*senseless dramatic pause*
Flight of Fear!
This coaster is unashamedly my favorite–to such degree, people on my Instagram are probably sick of constantly seeing about it in my Stories. But, that will never change.
Flight of Fear is an otherworldly indoor launch coaster at both Kings Dominion and Kings Island that features the world’s first LIM launch, Area 51/The Outer Limits theme, and a spaghetti bowl consisting of 2700 feet of steel track tangled between 4 inversions.
Having grown up on the ride, I can personally attest for its thrills and uniqueness that have actually inspired and spawned a generation of themed indoor launch coasters (such as Hollywood Studios’ Rock n Roller Coaster).
And, its story literally begins with crop circles marking the fields across Doswell and continues with annual alien invasions during the fall. So, the coaster is pretty method too.
Now, “You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”
Related Reading: Kings Dominion Roller Coasters Ranked
The First Crop Circle
Back in early 1995, Paramount (who owned Kings Dominion at the time) fancied themselves a new addition to their Doswell park. And while they were at it, why not their Cincinnati park too? Better yet, why not theme it to their latest studios production, the revival of the cult classic The Outer Limits?
So, that is exactly what Paramount did.
Come mid-1995, crop circles and UFO craters were dotting the Virginia and Ohio landscapes, respectively.
As a fun marketing gag to announce the new attraction, Kings Dominion carved a crop circle into the fields near the campgrounds (now the KOA). The design consisted of an alien, flying saucer, roller coaster, and the letter ‘F’ carved out in binary.
Kings Island dug out a crater, at the construction site of the coaster, that resembled the landing site of a flying saucer. Left behind was a time capsule that the park made a great show of opening the contents inside, the blueprints for an “out of this world” coaster.
And, the paranormal blueprints were definitely needed! Creating a coaster as experimental and unparalleled as Flight of Fear required pushing the boundaries of traditional coaster design.
Kings Dominion (& Island) joined forces with renowned coaster engineers, designers, and creative minds to bring this ride to life. The result? A coaster experience like no other.
As rumors swirled, the park finally revealed the name–The Outer Limits: Flight of Fear–hinting at an extraterrestrial experience that would take riders on a daring journey through the unknown.
An Alien Abduction
Entering Flight of Fear starts in the shaded outdoor queue. It’s themed to a press meetup area, as the riders are meant to be members of the media and general public going on a tour of the secret government facility. If the line’s short, guests are directed straight into a corridor entering the hangar.
Heading into the hangar, guests will find miscellaneous theming representing scientific tools and screens and mannequins of researchers. A flying saucer UFO sits in the far side of the hangar and a stairwell guides guests up and inside.
There are two rooms within the UFO with general alien ship decor. It’s inside the flying saucer that guests will be able to hear the trains launch from the station, although it isn’t until entering the station that the train launches can be seen.
Heading into the station after the two UFO rooms, riders are met with a bay filled with preservation tubes containing aliens. After a cycle, an empty coaster train will enter the station. Each of the trains resemble rocket ships in design.
Riders will then either chicken out and exit through a gate, or stick it out and board the train. Lap bar restraints are currently used and buckle into the ride vehicle via a belt. And then this is where the ride operators have their fun.
For some launches, they will countdown and launch the train before reaching zero. For other launches, ride operators will banter with guests to distract them from when the train is going to launch. Alternatively, they will simply launch the train with no warning. Just remember to keep your head against the headrest facing forward so you don’t end up with whiplash.
Flight of Fear launches down the track hitting speeds of at least 54 mph in less than 4 seconds. It exits its launch soaring up into the first two inversions, a cobra roll.
It is at this initial point in the ride that sometimes, if the train doesn’t pick up exact momentum for any given reason, a rollback happens. In the event of a rollback, the train will not clear the first inversion in the cobra roll and will roll back down the launch track.
When this happens, the train pauses halfway down back to the station. The trains for Flight of Fear are so heavy that they are unable to roll back all the way to the loading platform. And so as such, a team of maintenance personnel will have to manually push it back into the station where the riders will unload and the ride operators will run several test trains through the ride before reopening again.
There are a myriad of reasons why a train might roll back. Flight of Fear’s LIMs are very sensitive to spacing, the weight of the train (which fluctuates on how many riders are in the cars), and temperature amongst other factors. The ride’s speed is able to be dialed up or down by mechanics, so they tweak its speed relative to those variables.
So if a rollback happens, a number of test trains will be sent along the course to determine whether the roll back was just a fluke incident due to weight or temperature, or if there’s another something going on that’ll need to be examined or have the speed settings tweaked.
Once the train does clear the two inversions in the cobra roll, it sets about the “spaghetti bowl” that is the rest of the layout. The train goes into a sidewinder before a series of disorienting turns and then the mid-course brake run. It continues on down a drop to the left, picking up speed as the train engages with a few more turns and a corkscrew inversion before tucking into the final brake run.
For this final brake run after the corkscrew, use the handle bar in front of you to brace yourselves because as of recent years, the train will fully brake immediately as opposed to slowing down and braking outside of the unloading station. Unaware riders tend to double over the lap bar and take a knock to the ribs when it does this cause you hit this final brake run at speed.
Afterwards, the train slides into the unloading platform where riders disembark. The train heads back around to the loading platform empty, rinse and repeat. Riders exit the ride’s hangar building through an exit corridor.
Flight of Fear Stats
- LIM Motors: 44
- Inversions: 4 (cobra roll, sidewinder, & corkscrew)
- Vertical Curves: 30
- Horizontal Turns: 25
- Weight: 1 million pounds
- Track Length: 2,705 feet
- Size: 1 acre
- Height: 74 feet
- Speed: 54 miles per hour
- G-Force: 4.5
- Cost: 11.2 million dollars
Dissecting The Flying Saucer
So, how did that leap from crop circles to otherworldly launch coaster go?
Enter Premier Rides.
Flight of Fear was created by Ing.-Büro Werner Stengel GmbH and Jim Seay’s team at Premier Rides.
The construction and design of Flight of Fear were nothing short of impressive. The intricate tangle of steel track was designed during the dawn of computer-designed coasters. A similar coaster, the outdoors Joker’s Jinx at Six Flags America, provides a glimpse of Flight of Fear’s “spaghetti bowl” layout.
One of the hallmark features of Flight of Fear is its fully enclosed structure and interestingly, the building’s construction had some unique engineering quirks.
To create a solid foundation, 50,000 cubic yards of dirt were brought in. Instead of traditional individually poured concrete footers, a single pad between two and three feet deep was poured for the launch zone and spaghetti bowl. This massive concrete pour was one of the largest non-military, non-nuclear power plant projects in Virginia at the time.
Since the footing bolts couldn’t be sunk in during the concrete pour, the coaster became the first at the park to utilize chemical bolts. This innovative approach involved setting the footing bolts in drilled holes and dropping resin and catalyst capsules into the holes. When the capsules mixed, they created an unbreakable bond between the bolt and the concrete. Every test successfully withstood the rigorous demands.
Another cool feat is that the spaghetti bowl building boasted the largest self-supporting roof in Virginia when it was built, covering a vast area without the need for supporting columns. This was made possible by clever design work that accounted for the spaghetti bowl’s twists and turns, making the building a seamless part of the ride experience.
And it’s inside this dark building that riders embark on a journey upon a first-generation linear induction launch coaster. Unlike traditional coasters that rely on a lift hill, Flight of Fear catapults riders from 0 to 54 mph in just four seconds using a linear induction launch–establishing itself as the next dimension of roller coasters.
Linear Induction Motor Launch System
Our UFO coaster’s technology relies on linear induction motors (LIMs), which had been in limited use since the 1960s but gained practicality in the 1980s with the introduction of maglev trains in Europe and Japan. Flight of Fear’s trains featured aluminum fins bolted to both sides, akin to airplane wings.
These fins passed through a sequence of LIMs mounted on both sides of the launch zone, rapidly turning on and off to propel the train forward. The tight clearance between the fins and LIMs—just 10mm at best—demands meticulous attention to LIM arrangement, track joint alignment, and wheel wear by the maintenance staff.
The linear induction motors also raised the fun potential to kill the power across Hanover County. The LIMs used for the launch created massive power spikes, raising concerns about potential electrical issues, which were in fact validated when Volcano: The Blast Coaster was built two years later.
Hanover County found out that simultaneous launches of both coasters led to a brownout in the area. So, to solve the problem, a separate power substation was extensively modified near Route 30, across from the parking lot. And, the park themselves found an even better solution 20 years later in removing Volcano entirely.
(Volcano did not close because of the power issue, tis just a joke)
With all the mechanical construction squared away, attention then went to the ride’s theme and thematic elements.
Special Effects & Theming
Inspired by the classic TV series The Outer Limits, the roller coaster’s theme immersed guests in a science fiction narrative, blurring the line between reality and the supernatural. It was an innovative concept that merged the world of entertainment and adrenaline-pumping coasters, making Flight of Fear set the precedent for indoor launch coasters.
As touched on above, the ride experience follows a storyline of members of the press and public (the riders) getting to take a tour of the elusive Hangar 18, which belongs to the Bureau of Paranormal Activity. These members explore the interiors of the hangar, finding the studies of lab researchers and the flying saucer.
Formerly, a preshow video played throughout the queue that set up the story premise until boarding the rocket themed ride vehicles.
In this video, a White House press secretary is quarreling with the government staff of the Bureau of Paranormal Activity. He is convinced the flying saucer is a hoax made up by an amusement park trying to promote a new attraction, and thusly allows press and the public to explore Hangar 18 to dispel the rumors.
Initially, the Bureau pulls a prank on the press secretary in retaliation for him allowing the public inside and trying to prove the dangers of doing so. But naturally, an actual problem and mysterious anomaly appears that’s not a part of the prank.
The researchers try to sort out the problem and the press secretary runs into the hangar to save the civilians and press who had entered the flying saucer, when the press secretary ends up getting electrocuted and the hangar’s power fails.
A video of unknown origin then overtakes the Bureau’s broadcast and plays an invitation to the public and press, beckoning them to a beautiful world free of human plights beyond… the Outer Limits.
In a stroke of fortunate timing, the park has recently shared this video on their YouTube channel despite it not playing in the queue in recent years:
And with or without the preshow video, the riders would then enter the flying saucer and proceed into two rooms within the spacecraft. Each of which incorporate general spaceship decor with various signs and discs inscribed in an alien language. These lead into the attraction’s station and loading platform.
In keeping with the alien abduction theme, the trains unload at a different platform in another part of the building to make it appear as if the riders disappeared when the empty trains enter into the loading station. Guests are able to watch the train launch with its riders screaming (or cursing) once they get to this station. So, the empty vehicles returning in makes it seem that the riders were abducted.
The station also includes floor-to-ceiling capsules containing aliens amongst a richly themed futuristic spaceship interior design. The lighting is typically kept dim with the capsule lights and general ambiance lighting dominating the platform in shades of green, purple, and orange.
The rocket resembling coaster trains catapult into a black hole-esque tunnel. And, the show building utilizes sporadic lighting in hues of purple, but not overtly so to preserve the dark and mysterious atmosphere. Flight of Fear’s theme song also plays in this arena and is typically most audible during the second half after the mid-course break run.
At the conclusion of the ride, the train tucks into the unload platform for passengers to disembark. This area holds more similarity in theming to the entrance corridors of the hangar before entering the warehouse with the flying saucer.
Guests exit down a hall and conclude their exploration of the outer limits.
The Face Of Flight Of Fear
In 2017, Kings Dominion debuted a new app called the Battle For Kings Dominion, in which guests could play augmented reality games in the parks with their favorite coasters. Personality quizzes to see which coaster you related to and miscellaneous trivia about the coasters were also featured in the app.
In the game, guests would choose their favorite of five coasters (and alliances) to join and complete various quests and games so their coaster/team would win the battle for the day.
As a part of this, Flight of Fear debuted its “mascot” or character for the first time, a female grey alien with purple eyes and orb-like powers.
Flight of Fear’s bio reads as so:
“Join the mysterious force that is Flight of Fear in the Battle For Kings Dominion. Her movements are marked with an alluring, yet predatory grace. She inspires loyalty with her tactics, yet even those closer to her still find themselves uneasy in her presence.”
As per the app’s personality questionnaire–her favorite color is black, song is Space Oddity by David Bowie, movie genre is Sci-Fi, animal is bats, job (if she were human) is astronaut, and place to live is Outerspace.
She would describe her personality as being rational. The trait she values most is loyalty. If she could choose any one power in particular, she would choose flight (which she can). And, her friends would describe her as being mysterious.
In the different Battle For Kings Dominion videos and games, she’s seen to be able to fly, teleport through black portals, and fight using a purple energy that most often takes the form of an orb.
Her character intro goes on to describe her as being a master tactician who always has a plan and is successful in achieving her goals. The tagline to join her alliance is “Your World Is Ours.”
Flight of Fear (the alien) has since appeared in posters and in park merchandise.
Bureau Of Paranormal Activity
Flight of Fear has seen some adjustments over the years as the journey to perfecting Flight of Fear didn’t end with its initial launch.
After the 1996 season, some high-stress sections of the track showed signs of premature fatigue—a common occurrence with new, high-impact rides. To address this, an extensive project was undertaken to reinforce the track.
Seventy-three specially designed “super-ties” based on Premier Rides’s recommendations were fabricated and welded into the higher-stress areas during the next two off seasons. This reinforcement work was completed in 1998, ensuring the long-term durability of the ride.
Flight of Fear also formerly ran a four-train operation, with each carrying 24 riders, but this later changed to a three-train operation, with each carrying 20 riders.
In 2001, the original lime green over-the-shoulder harnesses were replaced with orange lap bars to alleviate riders’ heads pin ponging between harness.
Likewise in 2001, Paramount didn’t renew their licensing with The Outer Limits and thusly removed the show’s branding from Flight of Fear–dropping the phrase from the name and mentions of it in the ride’s theming and queue videos.
The coaster has always maintained the alien abduction storyline, while adjustments to the queue decor and lighting packages have been altered. But overall, there have been no major changes to Flight of Fear.
Reception To The Invasion
When Flight of Fear launched for the first time in Doswell VA, it set the world record for fastest acceleration on a roller coaster. The coaster also won several top honors at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions trade show.
Furthermore, Flight of Fear won awards for Major Amusement Park Ride and Technology Applied to Amusements. And the rider reception has been equally favorable to this out of this world roller coaster!
In The Industry
Flight of Fear kickstarted a trend of themed indoor launch coasters in the industry.
Indoor roller coasters weren’t new. Themed coasters weren’t new. But, launch coasters were new. And, Flight of Fear’s test launch on April 11th, 1996 was the first ever launch on a coaster using, quite simply, magnets.
The LIM technology Flight of Fear introduced to the coaster community went on to be utilized in other launch coasters like Universal Studios’ Revenge of the Mummy, Valleyfair’s Steel Venom, and Kings Dominion’s Volcano: The Blast Coaster.
The novelty of a well-themed coaster launching riders into a dark coaster-pretzel adventure continued after Flight of Fear with Rock N Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Revenge of the Mummy (again) at Universal Studios, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Epcot.
Flight of Fear’s layout was duplicated. It has the two locations in Kings Dominion and Kings Island where the pair are, largely, identical. And, two outdoor counterparts operate too, Joker’s Jinx at Six Flags America and Poltergeist at Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
Our favorite extraterrestrial attraction has definitely made its mark amongst the roller coaster industry! And remarkably, that mark isn’t just another crop circle.
Back To Earth
Touching grass again, I think it’s easy to say that Flight of Fear is an epic coaster that began as an engineering marvel, opened as a world record holder and industry game changer, and continues as an excellently themed thrill ride that holds multiple awards to its name.
It is quintessential Kings Dominion (and Kings Island) and an otherworldly roller coaster.
I don’t really have much to say to conclude this other than go ride it! And, show it some love! (please don’t be weird about it)
extraterrestrial extraordinary experience. Plus, it’s always a blast to stand in the station and listen to other riders watching it launch for the first time. There are enough people still who haven’t ridden it before and don’t realize it’s a launch coaster until they’ve waited through the line, get to the gate, and start exclaiming a series of profanities ranging from “hell no” to “f*ck that” and it’s fun.
And, enjoy the outer limits!
Flight of Fear Top Secret Online Files
Have you ever ridden Flight of Fear? What are your thoughts on the ride?
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Thanks for reading!