The past and the future, in one place

Last weekend I rode X-Flight, one of only four rides in the world known as a wing coaster. Quite simply, it’s the future of thrill rides. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s smooth, and it’s the state of the art in rides like this.

Like the Superman ride at Great America, and probably a few others in parks that I haven’t been to, part of the fun is waiting in line as the ride moves all around you. Watching the riders and the ride as it rises and falls, and dips and darts, helped to get me into the spirit of the ride, and might seem to make the wait feel like less time than it actually is.

I waited in line for about an hour last Sunday, and the ride’s novelty made it seem worthwhile. After it was over, I headed over to the park’s signature roller coaster, the American Eagle, and waited just as long as I did for X-Flight. And the contrast between them could not have been greater.

The construction of X-Flight is minimalist, with just a few beams holding it in place. American Eagle, by contrast, is excessive in the extreme. Lots of wood went into building it, and much of it is now in need of a paint job, too. As we were leaving the park, we actually drove on a road that went through the American Eagle’s frame. It’s a telling contrast that you wait in line as X-Flight swoops all around you, but you can drive through the American Eagle.

At one point late in the day, after I had gone on both rides, I was struck by the visual contrast between them. I tried to do this contrast justice, but no cell phone camera can capture how different they really are. X-Flight is in the foreground, with some riders swooping past, and American Eagle is the over-sized ride in the background.

American Eagle is probably a longer ride, timewise, than X-Flight is, but it doesn’t have any loops or inversions, either. The more that people go on a ride like X-Flight, the less they will want to go on a ride like American Eagle.

Comparing these rides, which are separated from each other by two decades’ time, probably isn’t fair. But it seems to me that we’ll see more rides like X-Flight in the years ahead, and probably not another ride like American Eagle. Time marches on, and in this case, the march includes a few barrel rolls, just to make it more interesting.

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