Alton Towers Secret Weapons

Alton Towers Secret Weapons

At the start of the 2018 season, Alton Towers revealed The Wicker Man (codenamed Secret Weapon 8). “Secret Weapon” is a codename that has been given to Alton Towers rollercoasters since 1991.

Alton Towers Secret Weapons Timeline

Alton Towers Secret Weapons have been installed at regular intervals, with family and flat rides in the intervening years. Two of Alton Towers rollercoasters, Rita and Spinball Whizzer were not included in the Alton Towers Secret Weapons program. Alton Towers Secret Weapons often incorporate a ‘World First’ element.

Secret Weapon 1: 1991 – Arrow Pipeline Rollercoaster (Never Built)
Secret Weapon 2: 1992 – Arrow Pipeline Rollercoaster (Never Built)
Secret Weapon 3: 1994 – Nemesis Reborn in Forbidden Valley (originally named Nemesis)
Secret Weapon 4: 1998 – Oblivion in X-Sector
Secret Weapon 5: 2002 – Galactica in Forbidden Valley (originally named AIR)
Secret Weapon 6: 2009 – Th13teen in Dark Forest
Secret Weapon 7: 2013 – The Smiler in X-Sector
Secret Weapon 8: 2016 – The Wicker Man

Alton Towers Secret Weapons Programme Explained

The Man Behind Alton Towers Secret Weapons

We recommend the following book for anyone who would like to learn more about John Wardley. The autobiography of the man behind some of Alton Towers Secret Weapons:

The Birth of The Alton Towers Secret Weapons

In 1990, Alton Towers added the Thunder Looper roller coaster. This ride was only a temporary addition due to planning restrictions imposed on its installation. With this in mind, Alton Towers began planning for a new roller coaster. Their idea was that the new roller coaster would open prior to the closure of the Thunder Looper. They desired a roller coaster that was big, different and exciting. The project team had to work around constraints such as a tree-level height limit imposed on the park.

Secret Weapon 1: 1991 – Arrow Pipeline Rollercoaster (Never Built)

“Secret Weapon 1” (SW1) was the original plan for the site that would eventually be home to Nemesis. Alton Towers approached Arrow Dynamics for the new roller coaster. The Utah-based company were working on a new prototype. The prototype was a Pipeline Roller Coaster, where the trains ride between the tracks as opposed to a traditional roller coaster where the trains ride above them. John Wardley worked on the design of the ride. He planned to theme it on a secret military facility, codenamed “Secret Weapon 1” (SW1). A short time into the process, the project was put on hold due to the financial problems being encountered by Arrow Dynamics and technical problems with the ride’s design.

Arrow Pipeline - Roller Coaster
Arrow Pipeline – Roller Coaster

Secret Weapon 2: 1992 – Arrow Pipeline Rollercoaster (Never Built)

The Alton Towers Secret Weapons program continued when the project team behind “Secret Weapon 1” SW1 revived the idea of an Arrow Pipeline Rollercoaster a year later under the codename “Secret Weapon 2” (SW2). To overcome the height restrictions and help increase the thrill factor they decided to dig a large hole to accommodate the ride. Rock blasting was used to clear more space for the larger ride.

The proposed Arrow Pipeline Rollercoaster didn’t get much further than the initial plans. When the prototype was ridden by John Wardley and other members of the project team they stated that it was “very slow (and rather boring), looked cumbersome, and was very energy inefficient”. It was therefore decided that the ride type was unsuitable and the idea to install an Arrow Pipeline Rollercoaster was scrapped. The Theme Park began to look for an alternative and this paved the way for “Secret Weapon 3” (SW3), Nemesis.

Secret Weapon 3: 1992 – Nemesis (rebranded as Nemesis Reborn)

John Wardley became aware of a new roller coaster design being installed by Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) at Six Flags Great America. He subsequently entered into discussions with Six Flags who agreed to privately disclose information about the new ride, in exchange for a similar favour at a later date. Jim Wintrode, the general manager of Six Flags Great America at the time, proposed the concept of an inverted roller coaster that featured inversions. Although Wardley believed this would be impossible, Wintrode worked with B&M to develop his idea which led to the construction of ‘Batman: The Ride’. When John Wardley rode ‘Batman: The Ride’ prior to it opening in May 1992, he decided that they needed to build a similar ride at Alton Towers.

The B&M inverted roller coaster, then dubbed “Secret Weapon 3” (SW3), was developed throughout 1992. John Wardley worked alongside Stengel Engineering and landscape architects to develop a layout for the ride and surrounding area. His vision was to make the area exciting for both riders and non-riders. In order to build excitement, the queue line makes its way around the quarry in which the track sits.  To make it exciting for non-riders the final inversion was built at spectators eye level.

Nemesis Reborn at Alton Towers

John Wardley and Nick Varney, marketing director of Alton Towers, came up with the name “Nemesis”.  They pitched a theming concept about an alien creature excavated from the ground. Tussauds Studios elaborated on this, creating the station and surrounding theme design.

A Completely Different Look to Forbidden Valley

In the original SW1 and SW2 plans, the hole is much larger than the one that now contains Nemesis Reborn. Forbidden Valley would look very different had the plans for SW1 and SW2 come to fruition. This is not only due to the shape of the pit, but also because the proposed ride spread much further than Nemesis Reborn into the neighbouring sites currently used for both Galactica and Nemesis Sub-Terra.

What is Nemesis?

Nemesis comes from another dimension, a dimension beyond our imagination! After being disturbed during maintenance, the monster that lay dormant was unleashed, wreaking havoc on the surrounding area. The Phalanx immediately launched their extreme security division to pin down and disable it. It took 250 tonnes of steel to be bent and twisted around the creature to hold it down – creating the Nemesis rollercoaster.

Nemesis is a Bolliger & Mabillard (B&M) inverted roller coaster. The ride opened in March 1994. The roller coaster is 716 metres long and 13 metres high. It travels at speeds up to 50mph subjecting riders to g-forces of 3.5G. Nemesis was Europe’s first-ever inverted rollercoaster, where your legs dangle beneath you as you ride. The intense thrill ride features four inversions.

Despite its age, Nemesis is still rated as one of the best roller coasters in the world, consistently ranking highly in industry polls. Nemesis was the first roller coaster to be completed as part of the Alton Towers Secret Weapons program.

Secret Weapon 4: 1998 – Oblivion in X-Sector

Oblivion was the second Secret Weapon rollercoaster to open at Alton Towers. The ride opened as the world’s first dive coaster on 14th March 1998, amidst a large publicity campaign. With a maximum speed of 68mph, Oblivion was the first-ever B&M dive coaster (vertical drop roller coaster).

Oblivion Drop
Oblivion Drop

The roller coaster has a simple layout with a 180-foot drop at 87 degrees, (meaning it does not have a true vertical drop). The car slowly ascends the lift hill at a 45-degree angle to build tension, then levels out. At the top of the lift hill, it slowly travels around a curve on a unique chain system, seen only on Oblivion. When the car reaches the drop it is held by a holding chain for five seconds, giving riders a clear view of the drop, before the car drops 180-foot into the tunnel below. The open design cars, each weighing the same as a large elephant, accommodate sixteen passengers in two rows of eight. The car uses theatre-style seating with the back row slightly raised to give all passengers a clear view of what lies ahead.

Secret Weapon 5: 2002 – AIR in Forbidden Valley (rebranded as Galactica)

Alton Towers conceived the concept of a flying roller coaster in 1990, twelve years before Air eventually opened. Following the opening of Nemesis in 1994, a flying coaster was planned by the theme park to open in 1998 but was delayed due to technological limitations. During AIR’s development, Alton Towers marketed the ride as “Secret Weapon 5” (SW5). Alton Towers initially advertised the new rollercoaster as a “next-generation Aerial Inversion Ride”, subsequently revealing the name AIR.

Galactica at Alton Towers Resort

The Worlds First ‘lying down’ Experience

When Merlin Entertainment’s coaster guru John Wardley created AIR at Alton Towers over 15 years ago, he introduced the worlds first ‘lying down’ experience on a ride. The sprawling, looping maze of metal has delighted riders and is still one of the park’s most popular attractions. At the time of opening, AIR tied with Oblivion as the most expensive ride at Alton Towers, at a cost of £12 million. A £4.5 million marketing campaign for the ride included commercials based around the ride’s slogan, “assume the position”.

AIR becomes Galactica

It’s a bold move to take something that so many people love, flip it on its head and turn it into something completely different. In 2016, the world first AIR rollercoaster at Alton Towers underwent a huge virtual reality overhaul. John Wardley who designed the steel giant couldn’t be more pleased, despite initially being far from happy with the idea. It was always going to be a bold decision to redesign the ride and turn it into a new VR ride. The new ride named Galactica, wasn’t just AIR plus, it was literally in another world.

Alton Towers Resort - Galactica
Alton Towers Resort – Galactica

Galactica still used the existing track structure combined with a new fully-dedicated virtual reality experience that Alton Towers are claiming as a world’s first. Riders had the option to ride with or without the Virtual Reality Headsets. The configuration of the ride allowed for up to 1500 riders per hour, although this was heavily reduced when the virtual reality headsets were in operation.

The reduction in throughput was one of the key reasons why during 2018 season, the virtual reality headsets were reduced to the back three rows of each train only, with guests choosing whether or not to use the virtual reality headsets when they entered the station. On 17 March, 2019, Alton Towers announced that the virtual reality headsets would be removed entirely, due to guest feedback. Despite this, the ride still maintains its Galactica name and theme.

John Wardley’s Thoughts on Galactica

John Wardley who designed the original AIR roller coaster stated:

“When I rode Galactica I was completely blown away, the illusion of flying through a totally different environment left me astounded, it is totally amazing, it really is.”

“People will be very surprised by this, you are physically moving in a very dynamic way as you would be on AIR, but you are now flying through the most amazing space environment.”

“I was incredibly cynical about them taking my ride and messing about with it but actually the ride is an enhancement to the VR experience, rather than the other way around!”

Secret Weapon 6: 2009 – TH13TEEN in Dark Forest

The Iconic Corkscrew was removed in 2010 to make way for “Secret Weapon 6” (SW6), now known as TH13TEEN. Alton Towers first revealed their plans for the ride in October 2008 when it was announced that Corkscrew would be removed. Planning permission was initially delayed due to concerns about an Iron Age hill fort in its vicinity. In March 2009, Staffordshire Moorlands District Council accepted planning permission for the ride (with conditions) and groundwork construction commenced about three months later.

Thi3teen - Alton Towers Resort

It was proposed that TH13TEEN would travel around the perimeter of the former corkscrew site and enter a dark, indoor show building for the secret element to take place. The ‘bad luck’ concept and Dark Forest theme were designed by Candy Holland, Art Director for Merlin Entertainments. The Alton Towers marketing team made an effort to keep the project secret so that the surprise feature would not be revealed until the ride was opened.

World’s First Freefall Drop Rollercoaster

The dark and mysterious TH13TEEN is the world’s first freefall drop rollercoaster. TH13TEEN is an Intamin family coaster.  This style of Roller Coaster was chosen for its lightweight trains, helping to reduce strain on the hydraulics for the freefall drop.

The Corkscrew

The Corkscrew at Alton Towers was one of the first double-inverting coasters in Europe (the first in the UK). It received lots of publicity and avid popularity in the 1980s. During the first few months of operation waiting times for the ride frequently reached 6–9 hours. The section of track which formed the two iconic corkscrew inversions is now on display at the entrance to Alton Towers.

The Corkscrew - Alton Towers Resort
The Corkscrew – Alton Towers Resort

Secret Weapon 7: 2013 – The Smiler in X-Sector

“Secret Weapon 7” (SW7) opened in 2013 and was named The Smiler. The ride features two lift hills (one of which is vertical). During the ride, guests are turned upside down 14 times, giving The Smiler the World Record for the most inversions on a Roller Coaster.

Alton Towers Resort - The Smiler
Alton Towers Resort – The Smiler

Sadly The Smiler suffered lots of minor malfunctions following its launch. Things got worse for the theme park when The Smiler crashed in 2015, which severely injured four people. The ride reopened for the 2016 season following a thorough investigation into ride safety and procedures. With the new safety precautions now in place, it is probably one of the safest rides in the world.

Secret Weapon 8: 2016 – The Wicker Man

“Secret Weapon 8” (SW8) opened at the start of the 2018 season. The large wooden roller coaster named The Wicker Man is located in the Katanga section of the Theme Park, replacing the popular log flume ride.

Wicker Man Track
Wicker Man


The History of Alton Towers

For anyone interested in finding out more about the history of Alton Towers, we recommend this book:

Alton Towers Resort Tickets

Purchase your tickets in advance to save time queuing at the entrance to the park and also saving on the full price admission. View our Alton Towers Resort Special Offers Page for the best discounts on your Tickets and Accommodation.
You can buy your tickets in advance direct from Alton Towers Official Website.

Travelling to Alton Towers Resort

Alton Towers is located in the beautiful Staffordshire countryside. There are a number of ways to get to Alton Towers. If you are travelling by car, Alton Towers Resort is between the M1 and the M6. When driving to any of Alton Towers Resorts Attractions use the postcode ST10 4DB. Please follow the signs for the final part of your journey, as your Sat Nav may attempt to take you down a local farm track, especially if you’re coming down the B5417.

Please drive with care when you’re in the area. There are many walkers, cyclists and horse riders, and the roads can be very narrow in places.

Travelling by Train

The nearest train station to Alton Towers is Uttoxeter, which is accessible from a large number of UK train stations including London, Birmingham and Newcastle upon Tyne, where trains depart every hour. Search for your train tickets using Raileasy. From Uttoxeter, the remainder of the journey can be made by taxi or bus (there is one daily bus service which takes approximately 40 minutes). Visitors also catch trains to Alton Towers via Stoke-on-Trent (four bus departures daily) and Nottingham and Derby (both one bus service daily).

Nearby Accommodation

There are lots of places to stay in the Peak District. Alton Towers is surrounded by beautiful countryside.  The theme park offers on-site accommodation. If you only planning on visiting the park for one day and would like to explore some of the other attractions in the area then take a look at some of the wonderful self-catering cottages available from Snaptrip.

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Alton Towers Secret Weapons was last modified: May 2nd, 2024 by Dan

Author: Dan

I am passionate about Theme Parks and Attractions. I love riding roller coasters and thrill rides. With two young boys I understand how expensive family days out can be and this was one of the main driving forces behind Attractions Near me. My aim is to help you and your friends enjoy some great days out without costing the earth. Thanks for reading and have a great time - Regards Dan

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