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Altoona Adventureland debuts new S&S Dragon Slayer Roller Coaster
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With its new Dragon Slayer ride, Altoona, Iowa's Adventureland amusement park is debuting a new roller coaster, a replacement for the park's dismantled Dragon.
The Dragon's departure was a little traumatic for some long-time fans. The 30-year-old roller coaster was taken down with little fanfare, just a park Facebook page entry showing a knight holding a sword and standing behind a dragon, captioned “Coming in 2021.” That post was followed by a second a few days later, showing a similar photo that rotated along with the words “The Dragon Slayer.”

Adventureland spokeswoman Molly Vincent was mum on the matter; park Facebook fan pages both welcomed a new ride and felt the old Dragon's demise to be a bit sad, with all the memories made on the ride that first opened in 1990. It was originally built at a cost of $2.5 million, created with 350 tons of steels and 1500-tons of concrete. The Dragon ran 2,620 feet in length reaching 55 miles per hour as it accelerated to its highest point of 97.5 feet.

Opening May 29th, the new Dragon Slayer cost $7 million. Created by S & S Sansei, it's a Freespin roller coaster now located on the former Dragon site next to the park's popular Tornado wooden coaster. Built during fall of 2020, it took its first test run in March of this year before opening to the public at the end of May.  

Brightly colored with red track, grey supports, and green, yellow, and red train cars, the new ride is a bright standout in the park. Dragon Slayer is a 4th Dimension coaster, meaning that riders sit in spinning cars horizontally positioned on either side of the track. They flip throughout the ride. This type of seating means the coaster track can make vertical hairpin turns that would be difficult otherwise; upon boarding, the riders' queue is divided in half before reaching the loading platform, directing guests to either side of the track.

The Dragon Slayer follows a vertical lift hill, descending into a primarily downhill track with flip-making hills and unique half-inversion turns. Each side of the track has a different name: the Knight and the Squire, which each offer slightly different spinning experiences, the Knight side being a more thrill-filled experience. The track is vertically stacked, and riders' seats flip due to the presence of magnetic fins.

Its hills and loops and constantly spinning seats create a crowd pleaser for watchers as well as riders. Lasting approximately 45 seconds, riders will find themselves upside down a good portion of the time. The coaster has a castle façade in keeping with its theme.

Speaking of the park's opening weekend and new ride, Vincent says “We had a great opening weekend. We had weather in the 70s all three days, people were happy, and opening Dragon Slayer a little earlier than anticipated was the cherry on top,” she notes.  “We had planned for a June opening, but when we got everything commissioned and tested a little early, we thought the holiday weekend would be a great opportunity to get it open.” The park offered a season pass promo to welcome first riders.

The park now boasts a total of 6 coasters. Monster, from Gerstlauer Infinity Coasters, was placed at the park in 2019. The spinning coaster Phoenix from Maurer came in 2020. Before these coasters were added some 23 years had passed since new roller coaster attractions were added.

“Those three coasters right in a row are a big investment, but we're a family business. We're all in,” Vincent asserts.

The 4D Free Spin style of roller coaster has sold very well according to S&S execs; they are popular both for large parks like Six Flags to regional locations like Adventureland. With a relatively low-cost installation and providing an exciting ride with lots of visual appeal for those watching it as well as those riding it, its popularity is not a surprise.

Near the new ride, the lift hill and two loops of the original Dragon still stand, positioned over a water area and leading right up to Dragon Slayer. According to Vincent “We left the loops there as sort of an homage to the namesake.”

As to the new ride itself, the different experiences on both the Knight and Squire sides of the track are only one way in which riders may find a different experience each time they ride. Weight distribution within each car, Vincent says, is another. She points out that because of these differences, riders don't really know what kind of ride they will get each time, which lends itself to multiple ride experiences.

 The 4D Free Spin coaster was originally introduced in Six Flags San Antonio. There are over a dozen of the rides now installed worldwide. Adventureland is the first park to utilize a shorter track length, what manufacturer S & S calls “the 800,” describing it as having the same height but a slightly shorter track length than the original model. The shorter track allows a smaller number of vehicles to be running; Dragon Slayer has two, with each of them seating eight riders. Minimum height requirement to ride is 48 inches.

Vincent relates that the park operators are excited by the new ride's thrills and fun. “We hope everyone in Iowa and the Midwest is too.”

Elsewhere in the park, the Giant Sky Wheel suffered weather damage in 2020, requiring retrofitting of ride's gondolas; it too is now operational.
The park is still adhering to some COVID-19 protocols including frequent sanitizing of high traffic/touch areas of the park, and deeper cleaning. Hand sanitizer stations are available throughout the park. The park will be open seven days a week until August 22, when it will return to weekend-only hours. The park's season ends Sept. 19.
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