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On this day 40 years ago on Oct. 29, 1980, a revolutionary, groundbreaking Kings Island attraction gained national attention. The original Bat roller coaster was announced to members of the news media. Since the opening of the season that year in April, guests were puzzled about the upside-down coaster-like structure being built at the back of the park in Coney Mall, with park officials being tight-lipped.
The media were gathered inside the ride’s pre-built station – a Victorian-era style mansion – to get their first glimpse at some of the strikingly sharp trains, complete with sculpted bat heads produced by Kings Island’s art department attached to the front of the cars. They were also greeted by creepy characters like Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Bat himself celebrated the important day, as Halloween neared.
The Bat was noted as the world’s first true and permanent suspended roller coaster, taking riders who dared to fly underneath the track, soaring side-to-side. The prototype roller coaster designed by Arrow Development (later renamed Arrow HUSS/Dynamics) took 18 months to design and 24 more months of construction. While it only had a top speed of 34 mph, its uniqueness, unpredictability and uncontrolled swinging was what would the ride thrilling. The cars were able to swing out up to 90 degrees, truly making it an innovative thrill ride.
Kings Island’s then General Manager and Vice President F.R. Bush said, “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. 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 Bat made its initial test cycles April 4, 1981, followed by Kings Island issuing a press release stating the ride had begun operational testing and would open to the public April 26, the first day of the 1981 operating season.
The Bat’s much-anticipated opening drew rave reviews from thrill seekers who came from all over the world to experience the new one-of-a-kind sensation. Unfortunately, since The Bat was a prototype, design flaws kept the ride from operating to its true potential and it proved to be mechanically difficult to operate consistently. As such, The Bat gave its final rides just two years after its opening in 1983 and sat standing but not operating until early 1985 when it was demolished.
However, thanks to Arrow Dynamics, they were once again able to partner with Kings Island to design and construct Vortex, a multi-looping steel roller coaster, that boasted six stomach-churning inversions – a world’s first at the time. The ride would take up the same plot of land where The Bat once stood and even reused the station and some of the concrete footers.
Without this legendary, ambitious coaster, many other suspended coasters would not have been built, such as Iron Dragon at Cedar Point, or Top Gun (now known as The Bat as a tribute) at Kings Island. As F.R. Bush once said, “The Bat re-affirms Kings Island as the leader in innovative thrill ride concepts," a statement that remains true to this day.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Bat being announced, we’ve included restored, never-before-seen POV of the first-ever test run on April 4, 1981, along with reverse POV with riders and off-ride views mixed in. Enjoy!
To learn more about the sporadic flight of The Bat, check out this Kings Island Blog.
Were you among those able to take flight on the original Bat? If so, let me know what you thought of the ride in the comments section below.
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