Turn for the Better: Knoebels 'close' on Flying Turns after 7 years
ELYSBURG - Cross your fingers, thrill-seekers and coaster enthusiasts. Knoebels Amusement Park officials are optimistic that Flying Turns - seven years in the making - could open later this year or early next season.
Joe Muscato, director of public relations, said tests have been done continuously this summer and there is confidence that a vehicle that will work has been developed. In fact, Tuesday, crews were testing two vehicles and everything appeared to be running smoothly.
Several families looked on in excitement. One woman, however, wondered to her family why Knoebels didn't just "cut their losses" and forget about it.
It's a common statement in relation to The Flying Turns, but it's also been a long time since park officials have speculated on a time frame. The answer has always been "not this year, but we're making progress."
The task of inventing a new vehicle is "arduous," Muscato said, "but we
believe it will be well worth it. We keep telling ourselves that this will be the only one in the world when we're done."
Finishing the ride is "quite close," he said.
There's so much anticipation in the thrill-ride community that even rumors of testing has people excited. Discussion boards on All American Thrills and Screamscape have had weekly updates this summer with posts and pictures dedicated to The Flying Turns.
Now, with the possibility that opening is less than a year away, Ken Letherer, of Oreland, Montgomery County, said he and his children are looking forward to it.
"They've been working on it a long time, but I prefer they do a good and thorough job before they open it," he said.
His kids, Maya, 11, and Dillon, 8, both love the 55-foot-high log flume, and fully expect to love The Flying Turns, too. 21st century safety
The creation looks a lot like a typical wooden roller coaster, but it's better described as a bobsled ride, the kind that was popular in the 1930s.
The first ever of its kind was built at Lakeside Park in Dayton, Ohio, in 1929, by a company formed by Norman Bartlett and John Miller. Seven Flying Turns rides were built by those men or the Philadelphia Toboggan Company between 1929 and 1939. The last one that Muscato is aware of that operated was a wooden one at Coney Island in New York that closed in 1974.
With the concept more than 80 years old, there's no modern day equivalent to use as a guide. And, Muscato notes, the vehicles of those days were not safe. State ride inspectors would never pass them today, he said.
"The question is how do you create a vehicle that maintains the thrills of the original rides, but match the safety of today's standards, and accommodate 21st century people?" Muscato said.
The ride begins by sending the coaster-like cars up a 48-foot-high hill, then shooting passengers through a double helix to build up speed. After a few more twists and another lift, the real thrill comes when it leaves its tracks to "free wheel" through two 270-degree turns, traveling up and down the sides of a narrow trough much like a bobsled would on its downhilll run, centrifugal force guiding it at that point.
Each vehicle includes three two-person cars that will travel through the 1,300 feet of track. The ride will last between 2 1/2 and 3 minutes depending on the lift hills that keep vehicles equally spaced.
'What if?' scenarios
While there was nothing in the cars on tests observed Tuesday afternoon, park officials have been running tests with water dummies that simulate weights and shapes of riders, and the results have been promising.
"We used to do testing off-hours, but we've been forging ahead (during park hours) and letting people see the testing," Muscato said.
With a working vehicle, Muscato said recent testing has been accounting for every scenario: what if a hat or another object lands in the trough? What if there are more than one vehicle running at a time?
"There's always that element of unpredictably. Something could happen that could set us back," he said.
'Wait and see'
There have been many rumors about the ride in the last seven years. Some people think dummies were decapitated, while others think the vehicles were totaled in crashes that took the cars off the track - neither of which is true, Muscato said.
The only Flying Turns rumor by which he's still is: that it will never run. To those people, he said, "Just wait and see."