The Steel Phantom was one of the great rollercoasters.
Sadly gone as of 2002, It was the jewel of Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When it was built in 1991 it was the fastest, tallest, gosh-darn scariest coaster in the world, with two vertical drops greater than 200 ft and a top speed of 80 mph. It took me three summers to get my nerve up to ride the the thing. I was a coaster weenie back then, scared by the sickening feeling of impending death, but my little sister finally talked me into taking her on it. I still remember that first double clang of chain on car, clicking and jerking me for what seemed like an eternity. An eternity I was willing to endure, because I knew that as soon as it ended I was going to go plummeting down the first hill, around that first bend, and back up. That much I could see from the top of the hill. After that there was just a tangled mess of steel track in loops and corkscrews, a giant's ribbon carelessly discarded across Kennywood park. Kennywood wasn't built in the middle of a big plain like modern parks. It's build into a hill, which is part of the reason for its famous rollercoasters. You couldn't have built the Phantom in some other park because after the first hill comes The Big One.
You hit that second hill without any breath with which to scream. Any air you had after the first drop was pressed out of your lungs by the negative Gs at the top of the hill. And then you looked down. 225 vertical feet. You couldn't see what happened at the bottom because it went under the Thunderbolt. Under another rollercoaster, with so little headroom that you were convinced that it was going to take your head off, though you woudn't have felt it because you were going too fast. You were below ground level by this point, rocketing into one of the natural ravines with which the Pittsburgh hillsides are etched.
It didn't take your head off. Or your hands, which if you still had raised you were either a masochist or trying to impress some cutie in the row behind who probably couldn't even see you. Tunnel vision was not optional.
You pulled out of this apparent free fall with enough Gs to rip earrings out of ears. Really. They made you take them off when you get on to the ride. The attendants didn't like having to clean blood out of the cars.
I still don't know what happens next. I know that it involved corkscrews, a double loop, and whatever was left of the almost three quarters of a mile of track, but all I ever remember is gritting my teeth and trying not to black out.
When you pulled into the terminal two and a quarter minutes later you couldn't walk straight. You'd been battered around enough that your headache was epic and had so much adrenaline in your system that you could have lifted a small car. You needed Tylenol, you needed a nap, and all you wanted to do was get back on.
They've gotten rid of the Steel Phantom. Over the years, the ride got bumpier and too many people complained. They've replaced it with The Phantom's Revenge, keeping and improving those first two drops but replacing the loops with something smoother. More tame. Less headache-inducing. I still ride, but nothing will ever replace the Phantom. More than just a rollercoaster, it was something to survive.
Manufacturer: Arrow Dynamics
Designer: Harry W. Henninger, Jr.
First Season: 1991
Height: 160 ft. / 48.8 m
Largest Drop: 225 ft. / 68.6 m
Speed: 80 mph / 128.7 km/h
Track Length: 3000 ft. / 914.4 m
Number of Vehicles: 2
Passengers per Vehicle: 28
Ride Time: 2:15