The Bat Revisited

The Bat Revisited

BatFEBRUARY 22, 2013 AT 2:36 PM

Kings Island’s shortest lived major attraction, The Bat, opened in 1981. The Bat was a prototype ride manufactured by Arrow Dynamics from Utah. The Bat was billed as the first suspended coaster, although there was a suspended coaster in Germany that was built in 1975.  Construction on the coaster started in 1980. In October 1980 the station and lift hill were installed. The ride was formally announced on October 29, 1980 with one of the trains were placed on the track in the station to help announce the ride in a press event that was held. “The Bat is a completely new concept in thrill rides,” Kings Island VP and general manager F.R. Bush said at the press conference.  “We are delighted to be the first theme park in the world to introduce it.” The Bat traveled at speeds up to 35 miles per hour. The Bat featured three seven-car trains that held up to 28 riders, making for a capacity of 2,000 riders per hour. The Bat’s track ended up being a total of 2,456 feet. The Bat also stood at a maximum height of 100 feet. The ride also featured two chain lifts. When asked about the name for the ride Bush stated that, “We decided to call our new attraction The Bat because the ride itself is very similar to a Bat in flight, bats soar through the air gracefully, swooping and circling and diving unexpectedly, and that’s exactly what the rider will experience, an aerobatic sensation.”

“We decided to call our new attraction The Bat because the ride itself is very similar to a Bat in flight,” Bush explained.  “Bats soar through the air gracefully, swooping and circling and diving unexpectedly, and that’s exactly what the rider will experience, an aerobatic sensation.”

The ride never caused harm to any of its riders. It last operated publicly in 1983 to be removed in 1984.

The Bat was a rare ride to get on at Kings Island and due to it’s rarity anything collectible including souvenirs and press info are highly sought out, even to this day. The most unusual and hard to find items are “I survived The Bat” buttons and the Bat heads that were placed on the front of the cars.

Opening in April of 1981, The Bat allowed for the coaster cars to swing left and right. The Bat provided thrills from the swings, but they proved to be a fatal flaw for the ride. The coaster did not any banking on the track causing a strain on the shock absorbers for the trains. As the trains would swing around the turns around 35 miles per hour, the forces sent the trains swinging left and right fairly hard which caused major wear and tear on the shock absorbers that were replaced frequently.images

Alongside of the wear and tear on the shock absorbers, The Bat was also found to have more problems. Another problem was that track inspectors found an alignment problem with the coaster’s structure at a steel joint. After several steel stress tests were performed, inspectors found cracks. The inspectors found steel stress on the track and on the train struts. Arrow Dynamic engineers began to make repairs on the ride after the stress tests but they thought the design of the track was the cause of the structural problems. The engineers determined that the design flaw gave the entire blame of the damping of the lateral forces of the turns to the swinging cars. The forces on the struts were at an all time-high which called for the replacement of the shock absorbers so frequently.

The Bat also had another flaw in its design, the braking system. The braking system was hard on the cars. The brake fins were on the bottom of the cars of the trains, which swung. Strain was placed on the wheels as they swung into a brake block. Soon after the ride opened, cracks could be found on the wheels on the bottom of the cars as well as the chassis of the cars. Kings Island and Arrow Dynamic engineers constantly worked on a remedy for this flaw, but were unsuccessful.

All of the flaws led up to the frequent closures throughout the seasons. In 1982, with daily operation approaching, Kings Island helped compensate the disappointment of The Bat being closed by turning on side of the Racer backwards for that season only. The decision was made by Tom Nowlin, then Kings Island’s marketing director. However, it became such a hit that the park left the coaster running one side backwards until the 2008 season when all of the former Paramount Parks’ wooden roller coasters were turned forward.

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There was a big curiosity and interest in The Bat because so few people were ever able to ride it. Guests were greeted at the gates of the park with signs that stated that “The Bat will Not be operating today.” This often made guests angry after being enticed to the park by an ambitious marketing campaign  that surrounded the attraction. Kings Island utilized the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper often to update the public on The Bat’s extensive downtime and closures. Unfortunately with the frequent closures, The Bat operated for the last time in 1983. The coaster was placed into the Standing But Not Operating status for the entire 1984 season before being dismantled the following two seasons.

Once The Bat was completely removed, Vortex, an Arrow Dynamics looping coaster took its place. Not only did Vortex occupy The Bat’s former operating area, it took over the station building. Remnants of The Bat can still be found including concrete footers, access stairs and clearance holes in the Vortex storage shed doors. Over the years, guests riding Vortex could spot train parts from The Bat under the station in crates with keen eyes. However, the parts have recently been scrapped.

I spoke with Don Helbig, Kings Island Public Relations Area Manager about The Bat. When asked if Don had any memorable experiences with The Bat he stated that he had rode it 49 times before it closed. Don mentioned that he was in line for his 50th ride in 1983 when a couple of girls asked if they could go in front of him to ride with their friends. As the next train came into the station that he was about to board, the ride was closed down. Don said that the train that he let the girls go on in front of him was the last-ever cycle with guests. Don also spoke about how the ride had a unique sound as the train climbed the lift hill. Guests could hear the ride from the parking lot.
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Don did mention that the ride operated for the majority of the park operating days in 1981, however most of the days it experienced some downtime. According to Don, The Bat operated only a few weekends in the spring of 1982 and for a very brief time in 1983. Don also stated that a train was cycled one final time early in the 1984 season before the park opened for a stress test. Helbig stated that the park officially announced the dismantlement of The Bat on November 6, 1984.

Check below for a video of the ride announcement, the ride it’s self and concept art provided by Josh Blake.

A look at The Bat from 1981-1985. As always, click the photos to enlarge them.

A look at the concept art for The Bat. Thank you to Josh Blake for providing these photos.