Many rides have come and gone at Kings Island over the years, such as the Sky Ride, the Antique Cars, and the Son of Beast. However, none is more lamented than the original Bat. That roller coaster, which opened in 1981, is not to be confused with its younger sibling that operates today and was formerly known as Top Gun and later Flight Deck.
The original Bat was a groundbreaking ride as it was the first modern-day suspended roller coaster. Instead of riding on the track, like a traditional coaster, the cars were suspended from the rails and swung freely as the ride ran its course.
It was designed by a Utah firm called Arrow Development which was founded in 1945 and had developed several rides for many parks around the U.S. including the Disney parks. By the 1970s, its main focus was roller coasters. Using steel instead of wood to build its coaters, Arrow was able to pioneer elements such as loops and corkscrews, as well as sharp, banking turns. After building several successful looping coasters, Arrow came up with the idea of the suspended coaster and found a park to partner with.
Initial concept for the original Bat. Notice the two corkscrews. These were eliminated in the final design.
In October of 1980, Kings Island announced The Bat’s arrival for the 1981 season. Arrow had been working on the idea of a suspended coaster for several years, which encouraged Kings Island. In the clip below, from 1979, the company’s marketing director discussed the concept.
The Bat’s maiden voyage was on April 4, 1981, though it didn’t open to the public until a few weeks later on April 26. It had a height of 100 feet and was 2,456 feet long. It reached a top speed of 34 mph.
The Bat climbs its lift hill, circa 1981
The ride was a big hit, but it suffered from several mechanical issues. Contrary to some urban legends, no one was ever injured on the ride, it simply didn’t operate like it was supposed to and was frequently closed.
Riders in The Bat's station
In a 1994 interview with Everybody’s News, the old weekly alternative newspaper in Cincinnati, Arrow’s Ron Toomer, one of the ride’s designers, explained that despite the extensive testing of multiple prototypes, The Bat experienced forces and stresses the engineers simply couldn’t have foreseen and couldn’t really understand until a full ride was up and running.
Unfortunately, the ride’s problems couldn’t be solved retroactively, though the park and Arrow tried. At the end of the 1983 season, the ride was closed. In amusement park enthusiast lingo it was SBNO (standing but not operating) in 1984 and removed before the start of the 1985 season.
Today, The Bat’s footprint is occupied by Vortex, also built by Arrow. If you look closely, you can still see some of the Bat’s old concrete footers. The Vortex, which opened in 1987, also uses The Bat’s old station and loading platform.
And even though The Bat had its problems, Arrow learned enough from the experience to release the next generation of suspended coasters beginning in 1984 with XLR8 at the now-defunct AstroWorld amusement park in Houston and Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. The latter was replaced by Verbolten in 2012.
XLR-8 at AstroWorld (Wiki Commons/Chris Hagerman) and Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Wiki Commons/Piotrus)
There are at least two other second generation Arrow suspended coasters still operating as of 2018. They are Iron Dragon which opened in 1987 at Cedar Point and of course the current Bat at Kings Island which opened as Top Gun in 1993. The Top Gun theming was inspired by the film of the same name and produced by Paramount Pictures who, at the time, owned the park. Designed to look like an aircraft carrier, the loading station was designed by the film’s production chief, John DeCuir.
Iron Dragon at Cedar Point (Wiki Commons/Nick Nolte) and Top Gun (now The Bat at KI (Wiki Commons/Chris Hagerman)
Paramount sold their park division in 2006 to Cedar Fair, operators of fellow Ohio park Cedar Point, among others. However, the Top Gun branding stayed until 2008, when the generic Flight Deck name was adopted and much of the theming removed. Similar name changes took place throughout the park.
Arrow went on to design and build dozens of popular coasters, many during the so-called coaster arms race of the 1990s. At the time, competing with manufacturers such as Switzerland’s Bolliger & Mabillard and Holland’s Vekoma, Arrow built some of its most well-known coasters. Oddly, Arrow had partnered with Vekoma in the mid-80s, only to watch them become a direct competitor a few years later.
In 2001, Arrow filed for bankruptcy with its assets being acquired by S&S Power the following year. S&S was absorbed by Japan’s Sansei in 2012. That company designs and builds rides to this day, including the Buzz Lightyear and Ariel rides for the Walt Disney parks. For more on the current state of the coaster industry, check out The Cincy Shirts Podcast Episode 9.