Guests could escape to a calming oasis hidden away from the rest of Forbidden Valley, where they prepared to swoop and glide across trees and through tunnels as they experienced what it felt like to soar though the air like a bird on the world’s first B&M flying roller coaster. Located at the far end of Forbidden Valley with a simple, calm oasis theme, the emphasis was on the ride experience providing a contrast to the rest of the area.

Fact File

  • Location: Forbidden Valley
  • Manufacturer: B&M
  • Ride Type: Flying Coaster
  • Cost: £12 million
  • Length: 840m
  • Height: 20m
  • Max. Speed: 47mph
  • G-Force: 3G
  • Duration: 1 min 40 secs
  • Capacity per train: 28
  • Number of trains: 3
  • Capacity per hour: 1500
  • Opening Year: 2002 (16th March)
  • Closing Year: 2015 (8th November)

As guests approached the entrance to Air at the far end of Forbidden Valley the first thing they would notice was the change in the theming, from a theme of carnage and destruction caused by the Nemesis creature, to a calm hidden oasis where they could escape the chaos of the rest of the area. Heading towards the entrance of the queue line guests could either join the main queue on the left, or the Fastrack or Single Rider queue to the right. Riders requiring the disabled entrance could find this to the right of the Air Shop.

Making their way through the queue line guests would come to a split point where a member of staff directed them to one of two stations. If directed to the right hand station guests made their way straight ahead, down the slope, if directed to the left hand station guests took a left turn over a bridge before making their way down to the air gates. Single riders were only filtered into the right hand station, whilst riders using the disabled queueline automatically went to the left hand station. Both stations offered a separate front row queue.

Once guests reached the station they were allocated into one of seven rows of four (the front row having its own queue leaving six rows for general batching). When the air gates open guests made their way onto the train placing any loose items into the storage lockers located between the two stations. After taking their seat, a padded over the shoulder vest style restraint was pulled down which simultaneously triggered two ankle flaps to lock, securing riders’ legs in place. Staff then checked the train and, once all seats were fully locked, riders were raised into the flying position in preparation for the train to depart the station.

After leaving the station riders turned to the right before ascending the lift hill, travelling over the path that led towards the ride. Once at the top of the lift hill the train took a small dip to the right before a 180 degree right hand turn which led into a large drop towards ground level. Riders were then twisted into a ‘fly-to-lie’ manoeuvre so that they were now on their back before going through a large, left upward turn, twisting again to return them to the prone position (‘lie–to-fly’ manoeuvre). On exiting the lie-to-fly, riders passed under a small ravine before heading up into a tight right hand turn. The train went into an inline twist, then through a small dip into a left hand 180 degree turn, quickly followed by a right hand turn onto the brake run. Riders slowed to a halt before the train was directed towards one of the two loading stations (usually the opposite station from the one which the train departed).

Once the train came to a complete stop in the station, riders were returned to a seated position before the restraints were released allowing them to depart the train. After collecting any loose items left in the storage lockers, guests exited via a set of stairs at the rear of the station emerging into the Air Shop where they could view their on-ride photos.

Air was known as ‘Secret Weapon 5’ throughout development.

Opening in 2002, Air (short for Aerial inversion ride) was the first Bolliger and Mabillard flying steel coaster to be created. The concept for the ride was originally conceived in 1994 with John Wardley wanting to create a ride which simulated the feeling of flight. Due to technological limitations it would be 8 years before he saw his vision become reality with B&M manufacturing the ride, Consign the computer systems, and Tussauds Studios creating the theming.

Air is located on the site of the former ‘New Beast’ which called Forbidden Valley home from 1992, until its removal in 1997 (The Beast has previously been located behind Talbot Street from 1988-1992). The New Beast’s removal left a significant gap at the far end of Forbidden Valley and it would only be a matter of time before this was filled by a new attraction.

Plans for Secret Weapon 5 were first submitted in August 2000, with permission being granted in October that year. Construction began in mid-2001 with the site being cleared and Alton Towers Resort officially announcing that the then unnamed ‘Aerial Inversion Ride’ would open in March 2002. Testing of the ride began in early 2002 with specially designed crash test dummies. A full scale marketing campaign was also launched in conjunction with Cadbury Heroes (who had signed a 5 year sponsorship deal), featuring the slogan ‘Assume the position’ – referring to the prone position riders would be placed in to experience the ride – and saw adverts screened across televisions and cinemas nationwide.

The ride finally opened on 16th March 2002, however it was not without its teething problems as the ride experienced a number of reliability issues in its first few months of operation. Despite its early issues, Air quickly became one of the most popular rides at the resort and remains the only flying rollercoaster in the UK.

During late July 2015, an application for minor enhancements to Air, including changes to its station as well as the addition of two theming features and a photo-opportunity kiosk, was submitted to Staffordshire Moorlands District Council. Towards the end of the 2015 season teasers telling guests to ‘prepare for a new flight’ then appeared around Air’s plaza and on the Resort’s website, fueling speculation over what might happen to Air in 2016. On 12th January 2016, at a media event held at the London Science Museum, Alton Towers Resort announced that Air would become Galactica from April of that year, claiming it to be “the world’s first rollercoaster full dedicated to virtual reality”. Whilst there would be no physical changes to the ride’s layout, guests would now have the option to wear a VR headset for the duration of the ride to simulate an interstellar adventure.

Galactica officially launched to the public on Thursday 24th March, although guests could effectively still experience Air by opting not to wear the VR headset.


Behind the Scenes

From a sneak peek inside the operator cabin, to capturing the picturesque views from atop the lift hill, here is a behind the scenes insight of the world’s first B&M flying coaster.

Air construction (September 2001)


Through our micro site, sw5live, we extensively followed the construction of this prototype B&M masterpiece, which was a concept first thought up in 1994 by John Wardley and B&M.