TAMPA — Busch Gardens is months away from opening Falcon's Fury, a ride touted as the tallest, free-standing drop tower in North America.
But the 335-foot tower is here — at least in pieces.
Nine segments of the steel tower have arrived from Tarragona, Spain, into the Port of Tampa, a 4,700-nautical mile trip that took a month. The pieces totaled 519 tons — more than 1 million pounds — making it one of the port's largest, single shipments ever.
Each cylindrical segment measures 12 to 20 feet in diameter and weighs 75 to 95 tons. The pieces were trucked last week to an off-site parking lot at Busch Gardens, where they will be prepped for assembly later this year.
Park officials announced in June plans to open Falcon's Fury next spring. Not only will the ride set a record for height, it will also be the first to tilt riders facedown as they plummet downward.
"This is going to be the ride that sets the bar,'' said Jeff Hornick, the park's director of design and engineering.
Smaller components of the ride started arriving weeks ago from Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and other countries. Crews spent most of the summer building the foundation, which involved driving beams up to 205 feet into the ground and fusing them together with several feet of concrete.
Once completed, the ride will stand more than 100 feet higher than the park's SheiKra roller coaster. It will hold 32 passengers secured with over-the-shoulder restraints, leaving their feet dangling. When the ride reaches the top of the tower, it will tilt forward 90 degrees, putting riders facedown during the descent.
Falcon's Fury will be the park's most significant ride addition since Cheetah Hunt opened in May 2011. In keeping with Busch Gardens' wildlife theme, it was inspired by the falcon, the world's fastest animal. Riders are supposed to feel the sensation of rushing to the earth like a bird of prey at 60 mph.
Susan Thurston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston on Twitter.