One hasn’t been officially built yet, but I was able to ride the prototype of the next evolution in roller coasters that may have you wondering How? What? Where?
By Justin Landers
X2, 4D Freespin, Axis … The evolution seemed so natural. Back in the early 2000s, a major roller coaster manufacturer by the name of Arrow was designing what many thought would be the future of coasters. They had designed a new ride system that would use four rails instead of the traditional two, and two of those rails would be used to rotate the seats as the coaster went through its layout. That design was called X. It’s now known as X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, and it’s one of the most intense, insane, and out of this world coasters. With a first drop of more than 200 feet that you take face down, it’s by far my favorite first drop on any roller coaster out of the more than 200 I have ridden. Unfortunately, the extreme expense of the new design was too much for Arrow to handle that new creation put them out of business.
Fast forward a few years and enter Sansei Technologies (S&S), a company originally known for their drop towers. They figured out how to use their air launch system for roller coasters. S&S purchased a lot of the patents Arrow had to sell off, including the ones for the 4D design. They would go on to build two 4D coasters in Asia, but never another in the United States until 2015, when Six Flags Fiesta Texas presented the Batman: The Ride with a new ride system using rotating seats designed by S&S. This new design would have free-spinning seats, unlike the original Arrow design that had controlled spins caused by the rails. These 4D free-spin models would rotate freely based on weight and timing. Many have been installed throughout the world.
Now fast forward to 2019. As I’m walking through the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Expo showroom floor, and there’s a buzz coming from the S&S booth. It’s very clear they have unveiled something new, something exciting, and something we haven’t seen before.
They took 4D and flipped it on its Axis. This is the next generation of 4D coasters. They created a vehicle capable of swinging side to side all the way around, instead of forward and backwards around. It can literally float above the track, and float it does. At IAAPA, S&S had an animation of it, and it turns out they had built a 800-foot-long prototype in the backyard of their factory. Do the physics even work though? Is this even possible? Well, after some discussion with their staff, I was poised to find out myself … eventually.
Being that IAAPA is in November, and S&S is in Utah, well, winter is a problem. Eight long months later …
In early June I reconnected with S&S, and set up a date to come take photos and videos for some promotion material and have an opportunity to experience this new insanity for myself.
As I drove up to the facility, I could clearly see two small sets of roller coaster track in the distance. One was their old Steeplechase model; the other was the next generation of fourth dimension gravity defying glory. The prototype works off a launch system, due to the limitations of height because they are very close to an airport, but they made it clear that the actual model could also work with a lift hill. So, what is it like?
Well, when you sit down alone, the first thing you notice is the seat drops. In fact, if you ride with someone even, the first thing you notice is it sways to whichever side is heavier, even if it’s only a slight difference. That’s certainly not a normal feeling for a roller coaster.
As the coaster launches (approximately 0-70 in 1.8 seconds on the prototype! WOAH!) I am thrust back into my seat; then, what looks like an outer bank turn flipped me over, but it only flipped the vehicles, as the track doesn’t do a full inversion. Wait! Did I just do a barrel roll even though the track didn’t? I’m not sure I have time to figure it out as I’m immediately on the side of the track instead of above it in the next element, a banked turn, that immediately drops me into something no other coaster has ever done. I’m not so sure this next element even has a name, as the coaster floats over the track providing a bit of sustained airtime. I made one more fast bank to the right that was so sharp, the cart rotated almost 90 degrees through the final element. It blew past the launch track and back up toward the first section that inverted. Then I rolled back, about half way through the small 800 foot prototype course, all the way through the track float section, before rolling back forward and coming to a stop near the launch portion of the track. This prototype has no breaks, so I rocked to a stop.
Here’s my first ride reaction:
I have no words at this moment. How? What? Where? Nevermind, my mind couldn’t comprehend what just happened. I guess I need to try it again.
Launch. Repeat. Launch. Repeat. Launch. Repeat. I just cannot wrap my mind around what is happening.
Here’s a point of view video from the front and back:
After somewhere north of six or so rides, I finally had an understanding of what’s happening. Barely. I could sit here and try to describe this all day, but I would just end up talking in circles. So much happened in 800 feet of track that it may as well be a full coaster in itself, but it isn’t. In fact, the full-scale version is going to be even more insane.
So, which theme park is getting one? Well, we don’t know. When can you ride it? Again, we don’t know. Once a park purchases one from S&S, it’ll be a while before it’s built and ready to ride. Also note that whatever theme park company buys it, they will name it themselves, so it may not have Axis in the title. But you’ll know it when you see it.
But, there is a lot we did learn about the design and the tracking system. The coaster rotations feel random, but are actually extremely controlled. While there may be some slight variation based on weight, every element was designed to make the car do what they want. In the back seat POV in the video above you can see a giant “wheel” made of metal on the back of the seat that rotates. That wheel actually contains magnets that control the speed of rotation. The roller coaster’s speed and the track transitions determine exactly what the car is going to do. This is roller coaster design taken to the next level.
Unfortunately, as this prototype isn’t open to the public. You may have to wait a few years to fully understand what that next level coaster is. I promise though, it’ll be worth the wait.
Sorry Steel Vengeance, you are no longer my number one roller coaster. That title belongs to 800 feet of track in an empty field in the middle of nowhere Utah.
*Please note: This is a closed and working facility. This coaster is a prototype of a future model and is not available to the public.
• 29-year-old Justin Landers owns Just Shoot Light Multimedia Productions. He has been involved in the amusement and theme park industry since 2013 as a freelance photographer and videographer. You can follow him on Instagram at Inverted_Therapy and Just_Shoot_Light. You can also follow him on YouTube.