
The Six Flags park will be but one component of the massive Qiddiya complex. At 128 square miles, it will be about three times the size of Walt Disney World. The project, envisioned as a showcase for entertainment, sports and the arts, features plans for a water park, a sports stadium, a golf course, a performance arena, theaters, a safari park, hotels, retail, dining and a city core with housing as well as commercial and industrial space.
Will thrill seekers from around the world want to come to Six Flags Qiddiya and experience Falcon’s Flight? Until 2019, Saudi Arabia did not even put out its welcome mat for international tourists. While the kingdom has recently introduced women’s rights reforms and other concessions to modernity, concerns over human rights continue to compromise its image.
Gas acknowledges that the perception of the kingdom abroad can be challenging. But, he says, Saudi Arabia is rapidly transforming. He believes Qiddiya will help open minds.
“It will take time for the outside world to understand,” he says. “Qiddiya and other projects will create curiosity and an appetite to visit. When people come, they will realize it’s different than what they thought.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Six Flags roller coaster in Saudi Arabia to be tallest, fastest