ThrillRide

 


 

Millennium Force

The Hypercoaster Rules No More.

It was just a little over ten years ago that the Hypercoaster was born. And the park that spawned this gargantuan new breed of rollercoasters was, of course, Cedar Point of Sandusky, Ohio.

Cedar Fair, L.P., president and CEO Richard Kinzel explains: "Cedar Point has one of the oldest roller coaster heritages in the world. Our first roller coaster, the 25-foot-tall Switchback Railway, opened in 1892 and traveled at 10 mph. Thrill rides are our birthright, and we needed a signature attraction that would make a statement. At the time, the industry was really into looping roller coasters, but I wanted something different, completely one of a kind. It had to be the tallest and fastest steel thriller in the world, but feature the hills and turns experienced on classic wooden roller coasters like the Coney Island Cyclone."

In August of 1988, site preparation and construction began. More than 40 companies spent 10 months battling Mother Nature's wintry fury to set more than 350 concrete footers in place (some with bases larger than a city bus) and weld together 568 tons of 10-foot-wide steel columns. And on May 6, 1989, the Arrow Dynamics-designed $8 million Magnum XL-200 was officially launched. Hauled by a 1,060-foot-long, seven-ton lift chain to the top of what was then a record-annihilating 205-foot peak, Magnum XL-200's first train rocketed into our hearts at a speed of 72 miles per hour. From that day forward, any coaster with a hill or drop measuring greater than 200 feet in height would be known as a hypercoaster.

In the decade that followed, Arrow went on to build Kennywood's Steel Phantom, a looping hypercoaster whose second drop falls 225 feet; Buffalo Bill's Desperado on the California/Nevada state border; and overseas, Blackpool Pleasure Beach's Pepsi Max Big One.

In the mid 1990's, D.H. Morgan Manufacturing made a name for itself by creating its spectacular hypercoaster trio: Wild Thing, for Valleyfair, Steel Force for Dorney Park and Mamba for Worlds of Fun. And in 1999, both Intamin and Bolliger & Mabillard broke through the 200-foot ceiling, Intamin delivering Superman: Ride of Steel to Six Flags Darien Lake and B&M unleashing their radical "Speed" Coasters, Raging Bull at Six Flags Great America and Apollo's Chariot at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

And as we move into the next millennium, the hypercoaster continues to thrive. For 2000, Intamin has created two more of its hyper-active S:ROS machines, one for Six Flags New England and one for Six Flags America. And Giovanola came to the party early this year with Six Flags Magic Mountain's bone-crushing Goliath, at 255 feet tall, the largest hypercoaster ever constructed.

But once again, Cedar Point has shaken the Thrillseeking world to its core with something that makes its own Magnum-XL 200 look Lilliputian. Friends, welcome to the era of the Giga-Coaster.

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So I'm scheduled to fly from New York to Ohio on Delta's Flight 711 the afternoon of Wednesday, May 10th, arriving the night before Cedar Point's Millennium Force media preview on the 11th. The local weather reports were a bit dire, but far as I could tell, we'd be in the air well before any serious rain started falling. Didn't even bother to call ahead and check if 711's departure might be delayed. D'oh.

By the time I got to La Guardia, most flights out of all three New York airports had already been canceled outright, and the few that still held out any vain hope of an eventual runway slot were pushed back by hours. As the sky grew darker, things looked worse and worse. Fl. 711's original 3:40 PM gate closure had become 5:45, then 6:30... then 7:45. And when I'd returned from choking down an $8 sandwich and a $2 bag of chips, there it was, glowing in an awful amber light above the check-in counter: CANCELED. "[Expletives deleted]."

The best Delta could offer was a stand-by ticket on a flight to Atlanta at 10:00 PM, and then a confirmed seat on a flight from Atlanta to Cincinnati at 6:00 AM the next morning. Given the number of stranded passengers already milling about, that stand-by looked like a sucker's bet. Perhaps this just wasn't gonna happen...

But then my inner Thrillseeker began to bark like a drill sergeant: "You're going to let this little setback stop you? We're talking about Millennium Force, scrub! Shut yer pie-hole, suck in that gut and start driving! Double-time, soldier!"

I high-tailed it to the rental counter, grabbed a Dodge Neon and put the hammer down. By 7:00 PM, I'd crossed over into New Jersey with 700 miles in front of me. Sheets of water falling, heavy winds blowing, lightning exploding in all directions... had I lost my mind?

Around 1:00 AM, I'd almost reached Pennsylvania's western border and figured I better pull over, get a little shut-eye. But with morning light breaking, I was back on the highway, bleary-eyed and again questioning my mental health.

And then, a little after 9:00 AM, approaching the Cedar Point causeway, I got my first look at that already infamous profile, rising like a ghostly apparition (a steel phantom, as it were) before a gray, misty sky:

Had I been in a Tex Avery cartoon, my eyes would have leapt from their sockets, my jaw landing in my lap, my tongue rolling out like a party streamer: Aaah-OOOOOO-Gaaa!

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There's big, there's bigger, there's really huge, there's "are you kidding me?"

And then there's Millennium Force. It's obscene.

Since last July, when the park first announced this $25 million monstrosity, we've all watched as it's grown, gazed in awe at those construction images on the Point's web site. But when you finally see it in the flesh...

Down the midway, jogging to the left past Iron Dragon and the Wildcat, looming just over there, right alongside Mantis. More than 30 stories high. With that 80-degree plunge. "[More expletives deleted]."

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In the barest sense, Millennium Force is a "standard" rollercoaster; we're carried up a big hill sittin' in a two-per-row train and once we're over the first peak, gravity takes care of the rest. But this coaster sports all kinds of wonky technology, like its amazing lift mechanicals.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Millennium Force's new elevator cable system was developed because a traditional chain loop would simply have weighed too much (remember that Magnum's lift chain tips the scales at seven tons, and it's only two-thirds as tall). So Intamin engineered what is essentially a big tow line attached to a drum beneath the lift hill. The tow line runs from the drum up to the peak of the hill and down its 45-degree slope into the station.

As a train engages the end of the tow cable, a computer system that regulates the contraption powers up an 800-horsepower motor that drives a set of sprocketed gears connected to the drum. The gears shift, the drum turns, the cable is reeled in and we're dragged skyward... very quickly.

Then there are the vehicles themselves, the same open-air trains that run on Intamin's Supermen. As can be seen in the shot at left, the rear seats are slightly raised, allowing for a better view from those positions. And with almost nothing in the way of sidewalls, it's all clear off the port and starboard sides. And when you're climbing that lift, hoo-doggies...

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The queue takes ya back and forth inside the Force's last overbanked turn and alongside the magnetic brake run (the only braking on the entire course, by the way), a fine spot to listen to the ecstatic yelping and gasping as each train slides back into the station. Two bits of advice: 1) Wait for the front seat. 2) Wait for the front seat. Why?

For starters, we can savor how abruptly the cobalt blue box-beam track angles up towards the sky right out of the station. We also get to watch as the tow cable slithers down underneath the low-slung nose of the lead car.

We begin to move; all smooth and quiet-like, the cable drags us a foot or two. But without warning...

"[Still more expletives deleted]!" We start jamming up that immense incline, tipping back, waaaay back. According to park officials, we've only got about 22 seconds before we ain't goin' up no more, so look around now. On the right, all of Cedar Point and its endless thrill ride smorgasbord... Tinker toys from the heights we're at in a heartbeat. Ack. On the left, water and more water. Eep. Eyes front, it's nothing but the top getting closerandcloserandcloser.

I couldn't help but recall my first ride on the Power Tower and the slapdoodles dancing in my gut when we reached that hellraiser's 240-foot drop point... and we're scrambling still another 70 feet higher.

280, 290, 300 feet... we start to level off. And as our car glides over the top of Millennium Force's exalted, voluptuous 310-foot apex, the horizon rises. And rises.

And rises.

And soon, we can't see the horizon any more. Because we're looking straight down.

Lean forward, raise your arms and feel all of creation screaming up at you as we hurtle down this abominable cliff to a top speed of Ninety-Three miles per hour. Several merciless, synapse-blasting seconds of near free-fall. No, it isn't a completely vertical descent, but try telling that to your brain when we're bombing down what is likely the greatest first drop on any coaster, of any kind, ever built.

Friends, it is everything we'd hoped it would be.

Rocketing like a bullet train, we plow through a long, sweeping valley only to soar up into the first of the Force's signature overbanked turns, 122 degrees off vertical, 169 feet over terra firma.

So smooth, so graceful, not a jolt, not a single funky shimmy, just wheel-smokin' speed as we soar up and twist, lean over, and keep right on rollin' like there was no tomorrow. Damn!

Diving back down, we skim over the planet's crust, careen through a bend and race into our first tunnel. Outta the darkness and into the light, we whip right up to the top of this coaster's second greatest elevation, a 182-foot-tall lipsmacker (less than 20 feet shy of Magnum's claim to fame) where, yes, airtime is in abundance.

In the back, it's fine, but in the front, divine. Nothing severe, just a sweet, gradual floater, like a negative-G palate cleanser before we move on to the Force's twister-like second course.

Out over the coaster's isolated "island," we lunge nearly to ground-level again and enter a pretzel-shaped whirlwind, hustling non-stop into another elevated, overbanked turn. Poetry in motion, bay-bay!

Down, around and back up again, through still another overbanked turn, canting this way and that, ascending and descending, still moving with furious intensity, yet never hitting a millimeter of track that doesn't feel just right. Every steel coaster, no matter how big or small, should run like this puppy.

Leaving the island behind, we vault over a smaller hill that gets our bods goin' airborne again, and cruise down into a second tunnel, carving through a sharp turn to the left.

Up alongside the boarding station, there's a bunny hop awaitin', and we do some rump-raising one last time.

A short straightaway sends the train whistling into a final whoop-dee-doo U-turn and we glide into the electromagnetic clutches of Intamin's high-tech brake run.

Stunning, that's the only word for it.

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Once again, Cedar Point has raised the bar for the rest of the world and that leads to the inevitable question - when will we see more giga-coasters? Well, Japan is soon to have its own; Nagashima Spaland's Steel Dragon 2000, from Morgan Manufacturing, is due to open in August.

Problem is, they don't come cheap, so we can't expect them to grow like crabgrass. But based upon the rabid reaction this thrill ride has generated, I'd guess that Millennium Force is unlikely to remain the only giga-coaster on the North American continent for too terribly long.

The Force's three-plus-hour lines tell us something else, too: we aren't even close to hitting the limits of what the general public will ride. I'm projecting a bit here, but can a 400-footer - a "tera-coaster" - be decades away? Maybe.

And maybe not.

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Millennium Force

  • TRACK LENGTH: 6,595 Feet
  • TOP SPEED: 93 Miles Per Hour
  • MAX. HEIGHT: 310 feet
  • MAX. DROP: 300 feet
  • MAX. DESCENT ANGLE: 80 Degrees
  • RIDE DURATION: Approx. 2 minutes
  • CARS: Three trains composed of nine cars, four passengers per car. Each car accommodates two passengers across.
  • CAPACITY: Approx. 1,600 guests per hour
  • MANUFACTURER: Intamin AG, Wollerau, Switzerland

Millennium Force logo artwork courtesy Cedar Point. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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© Robert Coker.
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