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October 25, 2019
Vortex is the coaster that really shouldn’t have existed. Its debut came on April 11, 1987, sitting on the footprint of the late, great Bat roller coaster. It even used the Bat's old loading station and queue lines.
Designed by master coaster builders Arrow Dynamics, the Bat opened in 1981 and was the world’s first suspended coaster. However, unforeseen structural and engineering problems kept the Bat grounded much of the time until finally, after the 1983 season, Kings Island pulled the plug. It sat for a year before finally being dismantled after the 1984 season.
The Bat leaves, Vortex arrives
Roller coaster lore says that Arrow Dynamics cut the park a deal on a replacement as a way to make up for the Bat’s failure. That may explain, too, why the loading station was repurposed. In the winter of 1986, ground was broken on Vortex. When it opened, it set several records including, tallest, full-circuit roller coaster with the longest drop in the world. It was also the first coaster to feature six inversions.
While folks missed the innovative and exciting Bat, Vortex helped Kings Island break the 3 million visitor mark for the first time in 1987. As of 2018, it had given 46 million rides. Get your own Vortex shirt here.
The end of the line
However, some roller coasters have a shelf life it seems. At least that appears to be the case for Vortex which, on Sunday, is being closed after 33 years having reached the end of its lifespan according to park officials.
That’s hard to imagine considering two of the park's wooden coasters, The Racer and Woodstock Express (nay Scooby Doo/ The Beastie), turned 47 this past spring. The park’s flagship coaster, The Beast, celebrated its 41st season in 2019 and shows no signs of being put out to pasture. Apparently, steel coasters have an expiration date while wooden coasters do not.
Here is a look at Vortex by the numbers:
Length: 3,800 ft
Height: 148 ft
Drop: 138 ft
Vertical angle: 55 degrees
Top speed: 55 mph
Arrow quickly learned from The Bat and developed its second generation of suspended coasters beginning with Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. That coaster welcomed its first riders as The Bat sat SBNO (standing but not operating in coaster lingo) in 1984. Kings Island would get a sibling coaster to Big Bad Wolf, Top Gun, in 1993.
Top Gun, of course, is now known as The Bat. The second-generation suspended coaster at sibling park Canada’s Wonderland is called Vortex. At one of KI’s other sibling parks, Carowinds in Charlotte, NC, you’ll find a stand-up coaster called Vortex. That ride was designed by Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), the company that designed KI’s Diamondback and Banshee coasters. At California’s Great America in Santa Clara, CA, also part operated by KI owners Cedar Fair, you’ll find Patriot, also designed by B&M. However, it was known as Vortex from its opening in 1991 until 2016.
The rest of the park's steel coasters
As Kings Island’s Vortex gives its last ride, coaster enthusiasts have to wonder: how long before The (new) Bat meets the same fate? Big Bad Wolf closed in 2009 after 25 years, replaced by Verbolten in 2012, so surely the clock is ticking on the former Top Gun.
Banshee could live on until the mid-2030s, but what about Flight of Fear, Backlot Stunt Coaster, Invertigo, and the much-maligned Adventure Express? While The Racer, Beast, and Woodstock Express (it’s Scooby Doo OR The Beastie, people), look to live on for generations, the steel coasters will all likely close at some point.
Adventure Express has the best chance to survive. While it has a steel track, it sits on a wooden frame. Flight of Fear is indoors, of course, and therefore less susceptible to the ravages of Mother Nature. As for the rest, it’s just a matter of time before they join Vortex in that great amusement park in the sky.
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