Six Flags Fiesta Texas, B&M partner
to unleash Dr. Diabolical’s Cliffhanger
AT: Tim Baldwin
SAN ANTONIO, Texas — More than 30 years ago, Six Flags Theme Parks (now Six Flags Entertainment) stepped up to be the first to contract with Bolliger & Mabillard. The original installations of the renowned manufacturer’s stand-up and inverted roller coasters were purchased by Six Flags. In the decade that followed, the partnership saw the first hyper twister and first floorless coasters arrive by the end of the previous millennium. In time, Six Flags and B&M built dozens of crowd-pleasing rides.
After a lull of 10 years, the two are back at it again. Dr. Diabolical’s Cliffhanger at Six Flags Fiesta Texas is the first collaboration between Six Flags and B&M since 2012, and it’s a creative gem.
“The designing of the ride was a very fun and engaging process,” said Six Flags Fiesta Texas Park President Jeffrey Siebert. “It was fun to hear everyone’s collective ideas contributing to the final ride design, from our Chief Engineer Larry Chickola to fellow fans and enthusiasts to Sophie Bolliger and her team at B&M … just everyone coming up with ideas to make the ride even more exciting and in some ways to make the ride feel different and perform differently than other dive coasters that are out there.”
Siebert is an enthusiast at heart, and he knew he wanted something really remarkable on the project. Goals to take the dive coaster to new levels were carefully crafted. Those pushed boundaries weren’t accomplished with record-breaking height or length but with magnifying the forces felt on this genre of ride.
“Just to hear the enthusiasm from their side, along with the excitement we had seen, it was a really fun aspect in designing the ride,” said Siebert. “Being the enthusiast that I am, it was fun to geek out for our first ride.”
The ride’s presence in the park is iconic. It anchors a new plaza area in Crackaxle Canyon Screampunk District, and its purposeful placement towers over the midway.
“Crackaxle Canyon has been a hopping place really since the Iron Rattler renovation in 2013,” said Siebert. “We wanted a new iconic and signature attraction to welcome guests, knowing we needed additional ride capacity in that area. We also wanted to create something really cool and a different entrance experience to Dr. Diabolical’s Cliffhanger.”
The project allowed a reimagining of the surrounding area. In honor of the park’s 30th anniversary, devoted fans were able to purchase anniversary bricks which are placed front and center in the new plaza. More shade and more seating was put in place. As guests approach, they now are greeted with Dr. Butterscotch’s beer truck and a Canyon Smokehouse facility specializing in turkey legs.
Before riding, guests meander through a themed queue. A shaded outdoor portion offers thrill seekers a view of the coaster’s two steep drops. Then riders enter an indoor queue that helps the story of Dr. Diabolical to unfold. The five-room indoor portion repurposes the backstage areas of a former theater that was previously on the site.
“We all love air-conditioning,” laughed Siebert. “Just keeping our guests cool is step one, a check mark to create a fun experience. But not only did we want the ride to be a fun physical experience, but we wanted a story to enhance it and make it unique. Dr. Diabolical is her own character, and adding her personality to this fun, multi-room themed experience really sets up the story.”
Five animatronics featuring three unique characters were provided by LifeFormations. Despite Dr. Diabolical’s claims of offering eternal youth through her elixir, willing participants are warned during the pre-show that her plans are much more sinister. The endgame results in her fiendish machine harnessing the riders’ fears to give life to her monstrous creations. It’s all in good, tongue-in-cheek fun, and the added story and theming enhance the ride experience to a higher level.
Siebert noted that even after leaving the show aspects of the indoor queue, Dr. Diabolical continues to taunt guests even through the ride experience and tells passengers her expectations at the end of the thriller’s finale.
Once dispatched, riders climb to a height of 150 feet, and a slow U-turn places riders at one of the coaster’s signature moments — the hold break. Perched at the precipice, passengers scream as they await the beyond-vertical drop. Two inversions follow turning riders upside down with fluidic grace. A near-vertical drop puts visitors into the second act, which Siebert finds to be the strongest elements.
“The cliffhanger hold really is phenomenal,” Siebert told Amusement Today. “The way it just pulls out from underneath you and you really don’t see the track at 95 degrees — visually, that’s just stunning. As for the physical aspects of the ride, by far my favorite is the back half. We really wanted to create it to where the pacing increased and was more dynamic. The ‘whoas’ going over the airtime hill and the ‘ooohs’ in the helix — it’s forceful. I think the helix is my favorite element; it’s just how tight you hug to the ground.”
The coaster has some interesting aspects not found on any other B&M ride. The 95-degree first drop is the company’s steepest to date and sets a record for this genre in their portfolio. Also, it is the first coaster to feature seven-across carriages. The park purchased four vehicles but will operate with three. This was intentional as to always be able to run at full capacity when one vehicle is undergoing maintenance.
The erection of the ride was done by Northwest Coasters. The gold supports have a patina finish, with the accents helping it blend into the steampunk aesthetic.
“The park shoehorned it in; it’s a tight, tight location in the middle of the park,” said Kevin Messick, president, Northwest Coasters. “The park really thought it through. Security guards were out there helping us when the park was open. Honestly, the guests were really good. There were never any complains. Everyone worked together on it.”
His son, Allen Messick, was project manager. “Figuring out crane placement for 65,000 pound and 85,000 pound picks over 100 feet in the air while simultaneously transporting pieces on site and still keeping the site moving forward for all construction fields was a unique challenge that was only achieved through lots of forethought and coordination amongst contractors and the park. It made for a mentally stimulating project that never lacked for new challenges.”
Dr. Diabolical’s Cliffhanger offered previews in late July and officially opened to the public on July 30.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas is cohost of the 2022 Golden Ticket Awards and attendees will enjoy exclusive ride time on this dynamic new installation.