Six Flags America previews its new coaster, Apocalypse

May 18, 2012

Michael Reitz admits that he can’t ride roller coasters as much as he could a few years ago.

“I used to be able to ride [a coaster] 10 times in a row,” Reitz said. But now “when you start flipping me upside down more than three times, I have to take a break.”

This wouldn’t be a problem for most 42-year-olds, but Reitz gets paid to ride coasters. Luckily it’s just one part of his job, and he’s not trying to set any records. Reitz is an engineer with Six Flags, which runs 19 amusement parks. He’s one of a handful of people in the company who help dream up the next exciting, or possibly terrifying, ride to open at one of the parks.

Reitz, who grew up in Montgomery County, recently gave KidsPost a preview of what’s in store for his hometown park: Apocalypse, a stand-up coaster that loops, corkscrews and dives 10 stories at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. The ride opened June 7 at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County.

“I think one of the things that is fantastic is that it’s a stand-up,” Reitz said. “They’re not as common. Standing up and going [upside down] definitely feels different.”

The coaster, which replaces the log flume Skull Mountain, didn’t appear in the park overnight. Planning started more than a year ago.

“For this ride, we looked at what would be exciting and what would fit in that space,” Reitz said.

How to build a coaster

Instead of buying a new roller coaster, Reitz and his team found what they were looking for at the Six Flags near Chicago, Illinois. Steel coaster Iron Wolf had been a popular ride at that park for about 20 years, but the Illinois park was ready for something new. The ride was in good shape, and it would fit in the Skull Mountain spot.

So crews began taking apart the two rides in September. Once the flume was gone, the space was a long way from being ready.

“One of the biggest challenges of this ride was what used to exist here,” Reitz said. “There was a big hole.”

The hole soon became a concrete foundation for the cleaned and painted coaster, which arrived on about 30 trucks from Illinois, Reitz said. The coaster got a new name: Apocalypse, which means the end of the world, to fit with the giant skull that looms nearby.

Reassembling Apocalypse was like putting together a puzzle you’ve done before.

“Sometimes you put a brand-new ride in and . . . sometimes the holes won’t line up,” he said. “With this, you know it already fits.”

After the pieces come together, engineers inspect the track, including those super-high hills that lift the cars to a peak. Apocalypse, at 100 feet, isn’t considered a big deal.

“I’ve climbed up 450 feet on the Kingda Ka,” said Reitz, referring to the world’s tallest roller coaster, which is at Six Flags in Jackson, New Jersey.

Going for a test ride

Engineers then check the computerized parts of the ride. They run empty trains to test how well it stops and whether it goes as fast as needed. Dummies are used to measure how much force the riders feel. And finally, Reitz hops on for a few test rides, sitting in the front, back and middle of the train.

“When I get on that first time . . . I want to make sure there’s nothing strange that’s going on. But there’s no fear of ‘Wow, is it safe?’ ”

After that, Reitz and the other engineers can move on to something new, such as the world’s tallest drop tower, Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom, which will open later this year at Magic Mountain, a Six Flags park in California.

Perhaps one day Reitz will work on something he has dreamed up: a ride based on Hot Wheels, the popular die-cast cars.

“I remember the orange plastic track, making the loops with my friends,” Reitz said. A ride “wouldn’t have to be anything crazy or scary.”

Reitz may not know what it looks like yet, but the goal for Hot Wheels would be the same as for Apocalypse or any other theme-park ride.

“Really, what it’s designed to do is to make people happy.”

Christina Barron

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