A royal blue track will soon change the Kings Island skyline. Climbing nearly 300 feet in the air, "Orion" will be the tallest, fastest and longest steel coaster in the park.
The footers are in place and crews are assembling the first sections of track on the new giga coaster set to open in spring 2020.
The lift hill is beginning to climb into the sky from its position atop a hill behind Flight of Fear, adjacent to The Racer. Manager of Facilities, Engineering and Construction Jeff Gramke says Orion is designed to take advantage of Kings Island's hilly topography.
"They put the drop in the valley," Gramke explains, which allows the park to achieve the 300-foot first drop required to be considered a giga coaster while only needing to build the track to a height of 287 feet.
Orion is slated to reach speeds of 91 mph, extending 5,321 feet. It becomes the world's seventh giga coaster and will be tied for the seventh-longest drop in the world.
It includes 148 track pieces supported by 181 columns. The steel tracks weighs in a whopping 2,200 metric tons and was manufactured by Clermont Steel Fabricators near Batavia.
"The good thing about this coaster is that it runs pretty close to the terrain and the ground so the sense of speed is a lot greater when you have trees and something to reference when you're on the coaster," says Jamie Gaffney, vice president of Maintenance and Construction.
Park officials joke everything associated with a giga coaster is bigger, including the price tag. Kings Island is mum on the actual cost but at upwards of $30 million, it's more than what it cost to build the park in 1972. It also means bigger construction bills.
"We have some huge cranes coming in over the next week or so that we're going to continue working on erecting the lift hill," Gaffney says. "We'll have three cranes set up for that process. There will be a main crane doing the major lifts. We'll have another one that is the personnel basket so they can get and bold these pieces together, and we'll also have another one that assists with holding any pieces in place while the main crane sets another one."
Gramke joined the park as a surveyor in 1971 as The Racer was nearing completion. He went on to learn how to design roller coasters. In fact, he's one of the two men responsible for what is perhaps Kings Island's most iconic ride, The Beast.
"We had to do every calculation by hand, wrote everything down on paper," he remembers. "We didn't even have scientific calculators then."
He says working on Orion is exciting.
"It feels good. It's nice to have a giga (coaster). I'm getting ready to retire soon and this will be my swan song here at the park."