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X-Flight ‘like riding on the wing of a plane’

The constructiX-Flight roller coaster located Six Flags GreAmericGurnee. The coaster is 3000 feet high speed drops including zero-g roll. The

The construction of the X-Flight roller coaster located at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee. The coaster is 3,000 feet of high speed drops including a zero-g roll. The ride reaches speeds of 55 mph and has a 120 foot dive drop. | Thomas Delany Jr~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 1, 2012 1:15AM

GURNEE — A year ago this week at Six Flags Great America, director of maintenance/construction Gary Pohlman dealt with the headache of digging new pools for Hurricane Harbor while the Lake County landscape was frozen rock-solid and covered in two feet of snow.

But Tuesday’s spring-like conditions brought a new set of obstacles for crews building the X-Flight roller coaster in County Fair — with temperatures pushing 55 degrees, the ground had taken on the consistency of pudding.

“It’s a mud pit,” Pohlman said with a rueful smile, standing in the shadow of the American Eagle as heavy equipment lumbered through the muck. “We prefer hard ground to move around on at this point. We got all the concrete put in before the holidays, and since then, we’ve been praying for cold, but it’s not working.”

Still, the mild winter has allowed the project to proceed to where the Bolliger & Mabillard-designed coaster is essentially ready for assembly. Workers topped off the 12-story lift hill last Friday with an eye toward having the ride in operation when Great America opens for the 2012 season on May 5.

“The station starts going in next week, and we basically have 90 percent of the columns up, maybe 95 percent,” Pohlman said. “We have about 30 percent of the track in place, and we can start snapping together all the track elements.”

X-Flight’s 3,000 feet of red track — which will include five inversions — will snake into a space formerly occupied by Splashwater Falls, roughly between the Daredevil Dive and the south gate of Southwest Territory. The main entrance will sit across from the County Fair food court and a new souvenir shop dubbed “X-Gear.”

Formally called a wing-rider coaster by the Swiss-based Bolliger & Mabillard, X-Wing will suspend riders 54 inches and taller on seats that extend outward from the center track, putting nothing above their heads or below their feet. The initial “dive-drop” — which twists as it plummets — is designed to produce a top speed of 55 mph, and the inversions include a barrel roll, and in-line roll and a zero-g roll.

The nearly three-minute ride is slated to feature bells and whistles that include water jets shooting alongside the route, fog machines, and a tower placed in the center of the track, requiring the train to make a last-second vertical flip to speed through a keyhole cut.

Great America communications manager Jennifer Dugan-Savage said the park’s normally sleepy offseason has been dominated by anticipation for what is expected to be “an intense, extreme coaster.”

“Everyone is so excited to be getting a coaster of this magnitude,” she said. “It’s all about the experience of riding with nothing below you.”

“It’ll be like riding on the wing of a plane,” said Pohlman, who has been with Great America for 35 years and oversaw the construction of such past coasters as Iron Wolf, which was removed last autumn after a 21-year career.

Iron Wolf was also a Bolliger & Mabillard design, and the firm’s other mainstays at Great America include Batman: The Ride (an inverted coaster) in 1992, Raging Bull (a hyper coaster) in 1999 and Superman: Ultimate Flight (a flying coaster) in 2003. The company is also providing wing coasters this year for Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn and Thorpe Park in the United Kingdom.

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