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The sporadic erratic flight of The Bat

John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

Throughout its 45-year history, Kings Island has become known for developing groundbreaking rides, roller coasters and experiences. However one attraction likely holds more mystery and interest than any other roller coaster ever built – at ANY park.  It was an attraction so monumental that it still garners exaggerated tales of wild, uncontrolled rides by those few guests that experienced it. The long-demolished coaster remains one of most often-recalled memories among Kings Island fans, and its removal became the fuel for many urban myths and rumors. Ironically, while considered one of Kings Island’s most thrilling coasters, much of the notoriety and success of “The Bat” is due, in large part, to the fact that the ride failed. 

Let’s first clear up some confusion. Currently, there is a suspended coaster operating at Kings Island named “The Bat.” The ride currently in operation at the park was built as “Top Gun” in 1993, re-named “Flight Deck” in 2006 and then re-named “The Bat” in 2014. However, it is NOT the original suspended coaster called “The Bat.”  The ORIGINAL “The Bat”, which is the subject of this blog, only lasted a few years in the early 1980’s.  Confusing, huh?

Next, let’s clear up those pesky urban myths. No one was ever killed on “The Bat.” No one was ever injured on “The Bat.” No cars ever fell off the track. People never fell out of the ride. The train never smashed into a support column… etc. etc. etc. The rumors surrounding the ride’s removal have, through the years, evolved into sort of an “Elvis is still alive” folklore. Lots of people claim to have seen or heard about it, but it’s simply false rumor. The fact is, the reason the ride is no longer at Kings Island is because it was poorly engineered, didn’t operate enough and it spent more time closed than open. It was NOT due to any sort of safety accident.  So, the next time you hear someone say something like: “I was there the day “The Bat” crashed at Kings Island” or “My friend saw “The Bat” fall off the track” - it simply isn’t true. 

Now that we’ve cleared up those things, let’s review the true story of the notorious coaster. 

In the 1970’s, Arrow Development was the premier coaster and amusement ride manufacturer in the world. Started in 1947, the company had made a name for itself developing many of the original rides at Disneyland. As more and more theme parks were built in the 1960’s and 70’s, the company vastly expanded its technology and product catalog. By the mid-1970’s, Arrow’s operating ride list included: 25 sports car rides, 50 antique car rides, seven dark rides, four rub-a-dub rides, five space whirls, eight merry go-rounds, 50 water flume rides, two steeplechase rides, 10 combination system rides and 25 special conveyance systems. In addition, Arrow had developed what they referred to as “tubular-track technology” first used on “Matterhorn Bobsleds” at Disneyland.  This was the genesis of steel coaster manufacturing as we now know it.  Essentially, steel running tubes connected to a support spine took the place of wood track, and cars used polyurethane wheels riding above, below and inside the rails. This allowed for smoother-more durable rides.  This also allowed for the bending and twisting of coaster elements, tighter axis, sharper turns and directional changes.  In the 1960’s, Arrow used this technology to create what they referred to as “runaway mine trains” (think “Adventure Express”) that began popping up at various parks. However in the early 1970’s, Arrow’s advancement in tubular track technology turned the modern coaster world upside-down… literally. 

In 1974, Arrow opened its first looping steel coaster (the “Corkscrew”) and suddenly parks all over the country were clamoring to install a steel coaster that took riders upside-down. Kings Island was no different, and the park introduced its first looping steel coaster in 1977 with the addition of “Screamin’ Demon.” Manufactured by Arrow, the coaster was a “launched shuttle loop” that inverted riders twice – once forward, once backward, through a single clothoid (upside-down, teardrop shape) loop.  However, the ride wasn’t Kings Island’s first foray with Arrow Development. The manufacturer had previously built other types of rides for Cincinnati’s Coney Island, and 10 of Kings Island’s early rides were designed and built by Arrow as well. 

Following the successful installation of “The Screamin’ Demon” Kings Island proceeded with plans to add their next major coaster.  However, the park opted to install a large wooden coaster, forgoing the modern steel coaster trend for the time-being. That decision would give the world “The Beast” and catapulted the park to the apex of theme-park and roller coaster interest. The immense success of “The Beast” set the precedent for Kings Island to add more premier roller-coasters in the future.  What many don’t know is, even before the record-breaking “Beast” was completed, Kings Island executives had already begun looking ahead to their next major roller coaster installation.  Seeing a proliferation in the looping coasters, the park didn’t want to simply stay the course.  Based on their success of groundbreaking rides and attractions, they sought to install something different – and so on the heels of the successful “Screamin’ Demon” they began looking to Arrow for ideas. 

At that very same time, Arrow had begun work on what they were calling the “next generation” of coasters.  Initial development of a revolutionary coaster design was underway in which riders would hang underneath the track, giving the sensation of flight. Arrow had built a model and then a working prototype for what they coined a “suspended” coaster. Its design was based on the idea that the riders sat in trains hanging underneath inverted track held in place by “upside-down” L-shaped supports. The trains themselves would consist of enclosed cars suspended by and overhead chassis via a “hinged” steel arm allowing the car to swing from right to left. The layout of the coaster’s track would incorporate many twists and turns so, as the train’s chassis maneuvered the corners, the cars would swing from side-to-side via inertia. The idea wasn’t exactly new. There had been unsuccessful attempts at a “hanging coaster” in the early 1900’s and another recent attempt at a German Octoberfest in 1975.  The Arrow version was a state-of-the-art design that would allow them to develop it as a permanent, major amusement park ride. However, in order to fully realize the idea, the manufacturer needed a large park willing to partner with them to install a full-scale, full-course, operational version.

Due to their previously established relationship with the company, and their desire to install something ground-breaking, Kings Island park executives traveled to Arrow’s Mountain View California facility in 1978. There they were shown, and test rode, the “suspended” prototype.  Taft executives then made the decision to partner with Arrow and further develop the new coaster concept. The agreement allowed Arrow to build and test a full scale version, while the park supplied the land, financial support and a team of their own accomplished engineering and coaster technicians. Walt Davis, Kings Island’s Director or Park Operations was an engineer who helped oversee the construction of “The Beast” after previously working at The Pentagon.  Davis became integral to the project and served as the park’s liaison with Arrow. He had been one of the persons that ride the prototype, and would ultimately oversee the local engineering, development and installation of the ride at the park for the next 3 years. Kings Island chose to dedicate a highly visible, 3-acre plot of land located off of Coney Mall between “The Beast” and “The Racer” for the development of the attraction.

Creation of “The Bat” began immediately upon the agreement in 1978 and took 18 months of design before construction even began.  The coaster was engineered in Mountain View California. Its layout incorporated two chain-lift hills (much like “The Beast”) each standing 100’ in height. Its circuit was 2,456’ in length and included four “spirals” measuring up to 40’ in radius.  he spirals were purposely designed to be virtually unbanked, so cars would freely swing up to 90 degrees while twisting through the course.  The ride was engineered to operate with three seven-car trains, each holding 28 riders – enabling a potential capacity of 2,000 persons per hour.  Ironically, “The Bat” was not a designed to operate as a very fast coaster.  It reached a top speed of only 35 m.p.h.  (By comparison, Woodstock Express – originally called the Scooby Doo and Beastie – the family coaster at Kings Island - reaches the same speed!) However, its uniqueness, unpredictability and uncontrolled swinging was what would make it so thrilling.

Once the design was complete, it took 24 months of manufacturing, shipping and assembly to construct it. The ride was fabricated at Arrow’s 120,000-square-foot manufacturing facility located at the Freeport Center in Clearfield, Utah. Components then traveled by flatbed truck to the park for installation. The entire season before it opened, visitors to Kings Island could see the ride in various states of assembly. As a matter of fact, when the park opened in April 1980, the local press immediately began clamoring for information about the odd looking “upside down” coaster structure that had risen in the rear of the park. However, Kings Island officials remained tight-lipped, revealing only that work had begun on a ”revolutionary new thrill ride” explaining that it would “be completed by summer 1981.” Kings Island’s General Manager, William Price, teased the Cincinnati Post saying “It’s a totally new concept…. There’s nothing like it in the whole world!” Because the ride was so visible from the midway, speculation ran rampant – and Kings Island received an immense amount of free publicity (not to mention questions at Guest services) all based on word of mouth rumors as to what they were building.

Finally, on October 29, 1980, Kings Island invited local news media outlets to the park to reveal what they had been working on.  Members of the press were led to the brand-new station of the ride where one of the coaster’s trains was on display as well as a rendering of the ride’s layout. A colorful cast of scary characters – including Dracula, Dracula’s Wife and a human version of “The Bat” were also present for the timely Halloween announcement. Kings Island’s new Vice President and General Manager, F.R. Bush explained to the press that the new attraction they had been so curious about was a “completely new concept in thrill rides.” He revealed, “We decided to name our new attraction The Bat.” He then explained the concept saying, “Riders in a suspended roller coaster will not have the psychological security of the steel tracks or wooden support beams below them. All the structural work is above the riders, so it will be difficult to see the next turn.”  He added “…it will be an experience unlike anyone has ever had before.  The ride will be similar to a bat in flight. Bats soar through the air gracefully, swooping and circling and diving unexpectedly. That’s exactly what the rider will experience. It will be an aerobatic sensation.” The coaster didn’t come cheap, even with the developmental partnership between Kings Island and Arrow, and the park revealed “The Bat” came with an initial price tag of $3.8 million – that’s over $10.2 million today!

One month following the announcement, in November 1980, initial construction was completed. The ride was immense for the standards of that time, and incorporated over one million pounds of twisted tubular steel forming over four miles worth of track and supports.  Over one mile of drilling was performed to create foundation caissons underneath the footers. The foundations for the supports required 2.5 million pounds of poured concrete, and 100,000 steel anchor bolts to form the bases for 162 support columns.  The 2,456 feet of track was secured to the columns by 180 four-inch pipe welds, 90 twelve-inch pipe welds and 162 saddle welds.  The elaborate three-story station was also completed with two enclosed train storage bays. It was themed to evoke a Victorian-era mansion… complete with a turret and belfry. 

Once structure assembly was completed in November, the ride required a complicated installation of a (then) state of the art “Maximizer.” Built and installed by Cincinnati Milacron, the maximizer served the purpose as the main computer control for monitoring all of the ride’s mechanical and safety systems. Throughout the track course, 62 sensors were placed, all connected to the maximizer by over 52,000 feet of copper wire.  As trains passed the sensors, a signal would be sent to the maximizer regulating speed, operation and control systems of the operator’s panel.  Simultaneously, “mock” cars with a 180-degree swinging arc were built out of plywood and painstakingly moved through the entire course by hand. This allowed engineers to test clearance and avoid any potential interference before first cycling trains. 

The three trains consisted of seven cars, each containing four seats which utilized an over the shoulder safety restraint to secure riders.  Arrow had designed sculpted cars to resemble the wings of a bat, however front of each car was initially built to be later adorned by an elaborate “bat head” sculpted by Kings Island art department.  (While testing, the bat heads were left off of the cars - that is why some early publicity photos show the cars with missing bat-heads.)  The sculptures coincided with what would be the ride’s iconic logo – a terrifying vampire bat in flight. 

By the first week of April 1980, the coaster began initial cycle runs and on April 4, 1981, the park issued a press release stating that “The Bat” had begun operational testing and would open to the public on April 26 – the first day of the 1981 operating season.  Among the first test riders was the afore-mentioned Walt Davis, and John Rood a Field Service Rep for Arrow who served as the liaison throughout the build. After the initial rides, Davis told the press “Hanging below the overhead track in the car is an entirely new sensation… you swoop back and forth, from side to side, diving toward the ground. It really is like a bat…. Physically, the ride is smooth, but very exciting. Psychologically, it’s a real bear!” Rood added, “It’s just like hanging at the end of a swinging rope for two minutes.”

In reality, behind the scenes, those in charge were already aware of substantial issues. First, the safety monitoring system was especially prone to sensitivity and consistently shut the ride down even with just one train in operation. This negated the potential use of three trains. Also, the ride was traveling faster than anticipated, and the side-to-side swings were much more aggressive than expected. This prompted the addition of shock absorbers to the underside of the chassis to soften and slow the swing of the cars.  The park spent a three-week period before opening the ride to the public trying to fine tune some of these issues. To help buffer, Kings Island PR personnel were briefing the local press that guests should expect the ride to be temperamental, and stressed the fact that it was “a prototype” a “first of its kind” and “unique.”

Undeterred, the park pushed forward to open the ride and began a massive media campaign to promote it. The ride’s iconic logo was drawn by John Maggard, a Cincinnati artist, who had previously been involved with the development of “The Screamin Demon” and “The Beast” emblems. The ride would receive a substantial press, billboard, print and media campaign much like “The Beast” had a few seasons prior.  There was even an unforgettable 30-second animated commercial (produced by Hanna-Barbera) that fantastically evoked the mystery and scare of the ride. 

In the shadows of falling darkness,

wings of the night creature await their silent signal from the moon.

Darting madly through a starless sky,

the frenzied flight of the Bat takes you by surprise and leaves you breathless,

hanging in mid-air.

Captured alive by the Bat.

Fly the Bat at Kings Island.

It’s a non-stop fright.

The ride premiered to the media on April 22 – a mere four days prior to the start of the 1981 season. As planned, it officially opened to guests the following Sunday. It operated fairly consistently during those spring weekend operating days, but had sporadic system shut-downs. The park had expected these, figuring that since it was a prototype some bugs needed to be worked out. Still, the park was very proud of the ride and on May 24, 1981, in preparation for daily operations, F.R. Bush proudly told the media that “The Bat re-affirms Kings Island as the leader in innovative thrill ride concepts.” 

To guests, it was an immense hit, and much like “The Beast”, it drew the attention of media, guests and thrill seekers the whole world over. Even with an extensive queue house, it was fairly common for the line for “The Bat” to stretch the entirety of Coney Mall all the way back to “The Racer’s” entrance. Waits would often reach the three-plus hour long-wait mark, but part of the extensive wait had much to do with the difficulty in maintaining consistency in operation. Often, the coaster would open late on operating days and constant tweaks were required to keep it operating consecutively those first few months. In particular, the violent swings of the cars were causing shock absorbers to wear out quickly. This necessitated the absorbers be replaced every day, over and over, and so additional pairs of shock absorbers were soon added to each car to help reduce the stress on the original pair. The maximizer proved so temperamental that the ride would often “lock up” requiring a complete track survey by engineers and a re-boot of the entire safety monitoring system. If the system shut down while operating with guests, the trains would stall while climbing the lifts, and riders would have to be evacuated (safely) by slowly unlocking each restraint and walking them down the lift stairs one-by one. 

In addition, the trains were experiencing problems at the base of the lifts whereupon chain dogs would not align or engage and sometimes be broken, bent or snapped off. (A chain dog is a metal “catch” that engages with the chain to carry it up the lift – they also serve as a safety so the train doesn’t descend down the lift backwards. They make the click-click-click sound as a coaster climbs upward.)  Lift two became especially problematic due to the fact that the trains entered the lift swinging and traveling at a high rate of speed.

After a temperamental few months of operation, “The Bat” experienced its first significant closure and repair when the ride abruptly stopped operation on July 24, 1981. The park alerted the press, with Walt Davis saying “The ride seems like it wants to shut down, and once it does that, we can’t get it running until all the problems are fixed.” It was at this point that Arrow modified the chain dogs to better align and engage. Specifically, they addressed the misalignment issues at the base of lift two. The park also took this time to re-paint portions of the ride. In many areas, including the underside of the train, the black paint was chipping or wearing away.  The park had been performing “patch” paint jobs throughout those initial months of operation before the ride opened for the day, but when the coaster did open to guests, the paint would flake or drip causing issues. This “down-time” allowed them the proper time to address issues without the pressure of waiting guests. The repair period took four days, and “The Bat” re-opened on July 28. 

As the first season wore on, inconsistencies with “The Bat’s” operation became extremely frustrating to guests - and ultimately, the park. An entire team of Kings Island and Arrow engineers (including John Rood of Arrow who became known as “The Bat’s” full-time babysitter) were staffed on hand all day, every day, to simply try to keep the ride operational. Even so, it was out of service over 30 percent of the time. It was common for the ride to open late (if, at all) and then shut down multiple times throughout. Guests who had waited in line for hours, would often weather the temporary shut-downs and inconsistencies of operation only to later be unceremoniously told, “The Bat is closing for the rest of the day, we apologize.” Because of this, the park had to routinely give away hundreds of vouchers and discount coupons to inconvenienced guests. The park began to use the computerized park sign along I-71, sandwich boards throughout the park and a “Rides Not Operating Today” board outside the main entrance to alert visitors that the coaster was not functioning. The press began to report the frustrations of guests, who wanted to ride “The Bat” mostly due to the aggressive media and publicity campaign the park had created to advertise the attraction. This was exacerbated by the fact that 1981 saw a HUGE jump in attendance for the park due, in large part, to a positive turn in the country’s economic climate. Lucky guests that were able to get a turn on “The Bat” loved it, but most who sought out rides were aggravated by it.

Yet another major issue with the ride reared its ugly head that very first season. “The Bat” had been designed so that the braking system operated at the base of the cars – just as it did with standard coaster trains. Each of the coaster’s cars had a “fin” that when engaged with “pinch brakes” (these are long narrow channels that hydraulically open/close “grabbing” the fin as it slides through) would slow or stop the train.  While highly successful on standard above-track trains, this proved extremely problematic with “The Bat” because it required its swinging cars align perfectly so fins could navigate into the narrow channel of the brakes underneath.  Ultimately, if the car was not perfectly aligned, the brake fin could become lodged or bent.  Also, when the brakes engaged, the base of the train would stop while the heavy chassis overhead still had momentum – this placed a great deal of stress on the train’s frame and carriage. Ultimately, wheels, and brake fins were being routinely repaired and replaced.

To address this issue, the park again announced to the media on August 20 “The Bat roller coaster has been shut down because the increasing inconsistency of its operation has led to inconvenience for some visitors to Kings Island.”  F.R. Bush added: “…because we are committed to providing the best total entertainment value possible, no date for re-opening the ride will be set until the ride manufacturer… can guarantee consistent operation.” This was the first public statement made hinting at the frustrations they were experiencing with Arrow’s engineers over the ride. Arrow, in the meantime, was a company in the middle of transition. It had been sold to a group headed by German rides Manufacturer HUSS, and was re-locating the entirety of its operation to Clearfield, Utah.  “The Bat” would be the last coaster designed completely at the Mountain View, California location of Arrow Development. It was during this three-week hiatus that the issues surrounding the stopping of the trains were addressed by engineers. Arrow (now called Arrow HUSS) actually slowed the speed of the ride replacing and extending brakes runs, and re-profiled the train guides to help control the swinging of the cars before they engaged at the stopping points. The ride re-opened for Labor Day weekend, 1981.

The ride continued to operate temperamentally over the remaining weekends in fall 1981. By the time the park closed for the season, Kings Island was glad to be able to fully address the issues. Arrow HUSS engineers began the massive task of addressing problems. The trains were overhauled, and all shocks, struts, axles, brakes and brake fins were replaced in the off season. The over-the-shoulder restraints were replaced with flatter more “comfortable” collars to alleviate the concerns raised by guests that felt their heads got knocked around by the jarring swinging. The maximizer systems were reviewed/addressed and sensor placement was reviewed. The ride’s structure had additional stress cables added to help defer the strain the outward pull of the helixes placed on the supports. The entire coaster was strengthened, spot welded, and painted.

When Kings Island opened for its 10th anniversary season on April 25, 1982, “The Bat” resumed operation with the park. However, it operated for a mere four weekends. On May 21, it experienced what the park called “a mechanical malfunction” and was urgently shut down. Kings Island’s PR department promptly told local press the coaster would not operate for the Memorial Day weekend not revealing a specific cause. Then, just a few days later, on May 27, Walt Davis extended the closure saying that the coaster would be shut down “for at least a month.” Davis said: “It was not operating to standards guaranteed by the manufacturer and we decided to close it rather than inconvenience park patrons.” 

In reality, the park was no longer confident in the safe operations of the ride. Multiple mechanical malfunctions necessitated “Arrow HUSS officials complete an analysis of the ride’s problems before placing it back in operation.” In addition, an analysis revealed there were issues with the alignment where the track was welded to the steel supports. This necessitated further steel stress tests, which determined the lateral forces of the heavy trains were compromising the integrity of the structure. Because the track was not banked, the stress being placing on the track was causing the coaster to pull itself apart. Essentially, the side pulls of the trains was, by force, trying to twist the track to a banked position. This caused welds that held the track to the supports to be compromised.  The park announced to the press on June 3 that the attraction was closed indefinitely. “The Bat” did not operate for the remainder of the 1982 season, and sat silent while park officials negotiated with Arrow a complete overhaul of the ride. By this point, Kings Island officials were completely frustrated with the coaster. It was escalating in repair costs and required an unlimited amount of time spent babysitting it. 

In the meantime, Kings Island had decided they needed a “back-up thrill” to off-set the frustrations guests were experiencing with the closure of “The Bat.” Prior to the 1982 season, at the suggestion of the park’s marketing director, Tom Nowlin - the wooden coaster maintenance team had been testing the ability for the park’s “Racer” to run with its trains turned backwards. The test were a success, and on the very same day they announced the indefinite closure of “The Bat” they announced that they would be running the south side of “The Racer” backwards for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. That weekend alone, “Backwards Racer” gave 54,000 rides – a record for the coaster. Guests flipped over it, and as a result, Kings Island made the decision to keep one side of “The Racer” running backwards indefinitely. This thrill lasted until 2008, when the park made the decision to again run completely forward – as originally designed. Without the inconsistencies of “The Bat,” guests wouldn’t have had the fortunate experience of enjoying what many call “recaR” for 26 seasons.

When all seemed lost, Kings Island surprised the public in 1983 by announcing “The Bat is back!” After sitting silent for an entire year, it re-opened for public operation the weekend of May 21.  Over the ‘82-‘83 hiatus, Arrow HUSS engineers completed an entire structure and mechanical analysis of the ride required by the park.  The result was, Arrow added more powerful lift motors to increase horsepower to the lifts, they reduced the trains to 6 cars (instead of the original 7) to reduce the weight of the trains.  In addition they strengthened all weld joints and added more, and more substantial, structural supports.  The trains – originally designed to swing freely - now had a total of 6 shock absorbers per car. The ultimate goal with the revisions, was to slow the trains, reduce the weight, reduce the swing arc and solidify the structure. The ride operated in its temperamental fashion, but without significant issues for the first half of the season. However it once again began experiencing more and more mechanical problems. By mid-July it was closed for more repairs, reopening on July 23. By this point, the coaster was a conglomeration of “fixes” all made in attempt to keep it semi-operational. The mechanical equivalent of a human covered with crutches, stitches and Band Aids. 

Finally one insignificant operating day, the first week of August 1983, “The Bat” shut down due to operational issues just as it had so often done. It was closed unceremoniously due to “technical issues” and guests in line were told it would remain closed for the day.  What no one new was, “The Bat” would never again operate for the public following that “normal” shut down. Kings Island’s current Area Manager for Digital Marketing, Don Helbig, happened to be one of those awaiting a ride on the coaster. “I just missed being on the last train with riders. Two girls asked if they could go in front of me so they could ride with their friends.  It never operated again with guests after that cycle. Nobody knew that was it at the time. It didn’t seem to be any different than any other time the ride closed due to mechanical issues.” 

The park never revealed the reason for that particular closure. They continued to work with Arrow HUSS on a fix, and even randomly cycled empty trains in the coming months. However, other than for testing and analysis, the ride sat idle the remainder of the 1983 season and throughout the ’83-’84 park hiatus. By March of 1984, Kings Island had made the determination that they would not be re-opening “The Bat” for the 1984 season. Bill Mefford, Kings Island’s (then) Manager of Marketing told the press “We’re not in a big hurry, we just want to find out why it is inconsistent… it’s a big investment so we want to make sure it works.” He added “This does not mean we’re closing down the Bat for good. If there’s a way we can open it, we will.” 

Kings Island had spent the off season discussing with Arrow HUSS the potential of re-engineering the ride completely.  They agreed that the prototype coaster, as it was originally conceived, was riddled with too many design mistakes to keep it operational on a consistent basis.  Concurrently, Arrow had used the development of “The Bat” and the lessons learned from its design flaws to improve the suspended coaster concept.  The firm proceeded to install two other suspended coasters by 1984 – “XLR8” at Astroworld and “Big Bad Wolf” at Busch Gardens.  The new designs incorporated banked track, and a braking system above the train vs below which resulted in successful operation for the coasters.  It was determined that in order for “The Bat” to re-open and operate successfully, all of the track would need to be replaced to allow for banking and relocation of the brakes to the chassis.  This would have required a substantial rebuild, and substantial cost. Ultimately, it would have been a large expenditure on a ride that had, by that time, become too much of a “pain in the neck.” So, following years of frustrations, bad guest experiences, bad press and escalating costs, Kings Island made the decision to pull the plug on the coaster rather than re-invest. 

On November 6, 1984, Kings Island’s (then) General Manager T. Lewis Hooper announced that “The Bat” would be demolished.  “We have concluded we do not have enough confidence in its ability to operate on a consistent basis to open it again.” He explained “Modifications on the ride, to improve its operating consistency, would be very costly. Also, they may not guarantee the ride would perform to the satisfaction of our patrons.” Removal of the ride actually began the very day of the announcement.  It took six weeks to remove the ride at a cost of $70,000. The ride’s trains had the “bat head” adornments removed, its track was cut from the supports and the supports were cut off at the foundations by blowtorch.  Overall, the park scrapped over 500 tons of steel from the ride.  Contrary to rumor, the trains were not salvaged, nor were parts of “The Bat” used on any other coasters at Kings Island or other parks.  Many of the “bat heads” that had once adorned the fronts of the trains were retained by the park, only to later be sold at one of the park’s surplus auctions. Several of these still exist today in the hands of lucky memorabilia collectors and former park personnel.

For the 1984 season Kings Island introduced “The King Cobra” to guests. The coaster was designed by Togo Manufacturing of Japan and its main feature was that it enabled guests to “stand-up” while riding.  It would be the world’s first uniquely-designed stand-up coaster with a loop.  Walt Davis, the Kings Island engineer that had been so ingrained (and so frustrated) with the development and installation of “The Bat” helped oversee the installation of “King Cobra.” He then left Kings Island to help oversee the opening of “The Beach” waterpark eventually becoming the vice president of the US division of Togo International.  Later, he earned his pilots license at the age of 60 and taught aviation to others – no doubt inspired in part by his original intent to get “The Bat” to fly. 

Kings Island did not pursue litigation with Arrow HUSS over the issues with “The Bat.” The firm again changed ownership in 1986, and was newly helmed by legendary coaster designer Ron Toomer. “Arrow Dynamics”, as it was later called, remained the premier steel coaster manufacturer in the 1980s, spearheading the creations of dozens of multi-loop and suspended coasters.  By the time “The Bat” was being dismantled, Arrow had agreed to provide Kings Island with a replacement coaster. Opened in 1987, “Vortex” was designed by Toomer and used the very same plot of land on which “The Bat” existed. Many of the same footings utilized for “The Bat” were re-used for the new coaster.  The station was also re-utilized, although the bottom queue was never re-opened.  Those fans who would like to look for traces of “The Bats” existence at Kings Island can still find a few. There are several original footers from the coaster that remain hidden under the current “Vortex” structure. The entrance to the storage bays for “Vortex” trains still have the semi-circle cut outs where the overhead track used to exist. Finally, there is patch-work wood on the loading platform that covers the original openings for the supports that held “The Bat’s” track in the station.

The Vortex was a sensation, has remained in consistent operation since its addition, and is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary at Kings Island. In 1990, Kings Island again partnered with Arrow who built “Adventure Express,” the park’s Aztec-themed runaway mine train coaster opened in 1991.  Just two years later, Kings Island would install Arrow’s 10th and final suspended coaster.  Installed under the helm of “Paramount Parks” the ride was added in 1993 as “Top Gun” and (as mentioned at the start of this blog) now operates at the park as “The Bat” – a nod to the original. Kings Island holds the unique distinction of having been home to both the first, and last Arrow suspended coaster. Arrow (Dynamics) would eventually fall into several bankruptcies in the 1990’s and cease to exist as a rides manufacturer in 2001.

One may wonder, given all of the issues the park faced with “The Bat”, why Kings Island continued to try to fix the coaster time after time rather than remove it. Well, chances are, they saw the coaster as a large monetary investment that was drawing guests.  The park was invested from a developmental standpoint, so likely felt a responsibility to make it work.  This was also the first major operational issue they had faced with any ride addition – so they weren’t ready to admit defeat until all resources had been pulled.  But most importantly, they knew it was a fun ride and they wanted as many people to experience it – safely. The guests that rode LOVED it, and raved about how wild and fun it was – they still do. 

During its three-season tenure at the park, the ORIGINAL “The Bat” gave a mere total of 1.8 million rides.  (By comparison, “The Beast” has easily given over 2 million rides in a single season.)  So if you were one of the persons that got a ride on “The Bat” then you are of an esteemed few. No other suspended coaster has given, or will ever again give the out-of-control sensation of flight like the original did. It was truly one of a kind, and remains a legend in the annuals of Kings Island’s history - a coaster revered and remembered by people the whole world over 33 years after it last flew.

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John Keeter

Kings Island Blog Contributor

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