The B&M flyer is a ride type I’ve been familiar with for most of my coasting life. It started life as a prototype at Alton Towers, following fairly hot on the heels of Vekoma’s largely unpopular attempt at a flying coaster. Unlike the competitor, you board the trains in a standard upright manner and when ready for dispatch the seats hinge upwards from behind you, lowering your face towards the floor and hanging you into the vest restraint in a prone position. This remains a great moment for witnessing the terror in unsuspecting guests as it is a particularly unusual and scary way to begin a coaster. The lift hills are equally unnerving, often with nothing but open ground below you, slowly getting further away as you climb.
Prototype aside I have since come to learn that what these rides excel most at is intensity, something I especially admire in an attraction these days. For sheer physical duress on the body they are usually the most intense coasters that B&M create (along with perhaps one or two of their inverts).
One of the main contributors to this is the pretzel loop element, or any other element that involves the train diving you head first towards the ground and then having you pinned onto your back before returning to the flying position. While these inversions can be a little too much for some to enjoy, I am a huge fan of this unique and unrelenting force that literally takes your breath away, pushing the air from your lungs and making your head spin.
I am happy to declare that I have currently ridden every layout of B&M flyer in the world, with only a couple of cloned versions still to ride, so let’s see how they size up.
#7 Air/Galactica (Alton Towers, UK) – The aforementioned prototype is the exception to the rule when it comes to intensity. The only inversions Air has are a standard roll and the ‘fly to lie’ which, though it puts you on your back for a portion of the layout, does not subject you to much in the way of strong forces. It ends up being rather uncomfortable and the feature has yet to be repeated in another layout. Air’s strong points are the unique way it gains momentum through the starting double drop and the moments that best emulate flying, low down over some grass and rocks.
#6 Crystal Wings (Happy Valley Beijing, China), Superman Ultimate Flight (Six Flags Great Adventure, USA) & Superman Ultimate Flight (Six Flags Great America) – This ranking comes with a caveat. The layout itself is objectively better than the previous entry but if it’s a Superman clone I tend to enjoy it less than Air. Crystal Wings has very strong theming which greatly enhances the ride experience and particularly after riding that version first, I resent riding undecorated copies of it at Six Flags parks.
The layout begins strong with a pretzel loop but then seemingly runs out of inspiration, taking corner after corner with little excitement before ending in an underwhelming roll.
#5 Tatsu (Six Flags Magic Mountain, USA) – I was a little disappointed to find this ride performing below par for what I had experienced with others. The setting and landscape had massive potential and I absolutely love the way it saves the pretzel loop until the end of the layout, diving off the side of a mountain to achieve it – I’m a sucker for a good use of terrain.
My main issue is that it’s like the Supermen in reverse, the first section of the ride is just corner, roll, corner, roll, corner, roll, none of which really get things going. By no means is this a bad ride and I’m fairly sure it gave me DVT with its intensity, but the upcoming competition is just too strong.
#4 Acrobat (Nagashima Spa Land, Japan) & Manta (Sea World Orlando, USA) – Another layout, another pretzel. This beauty starts stupidly intense and then maintains it through the following corner, well beyond sensible limits. Other than the brief respite provided by the mid course brake run (the only one to have this), the remainder of the layout manages to keep things more interesting than the above, with lower to the ground swoops and a corkscrew that snaps a lot more than the average roll on these rides.
#3 Starry Sky Ripper (Joyland, China) – It seems the time had finally arrived to attempt some different elements on these rides and this Chinese anomaly took it to serious extremes. After an unusual straight drop and following large turn, the ride enters a 540° roll.
Wait, you say, I’ve been ragging on rolls this whole time.
Yes, but that extra 180° makes a world of difference. While thinking ‘oh, it’s another one of these’ it continues to rotate past expectation and then the track just falls from underneath you, head first into a drop with a complete wow moment. What better way to follow this than with a vertical loop, essentially tightening the experience of a pretzel and in the reverse direction.
This sequence of elements is simply mind blowing, but then the ride loses steam a little like the others and ends on some corners and yes, you guessed it, rolls.
#2 Harpy (Xishuangbanna Sunac Land, China) – I almost didn’t go and ride this due to my strong disapproval of cloning ride layouts and some rather lazy research. On the surface, this looks like another Superman clone. In reality, it fixes everything about that ride. Once again, the start is the same but, like Acrobat, the intensity of the pretzel is held well after it ends. Suddenly the train lurches to the ground in a completely unexpected manner – I could have sworn there was some airtime on this flyer.
The rest remains intense, essentially cutting the faff out of the Acrobat layout and only having the better of the two inversions. I adored this ride in the middle of nowhere and it made me beyond happy to discover that it was both unique and amazing.
#1 Flying Dinosaur (Universal Studios Japan) – The newest installation to date. Take a compilation of everything you’ve read above and then double the intensity. This is not just my favourite flyer, but my favourite overall B&M coaster and the ride should potentially be made illegal. For a manufacturer that is often declared too safe with their designs as of late, having built their success on crowd pleasers, Flying Dinosaur just exceeds every boundary.
A huge drop takes you straight into the 540° element of Starry Sky Ripper, no holds barred, plunging out of that onto your head and into a half loop. Before you can recover, you’re diving head first into a pretzel loop. That’s the two most intense elements these rides have to offer, back to back. I don’t know what happens from here but all I can tell you is that it provides absolutely no time to regain any sense of composure from the previous experiences, the ride just continues to abuse you – head spinning, out of breath, until the brake run. And I bloody love it.
In doing my research for this list I have just noticed that the rankings follow the exact order of age for these rides so they’re clearly learning more each time and getting better and better. I do hope the world sees a few more layouts in future, as they’re clearly on a roll.