TAMPA – Thrill ride developers at Busch Gardens acknowledge that the park's newest attraction might not be everyone's idea of a good time.
Falcon's Fury opens on May 1. Riders will be seated upright and whisked to the top of a 335-foot tower, then the seat will pivot 90 degrees so the guest is looking straight down.
That's when the ride plunges in a six-second free fall.
Jeff Hornick, director of design and engineering at Busch Gardens, said riders will reach speeds of up to 60 miles per hour on the plunge.
"It's a different kind of thrill ride than a roller coaster," said Hornick. "It's really polarizing. You're either really going to want to ride it or not want to ride it at all."
Park officials say it's the tallest, free-standing drop tower in North America and the only one in the world to feature forward tilting seats.
"Drop towers have been popular at theme parks for many years, but what you see with Falcon's Fury is the industry's relentless drive for innovation," said Jeremy Schoolfield, editor-in-chief of Funworld Magazine. "Ride designers are always looking for new twists on classic attractions, and Fury's pivoting seats certainly fit that bill. Putting riders in a facedown position as they drop toward the ground is definitely a new take on this type of ride."
There are taller drop towers in the U.S., but they are integrated with other rides or buildings. Lex Luthor: Drop of Doom at Six Flags Magic Mountain in California has a 400-foot drop and the Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey will have a 415-foot drop when it's constructed later this year. Both of those are attached to other rides. A famous drop tower is the Big Shot, the ride atop the Stratosphere hotel and casino in Las Vegas that catapults riders 160 feet in the air.
Falcon's Fury stands alone, and Hornick says guests can see downtown Tampa and even St. Petersburg some 30 miles away once at the top.
Guests must be 54 inches tall to ride. A circular gondola of 32 seats takes the riders to the top of the tower — once there, a computer program determines how long the riders will stay at the peak before the gut-wrenching plunge.
Hornick said the wait time at the top will be randomized, anywhere from one to five seconds.
"The only thing you're going to hear is your heart beat," he joked.
On the 60 mile-per-hour drop, the seats will be pulled back, to give riders a feeling of "ripping" a parachute cord, said Hornick.
The park wanted more of a scary, thrill ride to debut this year, he said, following a few years of new family friendly rides and stage shows.
Falcon's Fury is the centerpiece of a newly designed section in the park called Pantopia that includes new retail and food areas.