The ride is now open. Read my review of Iron Rattler.
When is a wooden coaster not a wooden coaster? It's getting harder and harder to answer that question as ride designers develop new hybrid mashups. Case in point: Iron Rattler, coming to Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio. The former all-wooden Rattler is getting a radical makeover and will debut as a steel-wooden hybrid when it reopens in 2013.
- Type of coaster: Hybrid steel-wooden
- Top speed: 70 mph
- Drop: 171 feet
- Ride manufacturer: Rocky Mountain Construction
See the Ride
Steel Yourself for a Great RideBuilt into an imposing quarry, the ride, dubbed a terrain coaster, will make use of its topography to deliver a wild experience. After its traditional chain hill lift, it will dive, at a precarious 81 degrees (a scant 9 degrees shy of a straight shot) down a stomach-churning 171 feet alongside the wall of the quarry and deep into its valley. Riders will fly past the 100-foot tall rock walls at 70 mph.
It will then navigate one of four highly overbanked turns as it snakes along its route. An inverted barrel roll follows, turning passengers upside down. At one point, the train will roar through the quarry wall into a dark, fog-filled tunnel. Yowsa!
In these days of mega, hyper, giga, humungo coasters, a ride that drops 171 feet and hits 70 mph, while impressive (and potentially a whole lotta fun to ride), is not all that distinctive. A wooden coaster with those specifications would be distinctive indeed. It would match the world's fastest woodie, El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure. And its drop would rank it number two as the longest, just behind El Toro.
Wood You Believe It's Steel?But, this is where it gets tricky: Iron Rattler won't be considered a wooden coaster. It will have a wooden structure, but its track will be made of steel. That, in itself, is not all that unique. There are other hybrid coasters, such as Gemini at Cedar Point that marry a steel track to a wooden base. And there are rides, such as Coney Island's famous Cyclone, that merge a traditional wooden track with a steel structure. The Fiesta Texas ride, however, will use a flat, I-beam-shaped steel track, as opposed to the tubular steel tracks found on traditional steel coasters.
Confused yet? Stay with me here. The unique track is being built by Rocky Mountain Construction, the same ride designer that rebuilt the Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas and created the New Texas Giant that opened in 2011 to great acclaim. That coaster also features what the ride company calls its "Iron Horse Track" on a wooden structure. The two Texas coasters are the only ones to use the newfangled track. They both use most of their original wooden structures.
The steel track allows the New Texas Giant (and presumably Iron Rattler) to look and, to a degree, feel like a wooden coaster, but to deliver a remarkably smoother ride. It also allows the Fiesta Texas coaster to include elements, such as its inversion, that traditional wooden coasters can't match. (Although Kings Island's infamous -- and now defunct -- Son of Beast briefly had a steel-tracked loop in the middle of its wooden track.)
Turning a Ratty Old Ride into a Rattling New RideLike the Texas Giant, Rattler was a wooden coaster that had seen better days. Actually, Rattler courted controversy from the day it opened in 1992. It was originally built with a 166-foot drop, but its high speeds and G-forces caused many rider complaints. Six Flags decreased the initial drop to 124 feet, thereby diminishing the ride's speed and forces. Along with the addition of the steel track, Rocky Mountain is restoring the initial drop and then some by making it 171 feet.
The Iron Horse Track on Iron Rattler is not to be confused with the "topper" track, another Rocky Mountain Construction innovation, that is being used on coasters such as Outlaw Run coming to Silver Dollar City in 2013. That ride will use a traditional wooden "stack" of track rails topped by a steel track. On Iron Rattler, the wooden track is being completely removed and will be replaced by a single steel track beam. Like the Fiesta Texas coaster, Outlaw Run will include inversions; in that case, the upside-down elements will be made possible by the addition of the topper track. Because its track will be made primarily of wood, the Silver Dollar City ride (like similar thrill machines) will be considered a wooden coaster.
In the end, it doesn't really matter all that much whether a ride is considered wood or steel, how many inversions it includes (if any), and what materials are used in its construction. What coaster fans want are great rides. If the New Texas Giant is any indication, fans at Six Flags Fiesta Texas likely have a great ride coming in 2013.