Nighthawk & Batwing | Vekoma Flying Roller Coasters
Flying roller coasters are about the closest thing to human flight that the amusement industry can offer. Riders are treated to a thrilling face down riding position with nothing between them and the ground, but the ride’s restraints.
My first Vekoma flyer was Batwing at Six Flags America in Maryland. While I’m a huge B&M fan, in some ways I preferred it to B&M’s Superman: Ultimate Flight clones. It’s pretty similar in layout to Carowinds’ flying coaster so I’m going to review them together.
Vekoma introduced the first large scale flying roller coaster back in 2000 with Stealth at California’s Great America. In 2003, the roller coaster made a cross country trip to Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina where it became BORG Assimilator. Now, in the post-Paramount era, Carowinds has dubbed it Nighthawk.
A Strange Ride Experience
The ride experience begins quite differently than your typical roller coaster. Guests board four-across cars that, at first, have upright seats facing backwards. Once the lap bar and over the shoulder harnesses are in place, the train reclines and now the riders are on their backs facing the ceiling of the station. The train dispatches with guests feeling like their strapped into some kind of weird torture device. After a strange trip up the 115-foot lift hill the train inverts putting the riders in a face down flying position.
Nighthawk & Batwing Take Flight!
The train dives towards the ground and then back up into a wide swooping turn called a horseshoe (pictured above). Then, riders are flipped over to their backs once again setting them up for an inside vertical loop. Where B&M’s flying coasters like Manta and Tatsu feature pretzel loops that send riders diving towards the ground for a downward loop, the Vekoma loopers perform a somewhat typical vertical loop. I say “somewhat typical” because it feels nothing like a vertical loop experienced from a traditional seated position. It’s a pretty unique and disorienting feeling that’s hard to describe. When I first experienced it, I equated to what it must feel like to be tubled in a clothes dryer.
Then the train returns to face-down flight mode for a twisted finale. On Batwing, the train traverses a pair of tight in-line twists. On Nighthawk, the ride finishes with a wider, but similar, pair of corkscrews. I prefer Nighthawk’s double corkscrews as the transition to set them up is rather jarring and unpredictable. Going from fly-to-lie position, taking a short turn, and then being thrown into that first corkscrew is a wild sequence of elements. Meanwhile, Batwing is a bit longer as it treats riders to a tight downward helix after it’s in-line twists.
Enthusiasts are a little surprised when I speak positively about Vekoma flyers. They have a pretty bad maintenance record as was apparent during Nighthawk’s absence from the night time exclusive ride time at Coaster Stock. Loading is very slow even with the four-across trains and Batwing’s dual loading station. This causes long lines no matter how busy the parks really are. Lastly, they’re not as smooth as B&M’s flying coasters.
To their credit their more open layout is fun and they feel a good bit longer than the Ultimate Flight clones although Nighthawk is about the same length. It must be all of the switching from fly-to-lie and vice versa that makes them feel longer.. At the end of the day though, I’d put both of these flying roller coasters slightly above B&M’s Ultimate Flight clones (which I gave a 7), but nowhere near as good as Manta and Tatsu (which I both awarded 9′s). Final Rating – 7.5 (Good Approaching Great)
Nighthawk & Batwing are rated ‘IN’ for Intense. They’re a 4 out of 5 on my Thrill Scale for of their extreme riding position.
Note – All of those transitions from lie-to-fly and from fly-to-lie with the actual loop and twisted inversions bring these roller coaster’s inversions to a total of 5.
What’s Your Take?
What do you think about Nighthawk at Carowinds and Batwing at Six Flags America? Do you agree with my review? Leave a comment below. Image 5 courtesy of CoasterImage.