This week Randy from Metro Atlanta Coaster Club headed out to Six Flags Over Georgia to check out the all new "Blue Hawk".
Out of all of the new or improved coasters for 2016 this was one that really made everybody curious to see if they could actually make the ride good (again or for the first time). Check out Randy's review, it may surprise you!!
Written by Randy Dewberry
When Ninja was installed at Six Flags Over Georgia for the 1992 season, after spending its first 2-3 years on the Jersey shore as “Kamikaze”, it was the tallest continuous-circuit roller coaster in the park. It would hold that title for almost 15 years, only being beaten by Goliath in 2006; in point of fact, the spikes on both of Six Flags’ shuttle coasters, Viper and Déjà Vu, were also taller, at 138ft and 195ft, respectively. During that time, the ride developed something of a reputation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a good one, which usually led to its one saving grace among coaster fans – it almost always was walk-on regardless of the day you visited.
Six Flags has tried to improve things. First there was a new paintjob in 2006 that changed its supports from white to black and freshened up the red track. Then there were the train swapouts about 4-5 years ago, as the park took delivery of the trains from the demolished Arrow megaloopers at sister parks Great America (Shockwave) and Great Adventure (the other Great American Scream Machine). That helped a bit, but it soon reverted to type: NinjOUCH. As coaster rumors came and went for the park, the rumor almost always involved the removal of Ninja, either actively or in the form of wishful thinking. In 2015, the coaster ran a single train almost all season, leading people to believe the rumors may finally become reality.
With the arrival of the 2016 season, sharp-eyed readers noticed the park map had Ninja as “all-new” and opening later in the year, and that it was now shown blue in color. The intrigue continued as park officials stated that Ninja indeed was getting some work done and would possibly even ditch the old name for something newer. Throughout March and April, the coaster traded red and black for blue and gray (track and supports, respectively). In May, the name change became official as the park announced an election – as if we needed another one in 2016 – where guests could vote on one of three new names for the ride: American Eagle, Blue Hawk and Air Commander. Over 6,000 votes were cast by the time the polls closed, with as more than 50% chose “Blue Hawk” for the ride’s new name, thus negating the need for a runoff (which Georgia law would require to be run in July).
Fortunately, the name would be the finishing touch to the already significant changes to the ride. Equally fortunate was the park understanding and full-on embracing the fact they had a problem child. In the discussions I’ve had with park officials, they’ve all acknowledged Ninja’s reputation, and that all this work was intended to fix as much of that was humanly possible. Vekoma provided a lot of assistance, from inspecting and making any needed adjustments to the entire run of track (it’s not known if any sections were outright replaced instead of being finessed) to providing two new trainsets for it. Said new trains would sport Vekoma’s new vest-style restraint system that had already improved the experience on the nearby Carolina Cobra (well, as much as a Boomerang experience can be improved). Then there was the theme switch, from Japanese assassins to the American military. The station colors match those of the ride itself, and the former “pagodas” along the queue line are now festooned with red, white and blue pennants.
Six Flags could not have picked a better day to launch the renovated attraction. Warm but not oppressive, low humidity – a “Chamber of Commerce day”. As invited guests awaited the new ride, they were treated to a duo of bagpipers and a local falconer who had brought along a European Buzzard (it sure looks like a hawk, but that’s its name, according to its handler). After a rousing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from a lovely team member with tremendous pipes and some appropriate words from park brass, the first train was sent on its way, filled with 28 active-duty military and their families. Moments later, your intrepid reporter was aboard and kicking the tires.
The seats are fitted with black rubber inserts that were rather grippy and comfortable. The harnesses are hydraulic in nature, with an infinite number of lock points, meaning it’ll be secure and comfortable for any rider. While not my first experience with the Vekoma vests, I still treated them as if they were brand new to me, analyzing them and checking their comfort. The rubber vests are secured by seat belts at the back, and when the harness is closed, there’s a bit of slack in it so it’s not squeezing into you (riders of Wild Eagle at Dollywood will be thankful), yet it’s still quite secure. Final checks complete and the train was on its way.
Even in the first few moments leading to the lift, the ride felt different. The 122-foot lift felt a bit slower than the previous version, but as soon as it drops off the chain, that’s where the fun really begins. The entry and exit for the butterfly are still a bit rough in points, but (1) it’s much less than before and (2) there’s no horsecollar to bang one’s head into. The entry into the reverse sidewinder, as well as the element itself, were light-years beyond Ninja and quite smooth. The final dual corkscrew is one of the best components of the ride now, and everyone returned truly happy with the experience. I was definitely happy with it, so happy I rode it again in multiple locations, to see if there were seats to seek out and/or seats to avoid.
Riders will be eager to learn that based on my sampling, there is not a bad seat in the bunch. In fact, the best seat may well shock you. My initial run was in my “happy seat” on Arrow/Vekoma loopers, which is the front seat of the rear car … “happy” in the sense that it’s generally the least painful of the various experiences. Since science suggests you try different methods, I took three more trips: in the very front row, in the very back row, and one smack dab in the middle of the train (specifically, back seat of car 4). NOT A ONE was rough, so any seat will be a good ride. Surprisingly, the very back row gives a smooth and speedy experience, and arguably was my favorite of the group.
If there’s any bad news to be had, it’s that the ride is still only operating a single train. Park officials stated that having both trains aboard would have led to another 1-2 week wait on the opening. The second train is on the way and is expected on by the middle of the month. Until then, be prepared for a bit of a wait … unless you yourself are active-duty military and visiting the park in July. Park president Dale Kaetzel announced that they were eligible for front-of-the-line access simply by showing their military ID at the ride entrance any operating day next month.
In conclusion, I do have to confess something: I actually kinda liked Ninja. It wasn’t a good ride, but it wasn’t that bad of a ride either, again thanks to the happy seat. So I’m sure people would assume I’d say the ride was better by default. Well it is certainly better, but I was honestly prepared for it to be just slightly better, enough to be different, but still “Ninja 2.0”, as it were. But it really is better, enough to where Ninja should be purged from one’s memory and replaced by what is actually a very good coaster for the park. It’s not going to enter anyone’s top 10, but it may well leave someone’s bottom 10. In the long term, it’s going to do what it set out to do – improve its reputation – but I also am hoping that there’s an ulterior, yet benevolent, motive at work.
As a reminder, next year is the park’s 50th anniversary, and all signs are pointing to a new coaster on the horizon, and hopefully it’ll be something with some size to it. Whatever it may be, the park seems to be preparing in advance for it, by providing an improved mid-tier ride to absorb the influx of riders to the park who want to experience the new toy(s) for 2017. If that is indeed its true mandate, Blue Hawk will rise to the challenge, and I do encourage all enthusiasts to give this ride a fair shake and a second chance. While you never get a second chance to make a first impression, people (and coasters) can change, and they deserve the chance to show that.
Ninja is dead. Long live Blue Hawk!