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Virtual flying with Superman: How Six Flags New England added more thrills to its top coaster

By Keith Shaw and Brandon Butler | July 21, 2016

You take your seat on the roller coaster and a large belt is locked into place. A Six Flags ride attendant places a virtual reality headset over your eyes. A chin strap is tightened, and you look forward in the headset.

Suddenly, you’re inside Superman’s Metropolis in an immersive experience. You can’t see the coaster, the ride attendants or even the person next to you. You only see the virtual Sky Tours seat, which looks like the pod of a large Ferris wheel. As the ride begins, you see the simulated urban landscape, but then Lex Luthor, Superman’s nemesis, comes into view. The physical coaster is climbing up the track, but you have no idea how high you are. Luther has an electricity gun, which he fires at the train, along with some LexBots that also grab the train, detaching you from the track.

As the physical train crests over the top of the track, it barrels down a 221-foot drop at 77 miles per hour. In the virtual space, you’re also plunging, but Superman flies in to catch you before you crash, and you’re now flying with the Man of Steel. But then Luthor knocks out Superman and once again you’re dropping…

That’s just the beginning of the VR experience as part of the Superman roller coaster ride at Six Flags New England. For the next two-and-a-half minutes, riders wearing the virtual reality headsets experience a whole bunch of other swoops, dives, turns and thrills as Superman battles Lex Luthor high above the buildings of Metropolis. The VR component, which debuted on June 9, is the latest addition to the coaster, which has won the ‘best steel roller coaster’ award by Amusement Today’s Golden Ticket Awards five times since launching in 2000. It’s not the first coaster in the Six Flags system to get VR - Shock Wave at Six Flags over Texas in Arlington, has that  distinction, but the Superman coaster in New England is the “world’s tallest, fastest and longest virtual reality coaster,” Six Flags says. In addition to the Superman VR experience (also seen or soon-to-be seen at two other Six Flags parks), coasters with VR at other Six Flags parks include an experience where riders are “transported to a futuristic battle to save planet Earth from an alien invasion.”

Six Flags is on the cutting edge of using emerging virtual reality technology. It’s still a nascent industry though, so deployments are not yet commonplace. Research firm IDC predicts there could be 9.6 million VR units sold this year, with the VR hardware market surpassing $2 billion in revenue. One of the most common areas of interest for VR thus far has been in the video gaming industry, but theme parks, hotel and leisure establishments and even college campuses are among the first enterprise users of this technology.

 

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