The Significance of Bolliger & Mabillard

The Greatness of Legends

February 12, 2011 - biZarRo

© Six Flags Over Georgia
Z-Force: One of B&M's projects when they worked for Giovanola
The two most famous names in the coaster industry are Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard. Walter, the mind behind almost all of their coasters, first worked with Giovanola, who in the 1970's and 1980's sub-contracted with many other manufacturers, usually Intamin. Claude, who also worked with Giovanola at the same time as Walter, focused more on the engineering and maintenance side of projects. The pair have been building coasters since 1988 and are still in business today. Record breaking rides such as the inverted coaster Nemesis and the dive machine SheiKra have been on almost every coaster lover's top ten list and continue to provide a rideable, and rerideable, thrill. Virtually all of their projects include this thrill. They were the first firm to think outside the box, or the loop, in the case of being the first company to build a suspended coaster that inverted. Even with their improvements on existing ideas, such as the hyper coaster and flying coaster that first appeared from Arrow and Vekoma, B&M turned out to be one of the leading suppliers of the coaster world.

Iron Wolf: The first B&M Coaster.
In the 1970's and 1980's, both of the founders were employed by Giovanola. At the time, Giovanola was supplying rides for many other manufacturers, chiefly Intamin. The two firms were in two joint projects, the space diver and the first Intamin stand-up coaster. Both coasters would feature the same track and train system, except that the stand-up coaster Shockwave would utilize stand-up trains. Z-Force, the space diver, featured sitdown trains that were four seats across with only five rows per train. The four across seating is still present in virtually all of B&M's coasters.

Mr. Bolliger and Mr. Mabillard departed from Giovanola in 1987 to start their own company, Bolliger and Mabillard: Consulting Engineers. In 1990, they built their first coaster, Iron Wolf, the stand-up coaster for Six Flags Great America. At the former spot of Z-Force, the space diver, Iron Wolf would feature the same four across seating but had seven rows which led to a very high capacity at the time. The ride also had the first successful stand-up corkscrew. The element is loosely similar to a pancake flipping, where the trains change their banking by just switching overtop rather than the other way around. B&M calls it a flat spin, but it is sometimes called a wing over. What followed the flat spin was one of the twistiest figure-eight and a half ever conceived. In the end, Iron Wolf was a hit.

Fast forward to 1992, which saw the debut of the most widely used coaster designs in the realm of B&M, Batman the Ride. Opening at Six Flags Great America, it was the first inverted coaster in the world and one of the most intense. Another first on this coaster was a heartline spin. Never before was a coaster's center of gravity the heart. The heartline was pioneered with the TOGO Ultra Twisters, but the coaster had no turns and a very short layout. B&M built on the heartline and added improvements, including two loops, flat spins, and G-filled turns.

The next year saw another new type of coaster from B&M, and, like the stand-up coaster, had many improvements in design. This sitting coaster from B&M was heavily favored over the similar product from Arrow. There were no rough transitions, smoother elements, and was built along the heartline. The first sitting coaster from B&M was Kumba at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. This coaster was supposed to open in 1992, but the big focus instead was Batman the Ride, that amazing success up north in Illinois. Also opening in 1992 was Drachen Fire at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, which was why Kumba was planned for 1992. Even though it missed a deadline, Kumba was the star of the year. Major improvements were made over the Arrow sitting coaster. Take the Seven Inversion Triplets at Six Flags for instance. All begin with three loops before they hit the mid-course block brakes out of breath. Kumba hits five inversions before its first block zone which gave it incredible pacing and forces. Two elements in the first half were new in this era: first, the dive loop which made its way up to the top and twisted upside down into a half loop, and second, the cobra roll which was smoother than Drachen Fire's, the first custom coaster to feature it.

Nemesis: One of B&M's only terrain coasters.
The following year, 1994, saw a new way of experiencing the B&M inverted coaster. The next recipient, Alton Towers, had a major obstacle for building this coaster, in which no structure may stand above tree height. B&M used this to their advantage and kept digging and digging until the debut of Nemesis. Many enthusiasts that have been fortunate enough to ride Nemesis claim it to be the best B&M inverted coaster in the world because of its unique layout, terrain, and theming. The designer, John Wardley, the head of all projects at Alton Towers, went through numerous manufacturers and sifted through many designs before siding with B&M and the design for Nemesis.

Skipping ahead to 1996 saw another major project completed and the return of a major gimmick from past companies, with B&M perfecting the innovation. Mantis at Cedar Point was the first step up from other Intamin's, TOGO's, and even B&M's past stand-up coasters. The ride featured the new dive loop used on Kumba and an inclined loop, which some debate its classification as an inversion. Mantis, which was originally to be named Banshee, opened as the tallest, fastest, longest, and most inverted stand-up coaster.
Great Bear: A B&M Inverted Coaster with interesting supports over water.
Even though that title was held for only one year, Mantis was the first to push the limits of a stand-up coaster, and it did that and more.

In 1997, a revolutionary coaster opened as the tallest, fastest, and featured the largest loop on an inverted coaster. Alpengeist at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, the Ghost of the Alps, was amazing from the queue to the snow-trenched helix finale. The theming was incredible for B&M and made use of the ravine in the center of the park. The Ghost of the Alps, Alpengeist in German, haunts a certain ski lift and YOU happen to be traveling to the top of the mountain on that certain ski lift. What follows is a very exciting and thrilling adventure, with a cobra roll, a pass under a bridge, and a snowy trench.

The year 1998 saw the completion of two major projects, the first, Oblivion, was the next masterpiece from John Wardley at Alton Towers. This prototype dive machine took thrills to a whole new angle, 87.5 degrees in fact. A new train design featured eight seats in a car but there were only two cars per train. This allowed for no slow up when going through the sharp, near-vertical dive. Also new was a wider track gauge which gave more support for the heavier trains without using more support columns than necessary. Even though it was short in both duration and stature, it was a hit with a 170' drop underground into oblivion. The next great thing that happened during the summer of 1998 was Great Bear at Hersheypark. A new steel coaster was needed since the park didn't have many major coasters, with Wildcat being the favored ride at the time. Great Bear was very unique because of its pre-drop portion and its supports near Sooperdooperlooper. The supports, seen in the picture above, had to be carefully placed because sinking supports in the river were prohibited by zoning ordinances, and these supports were the final result. Even though it is a pretty slow ride, it set many standards to what limitations B&M could surpass.

The following year would feature two new train designs for B&M's sitting coaster and a coaster where two are better than one. The first, Apollo's Chariot, opened at Busch Gardens Williamsburg as B&M's first hypercoaster. Some people do not classify it in the hyper category because it's only 170' tall, although it has a 210' drop. The trains also had improvements. First, the removal of the over the shoulder restraints occurred, and also super comfy seats and wide open sides were added. Passenger's feet cannot touch the floor of the train. The ride is one of the best since it was the original B&M hypercoaster and has more airtime than most hypercoasters of this time period. The second coaster that opened was Medusa at Six Flags Great Adventure. When it was time to announce the new coaster coming to Great Adventure, very few details were announced. Some thought that it could possibly one-up Riddler's Revenge, which opened the previous year as the tallest, fastest, longest, and most inverted stand-up coaster. What actually came was very different.
Incredible Hulk: B&M's only launched coaster
Medusa was the first floorless coaster from B&M. It was like the inverted coaster, but the cars were on top of the track with raised seats. The coaster as a whole was a huge hit with a layout similar to Kumba, utilizing a loop, dive loop, zero-g-roll, cobra roll, and the interlocking corkscrews. Finally, two more coasters opened at Islands of Adventure in Orlando. One, the Incredible Hulk, was and still is the only launched coaster from B&M in the world, reaching speeds very close to 70 MPH. The other coaster was Dueling Dragons which opened as one of the most compact and unique coasters to this day. With an amazingly themed queue line, Dueling Dragons is the only dueling B&M today, and people say it is an amazing ride experience. It includes many points on the track where the trains are very close together: an airtime hill over a zero-g-roll, two loops facing each other leaving rider's legs inches away from the other train, and two corkscrews interlocking at the end. To ensure that each ride gives a proper duel, an enhanced computer system weighs both trains as they're leaving the station and modifies the lift hill motor to the appropriate speed. Dueling Dragons can also have up to six trains running on both sides combined without the need for a mid-course block zone. Its loading and unloading platforms are separated which allow for quick dispatching.

Something new happened in 2001: Wildfire at Silver Dollar City opened as the last successful sitting coaster with many design improvements. For example, there is tiered seating, much like the hyper coaster in which riders' feet can't touch the ground, except there are over the shoulder restraints featured due to inversions. The ride itself is very unique, using the park's hillside for a small lift and huge drop. The queue line is also very well themed with many scientific inventions.

The next year, Air opened at Alton Towers as the first flying coaster from B&M. The ride is short but has many surroundings which make it seem like it's going faster. Air is the only B&M flying coaster for passengers to have many moments on their back as they fly over walkways and through trenches and tunnels. The trains have been improved upon over the Vekoma Flying Dutchman rolling stock. Passengers enter the train just like an inverted coaster. Once restraints have been checked, the thumbs up is given and the train tilts into the "Superman" position before crawling towards the lift. Also featured is a split loading station, just like on the Dutchman. This led to some malfunctions and mishaps during the first season. The next coaster that year was yet another hyper coaster, this one being the tallest and fastest coaster from B&M to date. Silver Star zoomed over the highway at over 80 MPH and produced some of the most floater airtime in a B&M hypercoaster. After the mid-course brake run, the coaster appeared to pick up more speed and airtime in three additional hills. After a tricky little s-bend, the train hits the sloped brake run.

Production slowed down in the next few years. In 2004, Daemonen opened at Tivoli Gardens. Excluding dive machines, it was the shortest B&M coaster in height, length, and speed. But the ride seemed very intense for a floorless coaster and featured a tilted immelman to reduce the forces. Another part of the design was a helix before the drop, similar to Great Bear. The Danish felt that Daemonen was the perfect addition for the ancient park.
SheiKra: A major Dive Machine from B&M

The following year brought two additions to parks that already had B&M coasters but wanted more. Hydra the Revenge at Dorney Park was the park's second addition from B&M and desired a replacement for the defunct Hercules. Hydra was vaguely inspired by Hercules, primarily with the pre-lift. It featured a very slow barrel roll which gave plenty of hang time and thrills for a small coaster. What followed was a 90' tall lift and six more crazy inversions, including an inclined dive loop and inclined cobra roll. The next coaster to open that year from B&M was SheiKra, a totally original dive machine at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. The ride was 200' tall, a record for dive machines, 70 MPH, another record, and featured the tallest inversion on ANY ride ever made, a 145' immelman. The ride was still short but maintained its pace throughout the entire ride. In later years, the floor of the three-row trains was removed to provide more of a thrill.

The year 2006 saw a new way to experience the B&M flying coaster, the first custom one since Air. Tatsu opened as the tallest, fastest, and longest flying coaster and focused on new elements never before featured on a flying coaster. First, a flat spin inverted riders over the lift after the first drop.
Diamondback: The second B&M Hypercoaster to feature the V-Seat trains.
A zero-g-rollover occurred after the flat spin and led directly into the fastest part of the ride. What everybody didn't expect was a huge pretzel loop dropping off of Samurai Summit, the location of the ride in Six Flags Magic Mountain. Another feature that returned was the split loading station, being perfected to reduce maintenance issues over the prototype B&M Flyer.

Two years later saw another significant train design that continued to appear on rides thereafter. On B&M's Hyper, the new V-Seat trains premiered on Canada's Wonderland's new coaster Behemoth. The ride had a few major flaws, for example trims on many of the hills before the mid-course block brake, but integrated the new rolling stock nicely. The trains themselves gave passengers a view of the ride ahead and were even more wide open than the previous hyper trains. Something that wasn't completely noticeable on Behemoth, or any coaster with the new trains, was a front seat and back seat differential. The ride experience was very different in the back versus the front. The ride was the tallest coaster in Canada and was one of the best rides at Canada's Wonderland.

Upcoming B&M rides include Krake which will open at Heide Park Soltau as a new custom dive machine. The ride is a cross between Oblivion and SheiKra. The ride will feature an immelman and water splash but will be very short with just one airtime hill after the immelman. Its height at 130' is about halfway between the two major dive machines and has a water splash right after the first drop. A new flying coaster will be opening at a new theme park in China, World Joyland. Starry Night Ripper will feature many elements that haven't yet been featured on any of B&M's flying coasters. First is a vertical loop. It once was thought that a loop on a flying coaster would be too forceful but maybe this one will break that barrier. A fly-to-lie and lie-to-fly will be featured along with a double flatspin, the first to be featured on any B&M coaster. The star of next year from B&M will be their latest prototype. Completely original, Raptor will be located at Gardaland. The new coaster will be 100' tall, will feature an inline twist, zero-g-roll, a flat spin, and will be 2500' long. Its trains have yet to be revealed, but it has been reported that passengers will be seated to the side of the tracks, like Furious Baco at Port Aventura. Also planned will be a water splash and an underground station.

B&M has come a long way from Z-Force and Iron Wolf to the scream machines we experience today. They have expanded their catalog very rarely while they have worked to perfect their existing coasters and decrease the very few maintenance issues. The new coasters for 2011 will prove that B&M has been thinking out of the box more recently like they were in the 90's. Bolliger and Mabillard: that's who you hear about at every park, how smooth and reliable their coasters are, and how they produce record attendance for parks that premier new B&M coasters. This is the remarkable history, the significance of Bolliger and Mabillard.

Related Information

Latest Blogs


©1998-2016, All Rights Reserved.