Thrill seekers looking for a new kind of rush can head to Six Flags Great America, where X -- or the new X-Flight roller coaster -- marks the spot.
The first batch of riders boarded the Gurnee theme park's wing coaster at a preview event May 10, getting their morning pick-me-ups via 55-mile-an-hour speeds, a 120-foot drop -- that flips upside down -- and five freaky inversions. But what makes X-Flight so extreme, and gives the ride its distinctive wing coaster classification, is the inventive train design, park leaders and coaster lovers said.
As on Great America's "Batman: The Ride," X-Flight passengers are secured in floorless seats. But on X-Flight, "as opposed to sitting on top of or underneath the coaster track, you're sitting outside of it," explained Dameon Nelson, the park's director of operations.
With two seats suspended on either side of the track in each row, passengers can't see the track and "don't know when the next turn is going to come," Nelson said.
For RedEye, the most terrifying turn came near the end, when passengers race toward a tower, flip vertically at the last second to squeeze through a narrow opening, then spin into a seemingly out-of-control barrel roll directly underneath an A-frame structure.
Timothy Tallar, a 37-year-old assembler at North Star Aerospace in Bedford Park, and his 25-year-old brother Glenn, a pipe organ specialist at JL Weiler in Chicago, added X-Flight to their lists of more than 500 roller coasters they've ridden across North America.
The members of the thrill ride-worshipping organization American Coaster Enthusiasts both say it soars to the top of their favorites.
"It's in its own class," Glenn Tallar, a Homer Glen resident, said, citing the "insane" barrel roll as one of the best features. "You feel like you're floating in air."
X-Flight is the fourth wing coaster in the world, following the concept's introduction in Italy last spring. Others opened in March in England and at Dolly Parton's theme park Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
Like the others, X-Flight was designed by Bolliger & Mabillard, the same Swiss manufacturer that created the park's "Batman" and "Raging Bull" coasters. X-Flight is Great America's first new significant thrill ride since 2003, when it opened another Bolliger & Mabillard creation, "Superman: Ultimate Flight."
In recent years additions at Great America largely followed a company strategy to attract more families, said park president Hank Salemi. New areas for children and the resurrection of the Little Dipper roller coaster in 2010 from the defunct Kiddieland in Melrose Park are both part of the strategy. After filing for bankruptcy in 2009 following years of declining attendance, the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 under new management, and revenue increased by four percent to $1 billion last year.
X-Flight is the park's largest investment in several years, Salemi said, in the hopes that Great America can bring more teenagers and adults through the gates.
"It was time for a state-of-the-art coaster," he said.
The ride opens to the public Wednesday, Great America's first day of daily operation for the season.
Piet Levy is a redeye special contributor.
X-Flight By The Numbers
120 Height in feet
3,000 Feet of track used by X-Flight
55 Miles per hour X-Flight travels at maximum speed
5 Number of inversions
1.5 The ride takes about 1 minute and 30 seconds from start of the ascent to the brakes.