Shockwave at Six Flags Great America

When I was a very small kid visiting Six Flags Great America, there was always one ride intimidating enough that I wouldn't ride, sparking fear into you immediately upon entering the park, that being Shockwave

Standing at 170 feet tall with 7 inversions, it was briefly the world's tallest coaster when it opened in 1988. However, like many Arrow coasters, what was initially hailed as an incredible ride became quite rough over time, and were supplanted by other manufacturers in the industry - most notably B&M and Intamin. After fourteen years, public opinion of the ride had soured, with many complaining of a rough layout.

Image: Joel Rogers, 2001. Coastergallery.com

It was the first of three Arrow Dynamics mega looper roller coasters, each of which featured 7 inversions and roughly 3,900 feet of track. Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain is the only one that remains in operation today, with the other ride being the Great American Scream Machine at Six Flags Great Adventure.

While Viper has a slightly different layout, the only difference between Shockwave and the Great American Scream Machine was that the latter was three feet taller, a byproduct of being built the following year in 1989, and thus capturing the World's Tallest Looping Coaster record from Shockwave.

Interestingly, that was not the original plan, as the design for Great American Scream Machine was transferred from Great Adventure to Great America in 1988, as Great Adventure did not feel that the Arrow Mega Looper was the right fit for the park at the time, but would obviously construct their own a year later. I don't know why Great America didn't consider the Great American Scream Machine name, as it would have fit in perfectly at the park.

Initially, Shockwave was met with critical acclaim, but like many of the 1980's Arrow looping coasters, would quickly nosedive in popularity as it became more rough over time, and would quickly lose ground to new coaster technologies featuring designs that used computer technology, as opposed to the hand-drawn and hand-cut Ron Toomer designed rides. Shockwave's ultimate replacement would be a good microcosm of this, as Bolliger and Mabillard would design the ride, and wouldn't enter the coaster industry until two years after Shockwave was built. Where would B&M start? The other side of Great America of all places, with the stand-up coaster Iron Wolf.

In 2002, Great America was looking to create space for a B&M flying coaster, which would be a clone of the newly-built Superman: Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Over Georgia (both in name and in layout, with minor differences).

The original plan was to remove the Whizzer roller coaster, which was one of the original rides to open with the park, then known as Marriott's Great America, in 1976. Whizzer was a Schwarkopf spiral-lift roller coaster, and one of only two such spiral-lifts operating in North America (the other being Jet Star 2 at Lagoon). The reasoning was that as Schwarzkopf is a defunct manufacturer, spare parts are hard to come by for the coaster, and often have to be specially built.

However, in addition to its historic value, Whizzer was, and remains, a great family roller coaster, and an intermediary for younger kids between kiddie coasters such as Little Dipper and more thrilling coasters such as the Demon. It also has a great terrain layout, with many curves hugging the ground. Thus, the general public let the park management know that removing the Whizzer would be a huge mistake.

Almost nineteen years later, and the ride still stands! (Negative-G)

At the same time, Shockwave suffered an operational issue during a late 2002 test run, and it was decided that the high maintenance costs and roughness of the ride would make that a better candidate to remove than the beloved Whizzer. Shockwave would never reopen after August of 2002.

In spite of its issues, there was still hope that the ride could be repaired, saved and relocated to another theme park, and for the 2003 and 2004 seasons, the Shockwave sat in pieces in the employee parking lot of the park, and strung on a nearby hill, visible from some of the rides at the park.

Image: Shockwave in pieces, Jon Revelle, 2004.

For the 2003 season, Superman: Ultimate Flight would replace the Shockwave in the same area, using the original ride's station.

After nearly two years of dormancy, Shockwave was scrapped without a bidder. A small, mangled piece of the ride was saved from scrap, but the rest of the ride was demolished, in spite of what some of the strangest internet conspiracy theories would have you believe.

Here's a POV of the ride from 1993.


During Fright Fest, one of the decorative graves of the park's past rides is given an epitaph for Shockwave, saying "They said "Save The Whizzer" and Shockwave became chopped liver" at the Six Saints Cemetery.

Thanks as always for reading!

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