Known for its thrill rides and exotic animals, Busch Gardens is combining both elements in a new 335-foot drop tower called Falcon's Fury. • The attraction will give riders five seconds of free fall, simulating the feel of "rushing to the earth like a bird of prey at 60 mph.'' It is scheduled to open late next spring in the theme park's Timbuktu area next to the Desert Grill and Scorpion roller coaster.
Park president Jim Dean said the Falcon's Fury will be the "tallest free standing drop tower in North America.'' It will significantly surpass the 199-foot Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Orlando and Busch Gardens' 246-foot Mach Tower at its park in Williamsburg, Va.
"We love the concept and wanted to take it to a higher level,'' he said during a news conference to announce the ride on Tuesday. "It's going to be scary.''
Falcon's Fury will lift riders into the air in seats that tilt forward 90 degrees as they reach the top, putting riders face down as they fall to the ground. Like the bird of prey namesake, riders will plunge straight down at 60 mph and 3.5 Gs.
The face down, free fall component will be the first of its kind in the world, Dean said. The experience will be similar to sky diving, he said, comparing the ride's sensation of flight to the Manta roller coaster that opened in 2009 at SeaWorld Orlando.
Falcon's Fury will stand more than 100 feet higher than the park's SheiKra roller coaster, which can be seen from downtown Tampa on a clear day. To meet the Federal Aviation Administration's approval, the new ride must have a light on the top to alert approaching aircraft.
The attraction will hold 32 people who must be 54 inches tall to ride. It will be built on the site of the Sandstorm ride, which closed earlier this month after more than three decades.
Busch Gardens hired Intamin Worldwide, a Swiss design and manufacturer of roller coaster rides, to create the attraction. The company also built the park's Cheetah Hunt roller coaster.
Falcon's Fury will be the most significant thrill ride addition to the park since Cheetah Hunt opened in May 2011. Last month, the park debuted Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacationshow, a 20-minute live show in the renovated Stanleyville Theater.
Park designers wanted a ride that was inspired by nature and chose the falcon, the world's fastest animal, as an ideal complement to the cheetah, which can run up to 75 mph.
"We love coasters because we love the thrill," said Chris Kraftchick of Orlando, the regional representative for the American Coaster Enthusiasts. "We love any rides that kind of ratchet up that thrill."
The drop tower will be a surefire draw for such thrill-seekers, Kraftchick said, especially given its uniqueness among similar rides. No other ride will be quite like it.
"I think the height and the 90-degree tilt is going to make it a unique experience that people will enjoy," said Robin Wilson, the coaster enthusiasts' assistant regional representative.
News of Falcon's Fury comes just days after Busch Gardens upped the price of a single-day ticket to $89 for adults and $81 for children ages 3 to 9, plus tax, a boost of $4 per ticket. Park officials did not give a cost of the project but said it was a thrill ride element that had been missing from the park. Construction of the ride recently started.
Once built, Falcon's Fury will be the tallest attraction at an area theme park — but possibly not for long. Plans are under way to build a 425-foot observation wheel at the I-Drive Live complex now under construction in Orlando.
The complex along International Drive will also include a Kings Bowl of America bowling alley, which recently opened, Madame Tussaud's wax museum and Sea Life Aquarium, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected]