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Wild Eagle : a Bolliger & Mabillard Wing Coaster as

the culmination of Dollywood's expansion

Update : 24/10/12 - 11h48 Published by Marc Lacombe the 10 September 2012, New.
Last June, NewsParcs attended the 35th edition of Coaster Con, the main annual event of the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE), the U.S. association that brings together roller coaster enthusiasts.

The two main theme parks hosts of the event were Dollywood located in Pigeon Forge in Tennessee and Carowinds in Charlotte, North Carolina. While we will discuss the second in a future article, we focus today at Dollywood where we discovered its new ride for 2012: Wild Eagle, a custom design Wing Coaster manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard. We also had the opportunity to meet Pete Owens, director of public relations and Mike Smiley, supervisor of the maintenance department.

Wild Eagle : the culmination of an expansion plan

Before we look at Wild Eagle, we wanted to ask Pete Owens about the latest developments of Dollywood and the process that led them to choose this ride.

"Before 2004, Dollywood had an L-shape with on one side the area Craftsmen Valley and on the other side the Tennessee Tornado, a Looping Coaster by Arrow Dynamics," he explains. "This is the year that we installed the Great Coasters International wooden coaster Thunderhead in a new area which can be reached by the left side of our main entrance."

"From there, we signed a contract with the Canadian company Forrec who made a master plan for a park expansion. We did market research and technical studies on our terrain that is very rugged because of its situation in the ​​Smocky Mountains," says Pete Owens. "In 2005, we redesigned the County Fair area at the front of the park with 10 new rides and the next year, we added a Topple Tower from HUSS Park Attractions and several other small rides near Thunderhead. Timber Tower (note: the Topple Tower) ride was very pretty, but had mechanical problems and was removed this season. We also continued to add shops, restaurants and other facilities at the back of the park."

He continues, "In 2007, we had a big addition with Mystery Mine , a Gerstlauer Eurofighter custom designed for us. This ride is truly unique because it combines a dark ride with a roller coaster and spectacular special effects. It was very well received by our visitors and it has really increased park attendance. We continued in 2008 with River Battle, a Mack Rides' Splash Battle which led to the creation of the new Wilderness Pass area. This finally allowed to link the areas of Thunder Canyon and Craftsmen Valley, which made Dollywood a loop."

"In 2010, we built Adventure Mountain, a large structure where visitors hike along obstacles wearing safety harnesses. It has 3 different trails and each obstacle has 4 solutions, going from the easiest to the hardest. This makes it accessible to everyone! Finally, we opened in 2011 the Barnstormer, a Screamin'Swing 32 thrill ride manufactured by S&S," he concludes.

The story behind Wild Eagle

Pete Owens explains: "In 2010, we sent requests to the different roller coaster manufacturers and B&M sent us a proposal. Walter Bolliger was offering us the Wing Coaster design and we accepted. For the theming, we based ourselves on its location at the top of a mountain and our eagle's sanctuary, a home for injured or accustomed to humans birds that are unable to live in the wild. So, the Wild Eagle name came from there".

The park came up with an elaborate marketing plan and Pete Owens describes it: "Dollywood's market for potential guests is a 120 to 150 miles (160-240 km) area around the park. Those are the people we want as guests."

He adds: "We announced the attraction at a huge firework festival in Knoxville, TN and Dolly Parton was especially there for that important day. After, we searched and found a company specialised in high volume text messaging and organised a contest. That contest involved guests texting a special number so they could win a chance to ride Wild Eagle during a pre-opening event. We also had videos done showing the ride and a web site that gave out all the information about the ride. We also travelled to every major amusement park fans event to create a buzz. We are satisfied with our efforts as we had national coverage for the grand opening and Travel Channel also did a feature on it. We even broke an attendance record one day due to it!"

Our opinion

Wild Eagle is nicely located inside the park. The entrance of the attraction is in a large plaza where a large sheet metal eagle sculpture resides. That sculpture was commissioned by the park and realized by the canadian artist Kevin Stone. Dollywood continued the great attraction integration with the large beautiful station at the bottom and the track layout on top of a hill.

The ride starts with a 210 feet (64 meters) lift hill where you have a breathtaking view on the area. After the 135 feet (41 meters) first drop, the ride hit a giant 110 feet (33.5 meters) tall loop, a zero-g roll providing a nice floating sensation, an immelman overlooking Mystery Mine and a giant flat spin. After that corkscrew, you hit an airtime hill and a figure 8 helix before arriving into the brake run. All of that is done sitting in the comfortable Bolliger & Mabillard trains.

The ride itself is not as extreme as X-Flight, the second Wing Coaster from Bolliger & Mabillard in North America that opened at Six Flags Great America and that we also rode. But, it is perfectly adapted to the family demographic of the park. An excellent move that was done was lowering the usual height restriction of 54 or 55 inches (137-140 cm) down to 50 inches (127 cm) only. That make it a lot more accessible to children. 

Interview with Mike Smiley (maintenance supervisor)

Newsparcs: What is your opinion on Bolliger & Mabillard, now that Wild Eagle is open?

Mike Smiley: That manufacturer is amazing. The quality of their operation and maintenance manuals is exceptional and they make our job a lot easier. They also provided us with a list of spare parts to keep in stock for the first year and the after sales service is efficient to get us the parts. They even provided us with a 24 hours emergency line to obtain technical assistance.

NP: How much time is needed to prepare the ride in the morning?

MS: It take us 4 hours and 2 mechanics to inspect the ride and two trains.

NP: Speaking of those trains, how was the learning curve to discover how to take care of those unique trains?

MS: Bolliger & Mabillard invited me and a coworker to go spend a week in France. The factory that manufacture the trains is on the french side of the Alps, not too far from Switzerland. We spent that time disassembling, assembling and inspecting our two trains. It was great, because we learned directly from the people who build the trains! It also gave us the opportunity to have a few things corrected before they were shipped to Dollywood. This shows that Bolliger & Mabillard are the best in the industry.

NP: Can you describe how the transfer track and maintenance shop are configured for Wild Eagle?

MS: The transfer track can house one train at a time and is on two levels. The upper level is where the train is and the lower level is our shop, the spare part stock and the ride computers. A winch allow us to lower the cars for inspection. We'd like to note as well that the four Wing Coaster each have their style of garage and Bolliger & Mabillard mentionned that Wild Eagle had one of the best. 

NP: Are you familiar with the differences and evolutions that Bolliger & Mabillard realised for Wild Eagle when compared to Raptor, the prototype at Gardaland?

MS: The large arm that supports the seats is composed of 3 parts on Raptor, while ours is one large piece that is bolted to the chassis that has the wheels. That chassis is also one unique piece. Also, each Raptor car has a large decorative fiberglass shell while we went with a smaller piece to make it easier for our annual inspections. There is also an ongoing investigation with the handles that passengers hold on to on the shoulder restraints. 

New objective for 2013

Dollywood also manages its own water park, Dolly's Splash Country, located near the park. Pete Owens explains "We will open a huge attraction there, a Proslide Hydromagnetic Rocket called the River Rush. It represents a 5 million dollars (approx €3.9 million) investment.". That amount represents a quarter of the total Wild Eagle investment, but when we look at the water park situation, it is perfectly adapted. "Splash Country is only open 100 days out of the year and we got to recuperate that investment during that short period of time. We're currently doing around 500.000 guests every summer and our objective is to reach around 700-800.000 guests ".

We will continue our coverage of Dollywood at a later date with the end of our interview with the maintenance department.

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