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Air (roller coaster)

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Entrance sign featuring the original styling of the ride's name
Alton Towers
Park section Forbidden Valley
Coordinates 52°59′09″N 1°52′55″W / 52.9859°N 1.88205°W / 52.9859; -1.88205Coordinates: 52°59′09″N 1°52′55″W / 52.9859°N 1.88205°W / 52.9859; -1.88205
Status Operating
Opening date 16 March 2002 (2002-03-16)
Cost £12 million
General statistics
Type Steel – Flying
Manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard
Designer John Wardley
Model Flying Coaster
Track layout Custom
Lift/launch system Chain lift hill
Height 20 m (66 ft)
Length 840 m (2,760 ft)
Speed 75 km/h (47 mph)
Inversions 2
Duration 1:40
Capacity 1500 riders per hour
G-force 3.5
Height restriction 140 cm (4 ft 7 in)
Trains 3 Crafts trains with 7 cars. Riders are arranged 4 across in a single row for a total of 28 riders per train.
Fastrack available
Single rider line available
Air at RCDB
Pictures of Air at RCDB

Air (abbreviation of Aerial Inversion Ride; originally stylised as air) is a steel flying roller coaster located in the Forbidden Valley area of Alton Towers in Staffordshire, England. It was the first flying rollercoaster manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard, and as a result labeled as the first successful flying rollercoaster. Guests ride in a prone position and experience the feeling of flight by "flying" close to the ground, under footpaths, and narrowly past trees and rocks. The 840-metre-long (2,760 ft) ride reaches a top speed of 75 kilometres per hour (47 mph). Air was the third 'Secret Weapon' ride to have opened.


The concept of a flying roller coaster was first conceived in 1994 and was meant to debut at Alton Towers in 1998 but due to technological limitations at the time, its realisation was delayed.[1] Flying roller coasters are characterised by passengers riding parallel with the track.[2] Shortly afterward, Bolliger & Mabillard began designing their own flying roller coaster. Alton Towers began construction of Bolliger & Mabillard' prototype flying coaster in mid-2001. Later that year, Alton Towers officially announced the ride as being an unnamed "Aerial Inversion Ride" which would open in March 2002.[3] Alton Towers later revealed that the ride's name would actually be "AIR", the abbreviation of "Aerial Inversion Ride"; it was subsequently altered to lowercase.[4][5]

In early 2002, testing of Air began with special crash test dummies. Costing £12 million to complete, Air was, at the time of its opening, tied with Oblivion as the most expensive ride at Alton Towers.[6][7] Air officially opened to the public on 16 March 2002.[6]

In April 2015, the park announced that the Air Shop is to be extended and a FoodLoop restaurant to be added in the building in 2016.

In July 2015, Alton Towers submitted planning permission to make improvements to the ride. These include the addition of a new photo kiosk, the addition of a photo opportunity into the queue, pre-show areas, walls around the station building and 2 new theming elements. These will debut in 2016, along with the restaurant. In October 2015, Alton Towers said to "prepare for a new flight" and to "watch this space", in a statement made on their website. In early November 2015, the Air Shop closed and on-ride photos stopped being sold, in preparation of the new changes.



Air was the first flying coaster installation by Swiss roller coaster manufacturer, Bolliger & Mabillard.[8] The ride was designed by John Wardley, the designer of many rides at Alton Towers and other Merlin theme parks.[9][10] The ride cost £12 million, which at the time of opening, was one of the most expensive rollercoasters ever made and the most technologically-advanced. [9]


At the time of opening, Air was the tallest ride at Alton Towers, standing 20 metres (66 feet) tall.[6][7][11] The 840-metre-long (2,760-foot) ride reaches a top speed of 75 kilometres per hour (47 miles per hour). Riders can experience up to three-and-a-half times the force of gravity whilst on the ride. One cycle of the ride lasts approximately one minute and forty seconds.[6]


Air features a dual-platform loading station, permitting three trains to operate simultaneously. Each train has seven cars, with each car carrying four riders side-by-side in a single row. This configuration allows for up to 1500 riders per hour.[6]


Station and loading[edit]

Once in the station, riders board a train sitting down, in a similar style to inverted roller coasters.[12] Riders are restrained through a padded over-the-shoulder harness and a lap bar. At the ankles, two flaps hold the legs in position and close as the harness locks into place. After a train is fully locked and checked, riders are raised into the flying position and the train departs the station.[12]

Ride layout[edit]

A train navigating the fly-to-lie
A train navigating the inline twist
Trains navigating the fly-to-lie (left) and inline twist (right) elements.

Air departs the station and rises a chain lift hill. The ride's first drop dips to the right, rises up to a 180° turn, and continues down a large drop to ground level. The track then twists so the riders are on their backs.[13] This maneuver is known as a fly-to-lie.[6] The coaster then performs a large upward left turn before twisting again, returning riders to the prone position.[13] This maneuver is known as a lie-to-fly.[6] After exiting from the lie-to-fly element, Air passes underneath a small ravine before pitching up, into a tight turn.[13] A 360° inline twist[6] is followed by a series of straight flying, and several turns and dips in the track. The train then slows in the brake run before returning to one of the station's two platforms.[13]


Preceding the ride's launch prior, and to it receiving a name, Alton Towers marketed the ride as Secret Weapon 5 (SW5).[14] This followed other similar project names at the park including SW3 and SW4 for the Nemesis and Oblivion coasters.[15][16] The pre-launch naming trend continued with SW6 and SW7 for Thirteen and The Smiler coasters, respectively.[17]

In 2002, Alton Towers entered into a five-year agreement with Cadbury Heroes, to become the ride's sponsor. This was part of a wider marketing campaign costing £4.5 million. The campaign featured the slogan "Assume the position" and consisted of a series of cinema and television commercials. Air was not marketed as a thrill ride, but rather a ride to simulate flight.[18][19]


The Tussauds Group, owners of Alton Towers in the early 2000s, claimed that Air contributed to the park's strong performance in 2002 and 2003.[20]

In Amusement Today‍ '​s annual Golden Ticket Awards, Air was ranked in the top 50 steel roller coasters numerous times following its opening. It peaked at position 24 in 2003,[21] before dropping to position 34 in 2004 and 36 in 2005.[22][23] In 2006, it tied for position 49 with another Bolliger & Mabillard flying coaster, Superman: Ultimate Flight.[24] It has not appeared in the top 50 since until 2015 it peaked at 38.[25]

In Mitch Hawker's worldwide Best Roller Coaster Poll, Air peaked at position 36 in its debut year.[26] The ride's ranking in subsequent polls is shown in the table below.

Mitch Hawker's Best Roller Coaster Poll: Best Steel-Tracked Roller Coaster[26]
Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
[nb 1]


  1. ^ No steel roller coaster poll was held in 2011.


  1. ^ "The World's First Flying Rollercoaster Opening At Alton Towers" (Press release). Alton Towers. 10 March 2002. Archived from the original on 28 May 2005. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Marden, Duane. "Glossary  (Flying)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  3. ^ Koranteng, Juliana (15 October 2001). "Coaster shoots for all ages". Amusement Business 113 (41). 
  4. ^ Koranteng, Juliana (14 January 2002). "Alton Towers debuts coaster". Amusement Business 114 (2): 9. 
  5. ^ "Air Rollercoaster". Alton Towers. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Marden, Duane. "Air  (Alton Towers)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 26 January 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Marden, Duane. "Oblivion  (Alton Towers)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  8. ^ Marden, Duane. "Roller Coaster Search Results  (Flying Coasters)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  9. ^ a b Gogarty, Paul (6 July 2002). "Tight buckles, white knuckles and screeeams!". The Daily Telegraph (Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  10. ^ Ralph, Owen (9 August 2010). "John Wardley". Park World Magazine. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  11. ^ Marden, Duane. "Nemesis  (Alton Towers)". Roller Coaster DataBase. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  12. ^ a b Bevil, Dewayne (17 November 2008). "Manta on demand: more details about SeaWorld coaster under construction". Orlando Sentinel. Archived from the original on April 14, 2009. Retrieved 27 January 2013. 
  13. ^ a b c d Bell, Ian (13 October 2006). "Air, Alton Towers POV". Coaster Force. YouTube. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  14. ^ "All Time Greats - Air". Alton Towers. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  15. ^ "All Time Greats - Nemesis". Alton Towers. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  16. ^ "All Time Greats - Oblivion". Alton Towers. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  17. ^ MacDonald, Brady (29 November 2011). "Top 13 for 2013: Best new rides at theme parks around the world". Los Angeles Times (Tribune Company). Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  18. ^ Koranteng, Juliana (1 July 2002). "TiLE Group Looks At New Trends, Ideas". Amusement Business 114 (26): 1, 9. 
  19. ^ Koranteng, Juliana (22 December 2003). "Despite Economic Woes, Attendance Stable In Europe". Amusement Business 115 (51): 11, 15. 
  20. ^ "Top 50 steel roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today. September 2003. 
  21. ^ "Top 50 steel roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today. September 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 April 2007. Retrieved 1 May 2013. 
  22. ^ "Top 50 steel roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today. September 2005. 
  23. ^ "Top 50 steel roller coasters" (PDF). Amusement Today. September 2006. 
  24. ^ "Issue Archive". Golden Ticket Awards. Amusement Today. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 
  25. ^ a b Hawker, Mitch. "Steel Roller Coaster Poll 12 Year Results Table (1999 - 2012)". Best Roller Coaster Poll. Retrieved 27 April 2013. 

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