Kings Island’s new giga coaster uses rolling terrain to its advantage

Kings Island is working to use its rolling topography to maximum effect while constructing a $30 million roller coaster that will soon be the park’s tallest and fastest.

That was evident Monday during a behind-the-scenes look at Orion, which features a steep 300-foot first drop into a valley at the 365-acre Warren County amusement park.

“I’ve always made the statement, ‘The only level spot at Kings Island is at my desk,’” said Jeff Gramke, the park’s manager of facilities, engineering and construction. “We’re not mountainous, but we’re very terrain-driven here.”

Already in place after a little more than a month of construction on the giga coaster are its loading station and the first several its 181 ride columns and 148 pieces of track, including a portion of its lift hill and the bottom of its first drop.

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Gramke said most of Kings Island’s other coasters are 215 feet high and less, “so going up 300 (feet) is a huge, huge jump.” Orion is 287 feet high but uses the contours of the land to travel below the coaster’s base in the first drop.

Approximately seven feet of Orion’s first drop takes place at an 85-degree angle. Kings Island’s steepest drop so far is experienced during a ride on Diamondback, which is 75 degrees during a 215-foot first drop.

“You’re going to feel like it’s straight down,” he said.

Orion will be one of only seven giga coasters in the world. Giga coasters are a class of roller coasters with a height or drop of 300 to 399 feet.

The new ride will be the third roller coaster at Kings Island designed by Switzerland-based Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M), joining Diamondback, which debuted in 2009, and Banshee, which debuted in 2014. Seven of the top 20 ranked steel roller coasters in a 2018 poll conducted by Amusement Today were designed by B&M, the most by a ride manufacturer on the list.

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Orion will replace Firehawk, a coaster that was demolished following the 2018 season. All the steel for the new ride should be in place by the end of January, and the park is expected to start running the ride for tests in February.

“It depends on weather,” he said. “In Cincinnati, that’s sometimes problematic, but that’s the goal, to have it ready to go by January.”

The ride, which will be the park’s longest steel roller coaster, is scheduled to make its debut in April.

Gramke, who has overseen construction on all of Kings Island’s coasters except The Racer and Woodstock Express, was one of two people who helped design The Beast. He said the technology being used to create Orion has made it “much easier” to construct than the classic ride.

“When we did The Beast, we didn’t have computers,” he said. “We did every calculation by hand. We didn’t even have scientific calculators.”

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Using more steel to construct a taller ride means bigger cranes, wider foundations and increased geotechnical testing, which is why there is a $30 million price tag.

“Everything just kind of goes up,” he said. “When you hit the giga, the prices turn giga, too.”

Orion’s ability to reach a maximum speed of 91 mph will make it one of the world’s fastest coasters, according to park spokesman Chad Showalter.

“You can’t get a coaster experience like that many places on the planet,” Showalter said. “To bring this to Kings Island guests in the spring of 2020 is going to be something special, not just for the people who live around here, but for coaster enthusiasts around the world. They’re adding Kings Island to their list next season.”

Because the ride will run close to the ground and will have numerous trees on either side, the sense of speed will be much greater, according to Jamie Gaffney, Kings Island’s vice president of maintenance and construction.

“It’s going to be a lot of up and down, nice air time, a really fast ride,” Gaffney said.

Click here to watch a live stream of Orion's construction.

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