Great America rolls out its new X Flight roller coaster in Gurnee
Being honest, I wasn't overly impressed with X Flight when I first gazed at the new roller coaster Thursday.
Sure, at 120 feet, the newest thrill ride at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee is tall, but the Raging Bull is taller at 202 feet. And, at 55 mph, X Flight is fast, but it trails Superman: Ultimate Flight, which hits speeds of 60.
Plus, X Flight isn't really loud -- I've always thought a good coaster should make a lot of noise when it rolls by.
So, while watching one of the winged coaster cars roll overhead, I couldn't help but wonder: "Why all the hype?"
Then I sat down and buckled in one of the cars, rolled up that first hill, and was turned upside-down for a split second before plunging face-first toward the ground.
From there, I was thrown hard into my seat or pushed against my harness as the car twisted through a series of barrel rolls and corkscrews -- all while having an unobstructed view of everything happening in front of me.
"It's amazing," park general manager Hank Salemi said Thursday during media day. "In my own opinion, it's truly the most unique roller coaster in the world."
X Flight opens to the public May 16 as only the fourth winged coaster in the world, and the second in the United States. The other one opened in March at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
The cars are what makes X Flight unique. Riders sit in pairs and are suspended on either side of the track with their feet dangling. Because you ride eye-level with the track, it's sort of like riding on the wing of an airplane for nearly 3 minutes.
That unique perspective means there is no track directly above or below the rider. And, more important to thrill seekers, that seating design enhances the car's every maneuver, causing every G-force to be felt and magnified.
It also gives the rider a unique perspective while traveling along 3,000 feet of twisting track because, rather than having your vision blocked by a person in front, the sight lines are clear throughout and allow the rider to see the obstacles racing at them.
"It's really a solid ride, one of the most unique coasters I have ever been on," said Sean Les, a Westmont resident and member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts. "I've been on over 600 different roller coasters and this isn't comparable to any of those."
The first drop -- titled the "dive drop" -- is spectacular. Riders are spun high in the air and are facing down for a lingering second before plunging 12 stories.
The ride features five inversions, including barrel rolls and zero-G loops, before heading straight toward a control tower where riders are turned to zip sideways through a cutout.
"It's really an incredible roller coaster," said rider Glenn Lawrence of Midlothian. "It's as smooth as the Raging Bull, but features more twists and zero-G rolls. It's excellent."
This is the fourth coaster operating at Great America that was created by Bolliger and Mabillard, largely considered the Rolls-Royce of roller coaster manufacturers.
The Switzerland company also manufactured park favorites Raging Bull, Superman: Ultimate Flight, and Batman: The Ride.