It’s May of 2015, and pretty much all parks around the country have opened their gates for the season. Many of which have some shiny new rides to show off to the world, and one of the most notable additions to the roller coaster world plopped down in the middle-of-nowhere, Indiana.
Actually, the real name of the town is Santa Claus, Indiana, and the theme park is Holiday World, one of the best small theme parks in the country. Brand spanking new for 2015 is Thunderbird, America’s first launched wing coaster, and I recently headed there to check it out.
Thunderbird sits in the very back of the park right next to Voyage. Holiday World gave the ride an Indiana farm theme, with a big barn serving as the station, and several small touches like wagons, wind towers, and old-looking post fences. The whole area looked VERY nice. Definitely a step-up from Holiday World’s previous attempts at theming.
On a wing coaster, riders hang off each side of the track, giving the sensation of riding on the wing of an airplane. It’s a very cool sensation that feels very much like flying as there is nothing above or below you.
The ride begins by slowly rolling out of the station and into a “launch room,” where the train pauses for a few seconds as loud booming sounds of thunder play and strobe lights flash. A spray of mist fills the room just before the train launches from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds. The launch provides quite the kick, and it’s a fantastic way to start the ride.
Next, the train soars into a gigantic 140 ft immalmann loop (that’s a half loop with a twisting roll out at the top).
The winged train then dives down to the ground fighter pilot style to lead into the next inversion.
That inversion is a huge 125 ft vertical loop. Coming out of the loop, Thunderbird crosses over Voyage just a few feet below and enters the deep woods of the park.
Thunderbird then flies into a figure-8 maneuver where it rises and banks into a hard right turn that spirals down to the ground.
Then it rises again and repeats the previous element in the opposite direction, banking left and again spiraling out to the ground.
Thunderbird’s next move is a very quick but graceful Zero-g roll to the right. That is followed by a small s-curve hill with some airtime.
For the ride’s finale, the train dives through a rickety barn for a great head-chopper effect, spirals up through a 270-degree helix to the left, and finishes with a long inline twist through the same barn that gives some awesome hang time upside down. I wish I had pictures of those last elements, but it was impossible to get a good shot as they are very far back from the park walkways behind Voyage.
Until 2015, Holiday World never had a major steel coaster to sit alongside the park’s 3 famous wooden coasters. The entire coaster enthusiast community wanted it to happen more and more as Holiday World became a more prominent theme park in the industry. So when the time came to add a steel coaster, the park decided to go BIG, as in $22 million big, and call up Bolliger & Mabillard (or B&M as their often called) to build the new coaster.
After riding it myself, I can say that it was SO worth it. Thunderbird is an incredibly fun roller coaster. It is super smooth and graceful, yet quick-paced with plenty of forces throwing you around in lots of different directions. I rode it 5 times on my visit, making sure to ride on both sides of the train as well as ride in the front and back rows, and every ride was different and exciting. I’ve ridden all the B&M wing coasters in the country, and this one is definitely the best of the bunch. My one critique for Thunderbird is that the ride is pretty short and could’ve been a little longer to me, so for that I knock off a couple of points. However, the smoothness of the ride makes it VERY re-ridable, something I can’t say about Holiday World’s wooden coasters due to their roughness.
So Thunderbird gets my official thumbs-up seal of approval. Great job, Holiday World! Can’t wait for the next big coaster!
THUNDERBIRD RATING: 8 / 10 (Great!)
What do you guys think of Thunderbird? Let me know in the comments below! Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!