January 21st Update: Many of the questions left unanswered by this article were solved one day after its publication thanks to a leaked schematic that clearly depicts the track and supports for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2021 roller coaster! We are proud of the article below and encourage you to give it a read if you want to get really into the weeds on this project, but ultimately the follow-up is more informative. If you’d like to skip ahead to that newer piece (no hard feelings, I swear) here’s a link. Enjoy & thanks for reading!
Before we continue, I encourage anyone who hasn’t been actively following our reporting on this attraction to check out our full 2021 project tracker, here. Any of the previously reported documents that I reference in today’s article should be available somewhere on that page. We encourage you to inspect all the source material for yourself and let us know if you see something you think we may have missed.
Anyway, enough background, lets get to the documents.
Full Project 2021 Foundation Plans
Below you’ll find a patched together version of the full BGW Project 2021 site plan. The seam between the two pages isn’t perfect (there’s a lot of distortion to deal with since all of these images are from photographs instead of scans or digital files) but for our purposes I think it’s plenty good enough.
For many of you, I’m sure the raw blueprint above is a bit overwhelming. Don’t worry, we’re going to break it down as best we can.
Connecting the Dots
First off, lets simplify the plan above by removing some of the extraneous information and highlighting all of the footers shown.
Our next step is to estimate which of the footers in the map above will most likely link together to support a single segment of track. Sometimes this can be a bit challenging, but thanks to the spread-out layout of Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2021 roller coaster, this process is really straight-forward this time around.
The only footer pairings in the map above where my confidence level is below, say, 99%, are at the two ends of the course (where the triangle shapes are). Because the footer paths just end with triangular footer arrangements, we can pretty safely assume that both of these elements are spikes of some kind—segments of (typically vertical) dead-end track where the roller coaster train stalls near the peek and then falls back down the track the same way it entered.
That said, though we can reliably predict that the elements at either end of the course are spikes, we have no way of knowing exactly how the track will be shaped or how the the support structure will actually be designed. Hence, look at the triangular structures at either end of the course as indicators of spikes, not necessarily as an accurate representation of the shape of the support structure itself.
So with support pairs established, all we really need to do is connect the dots and lines to get a roughly accurate top-down layout for Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2021 roller coaster.
Better yet, we can take that layout and overlay it onto the actual site on which it will be constructed.
Quick note: For anyone who is unfamiliar, in short, Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2021 roller coaster is being built behind Verbolten and across the Rhine River from Pantheon. For more context, check out the map in our BGW Project 2021 tracker.
With a pretty solid hypothetical track layout established, what can we gather about this new coaster? First off, the layout confirms that this will be Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s first-ever shuttle coaster (as we first theorized back in October!) Riders will complete (most of?) the course forwards and then again backwards.
Secondly, the station area is, well, really wacky. As you can see from the layout, the course seems to diverge and merge with the longest straight section towards the bottom left. Based on suspicious-looking, proposed concrete pads we spotted back in October, we guessed that these areas were likely some sort of track switch segments—likely the same type of track switch that is being used on Pantheon this year. The footers revealed in the latest filing all but confirm that assessment. Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2021 coaster appears to feature three track switches in total—two as part of the ride’s main course and one to send trains to or retrieve trains from the coaster’s maintenance shed.
Thirdly, if the large spike near the top of the layout image utilizes the full 355′ above grade (435′ above sea level) height allowance that Busch Gardens Williamsburg requested for this attraction, this coaster is going to be unlike anything else the industry has ever seen. Judging by the footer patterns in the middle of the second straight-away (leading into the giant spike), we believe that the track in that valley should be around 60 feet above sea level. If this estimation is accurate, from the spike’s lowest point to its highest point, we could be looking at a 375 foot height delta—making Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2021 roller coaster arguably* taller than Ferrari Land’s Red Force.
* “Arguably” because measuring coaster height is actually more complicated than it seems. I believe a drop’s height delta (highest point to lowest point) is the correct way to measure the height of a drop. That said, others argue that height above ground level is the more important metric. Additionally, Red Force crests a top hat whereas the BGW 2021 coaster we’re imagining here only ascends up a spike—never actually reaching the apex of the element. In other words, this is complicated and what records Project 2021 could and could not actually qualify for will likely be a fairly contentious issue.
Filling in the Blanks
So we know that BGW Project 2021 is likely a monsterous launched shuttle coaster with spikes of some sort at both ends of its course. Additionally, we can see that it features two long, straight sections connected by a couple of curves. We know the station area is really complex, but we really don’t know how it works. Sadly, since we’re only dealing with foundation plans at this point, we really can’t answer any of those questions with any degree of overwhelming confidence.
That said, I think it’s well worth our time to explore the options afforded to us by the existence of all of these questions and contemplate some possible solutions to them.
Back in October I proposed a solution for the station in which trains enter and exit the station in reverse. The idea was that the train in the station would back up to position 3 in the map below and hold there while the other train (stopped at position 1) would back into the station. After this occured, both switch tracks could flip to their other position and the dispatching train (now at position 3) could launch down the full length of the launch section and out into the course.
Thanks to newly-discovered (very small) direction of travel arrows in the Project 2021 station floor plan we obtained and leaked back in August 2019, we can now say with a fair degree of certainty that my original solution to the station area was incorrect.
Given the newly-discovered information, I now believe the station blocking is essentially opposite of what I proposed previously. Once the train out on the course ends its run, it should come to rest at position 3. The other train (in the station, position 2) then departs forward, through the switch track, to position 1. The train returning to the station to unload guests then travels through the switch track in front of position 3 and back into the station.
Given that we’re now essentially positive that there’s a second (smaller) spike at the back of the course, it seems very likely that BGW’s 2021 coaster starts with a swing launch of some sort (a multi-pass launch a la Pantheon’s) and/or ends with a “swing brake” (my newly-coined term for a multi-pass braking setup similar to Tempesto’s). Setups like this allow a coaster to build up or burn off more energy in a shorter area by utilizing the same launches and/or brakes multiple times in a row on subsequent passes.
Another thing to note about the long launch section that runs parallel to the ride’s station: It might have a mid-launch speed hill (or two?) just like Pantheon features during its mid-course swing launch. We don’t have direct evidence confirming or denying the existence of a mid-launch hill at this point but there is a bit of an uneven-looking distribution of footers at two points throughout that straight-away. Thus, the possibility seemed worth noting.
Hidden Valley Launch
At the far end of the course, between the curves and the giant spike, there’s a long, straight section of track that, judging by the footers and terrain in the area, seems to be both low to the ground and relatively flat. I made note of this area back in October but failed to really analyze it very closely. Since then, I’ve become more and more confident in my assessment that there’s a second launch hiding down there in the valley.
There are a few items that point to this. First off, even if we assume for a minute that the speed required to navigate the two turns, the valley, and the spike could be achieved via a swing launch at the start of the ride, the turn radius reflected in the layout would almost certainly result in unrealistic forces being exerted on the riders. This could potentially be mitigated by raising the altitude of the turns substantially, but I don’t believe the required height is reflected in the footers at all.
Secondly, there’s a very suspicious little building that keeps showing up in every iteration of these plans.
The only time I can point to having seen a small rectangular building shoved right next to a straight, relatively flat segment of track is when a launch is involved. I think it’s a fairly safe bet to say that this small building on stilts in the middle of this valley will house the ride hardware for Project 2021’s second launch segment—a booster launch that will propel riders straight into that enormous—potentially 355+ foot—spike.
Between the Launches
One of the easiest to decipher aspects of the layout plan is the curved track that connects the two anticipated launch segments together. Given the increasing spread between the footer pairs throughout the right curve and until about halfway through the leftward u-turn, we can surmise that the track is likely gaining altitude throughout this whole area.
In the second half of the leftward u-turn, the footer pairings quickly condense signaling a notable loss in altitude. This happens in coordination with the start of the valley where we believe that second launch will be located. Putting these things together, we have what appears to be a banked rise to the right followed by a quick transition into a banked rise to the left which then flows straight into a curving dive down into the ravine towards the second launch area.
Given the speeds likely involved throughout this portion of the coaster (both heading forward and backwards), it’s pretty likely that the left u-turn is actually an overbanked turn (banked beyond 90 degrees).
2 Spikes 2 Many
One of the most immediate reactions people are going to have to this layout is “Why on earth would Busch Gardens Williamsburg build a coaster with two spikes the year after Pantheon—a coaster that already features a tall vertical spike?!” Though we can’t really answer that question (it is one we plan to ask the park!), we can speculate that there may be something different about one or even both of these spikes.
Before we move on, lets establish another assumption here: “This ride is manufactured by Intamin.” We still do not have direct proof that this assessment is true—we haven’t seen Intamin’s name on anything yet. That said, given the 2×2 train layout, the way the footers are designed and arranged (sharing essentially every perceivable characteristic with Pantheon), the existence of multiple track switches during the course, an apparent swing launch start, and honestly, just the shear heights and speeds at play here, we feel very confident in saying that Busch Gardens Williamsburg’s 2021 coaster will likely be an Intamin product.
How does establishing that assumption relate back to the spike situation? In the past, Intamin has designed three basic “genres” of spikes: Vertical, Beyond-Vertical, and Spiral. This year, when Pantheon opens, Busch Gardens Williamsburg will have a backwards vertical spike. That still leaves a lot of spike “flavors” unexplored in Williamsburg though.
Lets deal with the smaller spike first (highlighted above). The footer layout here is very basic—just a straight line with a triangle behind it. Due to the small spread of the footers here, we anticipate that this spike will be relatively short (almost certainly notably shorter than Pantheon’s). We tend to think that makes a spiral spike for this location a more unlikely as there shouldn’t really be that much height to work with here. That said, we do think that a beyond vertical spike is possible. Intamin has shown in the past that they’re willing to build short, beyond vertical spikes with minimalist support structures in the past with their Surfrider model. A slightly beyond vertical backward spike would differentiate this backwards spike from Pantheon’s enough where they wouldn’t be entirely duplicative at least.
Now it’s time for the big one—that massive, potentially 355 foot tall tower at the far end of the course. The footer pattern for the River River-adjacent spike is radically different than both 2021’s small spike and Pantheon’s backwards vertical spike. I’ve highlighted the area of the footer plan where the spike will be located in the image below.
First off, just take a moment to note how enormous footers for this structure are—they’re the three light gray squares around the dots that form what appears to be an arrow pointing up and to the left. Not only are they enormous footers, but also note just how spread out they are. Regardless of the specifics of the track shaping, the sheer scale of this element will be downright monumental.
There’s another really interesting difference between this footer pattern and the smaller one at the other end of the coaster too—the line of footers approaching this structure deeply bisects the triangle formed by the main support structure footers. This suggests that the coaster will actually travel up through the middle of at least part of the triangle formed by the main supporting structure.
The footer pattern isn’t the only detail that suggests this either. Assuming I’m correct about the existence of a “valley launch,” to keep the forces realistic, this coaster will need every inch of track possible for it’s vertical pull-out from the launch into the spike. An easy way to get some extra horizontal space is for the coaster reclaim it from the spike support structure by using the structure’s depth to its advantage.
So, working from the assessment that the track likely ascends up the middle of the structure, what options does that give us for the track shaping of the spike itself? Limitless. This could be a simple vertical spike—but that seems like it would be an enormous waste of a good opportunity—especially since this element will be the reason to ride this coaster. I tend to believe that this is very likely either a huge, beyond vertical spike similar to the one on Intamin’s Fly Rider model or it could be a massive vertical spiral—possibly like a supersized version of Ferrari World’s Turbo Track (another recent Intamin product).
Either of these options at the scale we’re talking here (again, potentially 355 feet above grade and 435 feet above sea level!) would be unlike anything else in the world. The tallest shuttle coasters ever built have all just been straight lines with a vertical spike. A 355 foot spiral or beyond vertical spike towering next to the Rhine River would be… unreal.
Putting it All Together
So we have a theory for the spikes, a theory for the station area, a theory for the first and second launches, and even a theory for the curves between said launches. If we shove all of these pieces together into one (very colorful) layout map, we get something that looks like this.
Considering the scale and speeds at play here, this ride looks insane. I don’t think it looks amazing—I don’t think it’s going to be many people’s favorite ride in the park—I expect Pantheon to be better. That said, while it may not be the greatest coaster ever, it is one of the craziest—one of the nuttiest—one of the most absurd coasters I’ve ever seen proposed anywhere. I love me some weird coaster credits and this thing has the potential to be one of the strangest ever.
And that’s all without even mentioning that we’re talking about a coaster that could, legitimately very well be one of the tallest and one of the fastest in the world. A coaster of this scale comes along once in a blue moon and apparently, the next park destined for one is Busch Gardens Williamsburg.
If you’re anything like me, when you combine the coaster’s thoroughly unique nature with its anticipated stats in your head, you start to wonder if any of this is even possible—is there actually enough room to make launches and pull-outs large enough to safely accommodate the speeds we’re talking about here? Are the radii of the turns between the two launches even feasibly safe given the speeds? What would a coaster like this even look like—there’s no existing coaster out there that functions as a reasonable comparison.
Our Best Guess
Well, with all of that uncertainty in hand, I reached out to two respected NoLimits creators, Jake Anderson and Calvin (Intim305), who have both worked on “pre-creation” projects like this in the past. Together, the three of us spent all weekend pouring over the BGW 2021 site plans—inspecting and analyzing every inch of the layout for any clues as to how exactly the track would likely be shaped.
Armed with NoLimits 2 (the top-of-the-line roller coaster simulation program) Jake and Calvin set out to test the feasibility of the coaster the three of us were picturing. After hours of work and a lot of fine-tuning, they came up with a full, working roller coaster that follows the exact layout outlined previously in this article, features a swing launch at the start, a second launch segment down in the valley, and a spike that stretches all the way up to that magic 355′ above grade number. Better yet, though NoLimits simulated force calculations can’t be taken as gospel, the layout seems to be well within the realm of feasibility.
Before I go any further…
THE CONTENT BELOW THIS POINT IS EDUCATED SPECULATION! THIS IS ONLY ONE OF MANY POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE PUZZLE.
The coaster you are about to see features a number of our “best guesses” combined to form a working roller coaster that checks off all of the known BGW Project 2021 specifications. That said, we do not know if there will be mid-launch hills. We do not know what types of spikes will be at either end of the layout. We do not know if the final version of this coaster will utilize the full 355′ above grade height waiver which was initially requested. There are a lot of details we don’t know yet.
The design below should be viewed as a proof of concept. Much of what you see may turn out to be 100% representative of the final product. On the other hand, we could have picked the wrong option at every fork in the road that we came across. The back spike could be a simple vertical spike a la Pantheon. The main spike could be a huge spiral. There could be some sort of crazy hold-brake at the top of the spire. There could be a hill in the second launch. There are many details that we can’t solve with confidence at this point. We don’t know the answers and we are not pretending to—we are simply aiming to give our readers some idea of what we’re imagining in our heads.
After many design revisions, the coaster we decided to share (loving dubbed Drachen Spire) features a nice mixture of what I would consider to be optimistic and pessimistic interpretations of the plans.
Our concept includes a roughly 375 foot tall, beyond-vertical spike thanks to the 20 feet of additional height afforded to us by the valley before the tower. I consider this interpretation to be optimistic—not unlikely or unrealistic mind you, but optimistic.
Our back spike is roughly 105 feet tall and it’s also slightly beyond-vertical. I believe our height estimate here may be slightly conservative but I think the fact that we made it slightly beyond vertical may be the result of some optimism—hope even. We have a hard time imagining a vertical backwards spike nearly identical-but-shorter to Pantheon’s being built in 2021. That drove us to differentiate it a little—hence the beyond vertical back spike.
As far as launches go, we have three of them in our mockup. We start the coaster with a 2-part swing-launch (backwards at 45mph and forwards at 75mph). The mid-course booster-launch down in the valley is set 90mph in the videos below.
I believe the final 75mph speed after the swing launch is a fairly reasonable middle-of-the-road estimate given the turns the coaster has to navigate immediately afterwards. The valley launch, however, is set pretty conservatively right now in my opinion. Our second launch section continues a ways into the base of the spike reducing the speed needed to near that 355′ highest point. Additionally, the trains are leaving about a train and a half’s length of buffer at the top of the spike right now—whether Intamin would be likely to push it further than that is anyone’s guess.
Another note about the first launch before I move on: We included two shallow hills in it where we noticed irregularities in the footer spacing. I would call this an optimistic interpretation, but not overly so.
Next up, the pair of turns between the two launch sections. We chose to use a overbank for the u-turn portion of this area because of the speed at which its taken—the forces essentially necessitate it given our interpretation of the heights here. Of all of the areas of the coaster, this is the section that affords us the least room for interpretation in my opinion. That said, there’s always a chance we could have missed something and the track could be doing something far more daring—we just can’t be sure yet.
Lastly, I should address the station area setup. Our version uses a Soaring with Dragon-style setup where the train departing from the station stops as the track switches behind it. There is a chance that these switches are actually more like Pantheon’s fast track switches and Project 2021 could actually have a forward launch before the backward launch. I would consider either of these options equally valid guesses, but personally, I would prefer to see a more seamless, stop-free ride experience from dispatch to the final brakes—a setup which should be possible if fast track switches are utilized instead.
Regardless, for a better understanding of how the train moves through our proof of concept, I have an (absurd) 32 step map of the ride flow below. Just count upwards to follow the train’s course through the track.
One last thing before we get to the off and onride videos of our proof of concept. Both Jake and Calvin did an immense amount of work to get this coaster finished and filmed in time for the publication of this article. Additionally, they both contributed greatly to my own understanding of this project. Please consider liking and commenting on the videos below on YouTube. You should consider subscribing to both Calvin (Intim305) and Jake Anderson while you’re at it too—they both do great work and they’ve been a huge help this weekend.
First up, here’s the off-ride video of our Busch Gardens Williamsburg 2021 proof of concept: