I had heard that Kennywood's newest ride, the Sky Rocket, was unique in that it flipped riders upside-down and lifted them off their seats as though they were flying.
But as park employees locked me into the coaster Wednesday morning for the first of the four runs, a roller-coaster enthusiast who had tested the ride the night before offered this startling revelation: the Sky Rocket's two unique features occurred at the same time!
Members of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) had praised the Sky Rocket's comfort, but I feared that people who had been on hundreds and hundreds of coasters might have a skewed view of what constitutes a smooth ride.
With three different inversions throughout the shiny, bright blue track, the Sky Rocket is the only current Kennywood coaster to flip riders upside-down, and the first since 2001. While not as high or as big as Kennywood favorite the Phantom's Revenge, the constant twists and turns the track takes on its 2,100-foot course make the ride seem daunting to the faint of heart.
Fortunately, the ACE members' opinions on the Sky Rocket hold up for the average roller-coaster rider.
Four runs in quick succession on the 65-second ride were certainly a thrill, but by no means strenuous. Somehow, hurtling through the air as the coaster rotated on its side 360 degrees -- commonly referred to as a "barrel roll" -- felt rather ... comfortable. This was most likely due to the Sky Coaster's harness system, which locks you in at your waist rather shoulders, while still preventing you from moving too much in your seat.
For those brave enough to raise their hands in the air during the ride, the harness system allows riders to truly feel like they are flying for a split-second while upside-down without being uncomfortably lurched from their seats.
"What I really like about this coaster is the re-rideableness," ACE member Kenneth Riling of Wilkins said. "You could ride this all day and not get a headache."
The highlight of the Sky Rocket, besides its various inversions, is the 0-to-50 mph launch up 95 feet in just three seconds. As opposed to most coasters -- such as the Phantom, for example -- the Sky Rocket is at its fastest during this ascent. The rider feels a sudden lurch as the Sky Rocket's innovative Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) technology uses a magnetic field to launch the coaster up the track at high speeds before one of two "cliffhanger" moments -- momentary pauses that create suspense for riders.
"The launch is really fun. You come around and you're moving and then, 'Boom!' all of a sudden you start to go really fast," ACE member Lee Ann Draud of Philadelphia said. "The really big thrill is when you get to the top of that first hill and you kind of go over the top, and 'Boom!', you go down. ... It's just a lot of fun."
The second half of the ride, mostly smaller bumps called "bunny hops" and sharp turns, does not match the level of exhilaration provided in the ride's first 30 seconds, but this would have been a difficult feat to accomplish no matter what.
And because the Sky Rocket does not waste time pulling coasters up steep hills, the coaster's short ride will allow quick turnover between rides -- and thus shorter waiting time.
The Sky Rocket was built by Premier Rides of Millersville, Md., and is the first of its rides to use LSM technology, although it has already used a similar yet less efficient technology on other coasters, Kennywood electrician Carlos Velez said. Construction began in August when the Turnpike ride was removed to make room for Kennywood's newest coaster.
Kennywood spokesman Jeff Filicko said the Sky Rocket offers an exciting complement to Kennywood's historic side.
"It's kind of ironic to have a brand-new steel coaster here down the midway from a wooden coaster that's celebrating its 90th anniversary," he said. "I think this is a testament to Kennywood's dedication to combining the best of the old classic rides with the best modern thrills."
The Sky Rocket opens to the public on Tuesday at Kennywood Amusement Park in West Mifflin.
Chris Merriman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2193. First Published June 24, 2010 4:00 AM