How Skyline Attractions Developed One of 2018’s Most Anticipated Rides
When Six Flags announced the new attractions coming to their parks for 2018, one of the most exciting was a never before seen ride coming to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster, designed by Skyline Attractions, will be the world’s first Skywarp Coaster when it opens. If you aren’t familiar with them, that makes sense, this is the first large thrill ride they’ve ever built. At least, it is as a new company. The founders of Skyline had been part of the team behind some of the best wooden roller coasters in the world. We had a chance to talk to Chris Gray, VP and Partner at Skyline Attractions, about their history, and their newest creation
From Wooden Coasters
Skyline Attractions was founded in 2014 by a team of four, all of whom were amusement industry veterans. Three of the founders – Jeff Pike, Evan Souliere, and Chris – had all been working together at Great Coasters International, Inc, the company known for its smooth, twisting wooden coasters.
“Jeff (now Partner and President at Skyline Attractions) and I had worked together at Great Coasters International forever,” Gray told us in the interview.
“Jeff got the job first, and while he was there he was looking for someone to come in and help in the area of building cars, so he called me and said ‘hey, you wanna do this?'”
That was back in 2002, when Chris took charge of train assembly at GCII. Jeff was the VP of design, and is the mind behind some of the company’s best known coasters, rides like Kentucky Rumbler, Wodan and Gold Striker. Evan Souliere joined them at GCI through the intern program that Chris and Jeff started, later becoming one of their lead engineers. Coaster101 actually interviewed Evan back in 2014 about work he was doing, including on a major project in China. Which leads us to one of the reasons the three of them decided to form their own company.
“I think China was really the thing that sort of put us over the edge,” Gray said.
“Jeff was flying over to China a lot more than any of us, he had been taking like 2 or 3 day trips for a couple hour meeting. We had talked for years about other ideas outside of wooden coasters. We had steel roller coaster ideas and other ride ideas, that there wasn’t really time for (at GCII). It just seemed to be the right time (to start Skyline). We had just finished all the engineering drawings for the big Viper coaster and had the Chinese review. If we were going to do it that was the time to do it.”
With that, the three of them, along with their fourth co-founder, Bill Wydra, began to think about what to do next.
Something Completely New and Cool
That all came from what we can do, what we can design, and how we can change the industry. Show them something they’ve never seen before.
Skyline Attractions officially formed in July 2014. In meetings as they were forming the company, the team worked to figure out what it was they wanted to do first.
“We had the crazy ideas, and it was just a matter of which one we really wanted to do,” Gray explained.
“Ultimately, we were going to make kids rides for the first couple of years, and thought if we had one kids ride that takes off and we build a bunch of them, it’ll help fund us to build what we have in mind (eventually Skywarp).”
One of those first “crazy ideas” they had is what would become Skyline Attraction’s unique “Games-U-Ride“. The Games-U-Ride, “Strike-U-Up” and “Spin-U-Win“, are essentially hybrids of classic midway games and kiddie rides. In Strike-U-Up, for example, one guest plays more or less a typical strength test game, hitting a button with a giant hammer. Instead of ringing a bell, though, the hammering actually shoots (well, raises) a seat that their friend is strapped to up pillar. Two pairs of players race to see who can reach the highest. As the name implies, it literally is a game that guests can ride. And it was a first of it’s kind.
So where did the idea for the “Games-U-Ride” come from?
“Within the first couple weeks of incorporating, and we still hadn’t left Great Coasters, we were taking weekend trips to Florida,” Gray told us.
“We were at the Columbia Restaurant in Celebration, Florida, and we were having mojitos at 11 in the morning, trying to figure out what the hell we were going to build. A lot of stuff has come out of those mojito meetings. Evan had a great idea for an interactive game, and I said ‘well, hell, why don’t we just put people on it?’ That all came from what we can do, what can we design, and how can we change the industry. Show them something they’ve never seen before. That’s where this interaction came up with games.”
Skyline Attractions ended up building both Strike-U-Up and Spin-U-Win, with the latter going on a revenue share (where the park shares the revenue of the ride with the company instead of buying it outright) to Six Flags Over Georgia, and the former bouncing around the various parks. Most recently Strike-U-Up was at Darien Lake in New York State this past summer, and it will be in the same region next summer.
Along with the Games-U-Ride, Skyline also developed a kids ride, as per their initial plan. The Crazy Couch was revealed in late 2015. It’s a small footprint ride, offered in both mobile and fixed versions, and Skyline built and sold several of the crazy couches. The plan had been to start off building smaller rides to fund their eventual big project, but they learned a lesson from these smaller projects. It took effort to sell them.
“We were just so excited about introducing something completely new and cool (with Games-U-Ride). It might have blinded us in the realm of is this functionally going to work for a park or carnival at the price that it sits,” Gray told us.
“Then we’d built some Crazy Couches, and Jeff said, ‘Why are we building these kiddie rides? They’re cool, but they take just as much effort to sell as it does a 2 million dollar coaster. Let’s just make the 2 million dollar coaster.'”
With that, the focus shifted from kids rides and games to trying to take the Skywarp concept to a level of detail that it could be marketed and sold.
A Thrilling Coaster for Under 2 Million
It takes some of the coolest parts of all roller coasters, and does them over and over
The idea that eventually became the Skywarp started back before Skyline Attractions had actually formed. The Skyline team had heard from lots of people that if someone could find a way to build an affordable coaster in a tight footprint, the market could be huge. At Great Coasters they’d heard from customers about a desire for small wooden coasters under 2 million dollars, but it was never really feasible. Skywarp was born out of that goal.
The team had been traveling to Florida on weekends to work on figuring out how to form a company, and that’s when Gray had the first idea for the ride.
“Basically, it takes some of the coolest parts of all roller coasters and does them over and over. One morning really early, Jeff and I were sitting in the MCO airport, and I was like ‘what if we just did two Immelmans back to back, it looks like a figure 8.'” Gray explained.
Pike came back with the idea of making it one big train, giving the effect of two trains passing each other. The original idea was to make it a wing coaster, but they realized that the size of the space and track required for that would blow past the 2 million dollar price point. Instead, they came up with the back-to-back seat design. The concept was then shelved for months, but when they formed the company it continued to come up regularly.
The realization that it made sense to go straight to the big project idea brought Skywarp back to the forefront in 2016. That summer, Skyline had an intern with experience using 3D animation tools. He was able to create the first renderings for the ride, and they put the images into an ad in Amusement Today. The ad garnered enough attention that Six Flags contacted the company about setting up a meeting at the IAAPA Expo that fall when Skyline revealed the concept.
Developing the Concept
“Everything that operators of all sizes desire: big impact, big thrills, big visibility and big capacity with a small footprint and a small price.
After the IAAPA meeting, Six Flags wanted to learn more. The plan was for them to come back to Skyline in March to see if the design had progressed enough that they’d be comfortable buying one. Skyline began working on testing parts of the concept.
“So between the show and the first of March, we built a series of different items out in our shop to test the seat and make sure it was comfortable. To test how it sits face to face, and how the restraint would fit. We basically bought a gimbal and put a seat in it with a restraint. We were basically rolling around people on the shop floor in a Skywarp seat,” Gray told us.
“Some of the guys from Six Flags came down,they were able to sit in it, and we were able to discuss things we would change or improve. It was so preliminary at that point that we could really change anything that needed to be.”
They had also decided at that point to work with Rocky Mountain Construction (the company best known for hybrid wood-steel conversions) to build the track. Skyline had decided they liked the idea of the monorail track, which RMC had been working on. Six Flags had worked with Rocky Mountain on lots of projects, and later that year they would announce a single rail coaster for Six Flags Fiesta Texas from RMC. The Skyline team knew Six Flags would feel good having a proven track maker, that Six Flags knew well, working on the project.
“It’s something we were talking about since way back in the beginning,” Gray described. “It’s not a lot of track, six different pieces each done twice, nothing super complicated. We asked Fred (Grubb, founder of Rocky Mountain Construction), and of course he says ‘Hell yeah, I’ll do it!’ Next thing you know they’re going to make the track for us.”
In July 2017, this past summer, the company announced they had sold their first Skywarp. In the press release announcing the sale, Evan Souliere described the ride as “everything that operators of all sizes desire: big impact, big thrills, big visibility and big capacity with a small footprint and a small price.”
A month later, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom would reveal that they were the lucky park in the chain to be getting the worlds first Skywarp, the Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster.
How A Skywarp Works
The idea is to go through the top of at that Immelman at zero G, and let the train rotate around you.
Part of the trick to making a small, but thrilling, coaster, was to pack as many elements as possible in. The two heartline zero-G Immelman loops are the obvious features, while the double ended train allows for a fly-by element. The back to back seats allow riders to experience the ride both forwards and backwards, and the drive system allows it to be repeated multiple times.
Originally the ride was going to be driven by Linear Induction Motors, but the cost for the system would have been a quarter of the entire ride price. LIMs are still offered as an option if a park wanted them, but Skyline worked on how to drive it with tires as a more affordable alternative. The double ended train is balanced, so the key is to drive it enough to get it over the top of the first loop.
“We have about five feet of complete coast without being driven by anything, ” Gray explained.
“Ultimately the train is almost always in contact with the drive tires, but the idea is to go through the top of at that Immelman at zero G, and let the train rotate around you.”
The actual cycle is still being developed, with Skyline working on figuring out what exactly the Skywarp can do. It will be up to the parks, though, to decide what they want and work with Skyline to get the cycles and speeds they desire.
On the train side, the ride shape allows for some different design elements. “It still works the same way as a traditional coaster train, with guide wheels, upstops, and road wheels,” Gray told us. “But, because of how the machine actually works, we’re able to just build the wheel and bogie system to be specifically turning the one direction all the time.”
Building The Skywarp, and What’s Next For Skyline Attractions
I’d say stay tuned for IAAPA…
With the sale finalized, work is now coming along on the first Skywarp. The parts for the first trains of the Harley Quinn Crazy Coaster have all been ordered, and Skyline plans to have them in house by the end of the year. They’re currently working with the team at RMC on how they’ll actually fabricate the track pieces. The goal is to have all of the parts for the ride, including track, done in time to actually assemble the ride first at Skyline’s shop in Florida.
“The idea right now is to functionally test the ride here in our shop. We’ll have a base frame for it that’s here, and it’ll look like a big Carny ride setting up,” Gray said. “We’d like to get as much as possible built here, test it, break it down and ship it to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom with very little to do other than just set it up and run it.”
And what comes after that for Skyline Attractions?
We know that when Six Flags finds a successful new ride they tend to build versions across multiple parks. This came up when we talked to Sally Corp about the Justice League rides they built at six different parks over three years. Chris told us that’s certainly what Skyline is hoping for, but that’s not all they have going on. “We’re all super excited, and working non-stop it seems,” he said.
While the Games-U-Ride isn’t their main focus anymore, largely due to the economics, Gray said there are three or four other ideas for games they have. If the price tag could come down, or the economics of park games changes, or they just the right customers, it’s possible we could see more of those unique concepts developed.
And there may be something else coming up sooner. We didn’t get any details, but when we asked Chris whether they would have anything exciting to show at the IAAPA Attractions Expo coming up this month, he responded:
“We’ve got some other stuff that might be talked about at the show a little more. It’ll be interesting to see what people think of some of the ideas we have. I’d say stay tuned for IAAPA.”
We’d like to give a huge thank you to Chris Gray, Vice President at Skyline Attractions, for talking to us for this story. We’re really excited to see big projects from a new design company, and we can’t wait to see the progress of the Skywarp over the course of this year. We plan to be at Discovery Kingdom when it opens in 2018. We’ll also be attending IAAPA next week, November 14-17, to see what Skyline might be working on, so stay tuned to Coaster101 for any news. We promise to share our thoughts with Chris.
If you want to learn more about Skyline Attractions, check out their website. Finally, share with us any thoughts you have on Skywarp or Skyline, and if you have any more questions about the ride or Skyline, let us know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter!