Air (abbreviation of Aerial Inversion Ride; originally stylised as air) is a steel flying roller coaster located in the Forbidden Valley area of Alton Towers in Staffordshire, England. The ride was the first flying roller coaster built by the Swiss manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard. Guests ride in a prone position and experience the feeling of flight by "flying" close to the ground, under footpaths, and narrowly past trees and rocks. The 840-metre-long (2,760 ft) ride reaches a top speed of 75 kilometres per hour (47 mph).
HISTORY The concept of a flying roller coaster was first conceived in 1990 but due to technological limitations at the time, its realisation was delayed. Flying roller coasters are characterised by passengers riding parallel with the track. Skytrack Total, the first flying roller coaster, opened in 1997 at Granada Studios Tour in Manchester.Shortly afterward, Bolliger & Mabillard began designing their own flying roller coaster. Alton Towers began construction of Bolliger & Mabillard' prototype flying coaster in mid-2001. Later that year, Alton Towers officially announced the ride as being an unnamed "Aerial Inversion Ride" which would open in March 2002.Alton Towers later revealed that the ride's name would actually be "AIR", the abbreviation of "Aerial Inversion Ride"; it was subsequently altered to lowercase. In early 2002, testing of Air began with special crash test dummies. Costing £12 million to complete, Air was, at the time of its opening, tied with Oblivion as the most expensive ride at Alton Towers. Air officially opened to the public on 16 March 2002.
DESIGN Air was the first flying coaster installation by Swiss roller coaster manufacturer, Bolliger & Mabillard. The ride was designed by John Wardley, the designer of many rides at Alton Towers and other Merlin Entertainments Group amusement parks. The ride cost £12 million.
STATISTICS At the time of opening, Air was the tallest ride at Alton Towers, standing 20 metres (66 feet) tall. The 840-metre-long (2,760-foot) ride reaches a top speed of 75 kilometres per hour (47 miles per hour). Riders can experience up to three-and-a-half times the force of gravity whilst on the ride. One cycle of the ride lasts approximately one minute and forty seconds
TRAINS Air features a dual-platform loading station, permitting three trains to operate simultaneously. Each train has seven cars, with each car carrying four riders side-by-side in a single row. This configuration allows for up to 1500 riders per hour.
RIDE EXPERIENCE Once in the station, riders of Air board a train sitting down, in a similar style to inverted roller coasters.Riders are restrained through a padded over-the-shoulder harness and a lap bar. At the ankles, two flaps hold the legs in position and close as the harness locks into place. After a train is fully locked and checked, riders are raised into the flying position and the train departs the station. Air departs the station and rises a chain lift hill. The ride's first drop dips to the right, rises up to a 180° turn, and continues down a large drop to ground level. Air's track then twists so the riders are on their backs. This maneuver is known as a fly-to-lie.The coaster then performs a large upward left turn before twisting again, returning riders to the prone position.This maneuver is known as a lie-to-fly. After exiting from the lie-to-fly element, Air passes underneath a small ravine before pitching up, into a tight turn.A 360° inline twist is followed by a series of straight flying, and several turns and dips in the track. The train then slows in the brake run before returning to one of the station's two platforms.
MARKETING Preceding the ride's launch prior, and to it receiving a name, Alton Towers marketed the ride as Secret Weapon 5 (SW5).This followed other similar project names at the park including SW3 and SW4 for the Nemesis and Oblivion coasters. The pre-launch naming trend continued with SW6 and SW7 for Thirteen and The Smiler coasters, respectively. In 2002, Alton Towers entered into a five-year agreement with Cadbury Heroes, to become the ride's sponsor. This was part of a wider marketing campaign costing £4.5 million. The campaign featured the slogan "Assume the position" and consisted of a series of cinema and television commercials. Air was not marketed as a thrill ride, but rather a ride to simulate flight.