There’s a certain ride type that remains a bit of an enigma to me. Most of the coasters amongst my all time favourites made their intentions pretty clear to me over the first few laps, but the Intamin Wing Coaster is all about the element of surprise. If things had played out differently during my visit, this ride probably wouldn’t have made the list and I likely wouldn’t be writing about it at all. Luckily there’s a bit of a fairytale ending.
Located at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, home of the world’s fastest rollercoaster, Flying Aces has an unusual physical setup. The entrance is found indoors, part of the expansive overall indoor complex that makes up the park. Every piece of the ride bar the station is outdoors, in the burning sand.
It leads you through an extensive heavily themed queue of rocks, jungle, artifacts and videos inspired by the adventures of Francesco Baracca, a famous Italian fighter pilot from World War I whose plane carried the logo that later became that of Ferrari itself. It’s quite rare for an attraction of this nature to have such an historic influence, so that alone makes it stand out for me in terms of theming. The sound effects of planes flying overhead as you move through the area is loud to the point of deafening (accurate then) but luckily, as with all the parks I experienced in the UAE, it was very quiet and we never had to stick around and hear it for very long.
The route ends behind closed doors in front of the usual air gates, concealing the ride a little longer and maintaining the mystery of what’s to come. Even the station gives very little away, other than the huge and imposing rollercoaster trains with their two-up two-down winged seats and minimal lap bars of course. The outside world is also sealed off by a pair of doors that, once dispatch is pressed and you hear the noise of the plane firing up, fly open to reveal the scorching hot desert sun. And this.
The world’s steepest and fastest cable lift isn’t just a bragging right, it’s a thing of wonder. Before you have time to think, you’re being dragged up to the top at such a ridiculous pace that it feels like you’re just a toy for the ride to play with. I love that about Flying Aces, it’s a character moment – “whether you like it or not, you’re coming with me now.”
In the daytime, these outdoor rides in ~50°C were an interesting phenomenon in themselves. Of course while you’re moving and the wind is blowing through your hair, you don’t really feel the heat. As soon as the brake run hits, it felt like I was on fire – shouting to the ride to hurry up and get back inside.
I was actually in the UAE as part of a work trip for some global conference, so had the rare opportunity to bring a colleague along to experience this park for the first time with me. For the initial lap I had us sitting apart in the back wing seats, not to be anti-social but because clearly that’s the best place to be – one of the usual alien concepts to your average visitor. He had done nothing of this scale before and was of course blown away by the experience. I wish I could have shared in those initial moments of sheer unprecendented terror, but battle-hardened me found it all a bit par for the course. I was asked as we made our way through the exit what I would rate the ride out of 10 and, to great surprise, all I could muster was an “umm… 7?”
It was definitely really good, but I simply couldn’t avoid drawing up comparisons between other rides, in particular the Intamin Mega coasters and to me at that moment, Flying Aces was no more special. I didn’t know what it was trying to achieve in focusing on a range of elements like the ‘world’s tallest non-inverting loop’, whatever that means, rather than the obvious airtime machines like Expedition GeForce which only have one thing on their mind. Was it a jack of all trades, master of none?
We tried it a couple of more times spaced out during the day and not much changed for me. It was starting to become a bit much for my companion though – oh to feel like that again. In the afternoon we were also joined by my boss who wanted to see what the place was all about. Sadly we didn’t manage to coax him onto the two biggest rides and instead whiled away the day on the lesser attractions, though I had this nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I really want to like Flying Aces – I should give it some more attention later.
After some photo laps in the outdoor viewing areas, we ended up leaving the park in the early evening (under my command of course) to go hunting for a cred in the mall, where the more unusual side of my hobby was witnessed for the first time and er… admired? to a degree. Apparently the phrase “I’ve never seen such dedication in a man” was used as I stood in a queue surrounded by small children for the stupidest of little coasters that actually causes physical pain with its shoulder restraints. Following that we sat down for a relaxed meal in the food court.
I had it in my head that Ferrari World was open until 22:00 so there was plenty of time to give my clear favourite from the day another opportunity to impress me. For some reason, halfway through a large (and amazing) sandwich I decided to confirm this fact and discovered that it was actually closing at 20:00.
“What’s the time now?”
“Just gone 7.”
Leaving the mortals behind (they were done for the day) I walked as fast as I could back through the mall to the park, simultaneously devouring the significant remainder of the sandwich and downing at least half a litre of Sprite in the process. This was where I didn’t miss being inexperienced – I had been cruising all day and felt like it had only just begun, skipping through the queue alone in giddy excitement. I also imagine walking straight onto an intense rollercoaster while eating a meal makes most people feel ill.
I don’t understand how, but Flying Aces was completely different at night and I couldn’t be more glad that I gave it another chance. The ride was doing things to me that just weren’t happening earlier on, but it wasn’t just that, it was doing things to me that I had never felt before, on any rollercoaster. I fully believed those days were gone.
The earlier comparison to Intamin Megas is an important one because though I do enjoy them a lot, those rides have a glaring issue for me and that’s the predictability of the layout. You see an airtime hill up in front of you and you expect glorious airtime. It generally happens, and that’s great, but it’s diminished by the anticipation. The absolute best moments on rides for me are the unexpected ones and in the winged seats of Flying Aces, suddenly nothing was riding anything like how it appeared it should.
What seemed to be a gradual upwards curve into a reasonably drawn out hill, as pictured on the right here, would actually deliver an insanely unprecedented burst of what can only be described as sideways airtime. I wasn’t just being chucked up out of my seat in the usual fashion, I was simultaneously getting thrown laterally, colliding hard with the side of the restraint as the entirely free top half of my body tries to fold itself over the edge and completely leave the train. This ride is actually trying to kill me now and I can’t emphasise enough how good that feels.
All the twists and turns that had seemed a little meandering in the morning now had the capability to provide moments like I just described and as I moved through the various seats of the train during my glorious night time marathon, this never became predictable. I was at the complete mercy of the plane at all times and loving every second of it. Through lap after lap of it hauling up that lift hill I must have had the most stupid grin on my face. The playful character of the ride was back and better than ever and I found myself uncontrollably laughing with glee at the mere thought of what was to come each time. It’s rare when you get a moment this magical on a ride but it always serves as the greatest reminder of exactly what this hobby is all about.
It seems to me that Intamin’s best creations come out of experimentation and pushing the boundaries and this serves as the perfect example. I can’t imagine that they knew what they were really dealing with making with this ride type. I’d like to think that all the computer simulations in the world couldn’t show you the physics of what’s actually going on here and in my humble opinion things should definitely stay that way. If we come any closer to engineering perfection with these rides, then it may well extinguish the spark that makes something so special.