Skip to Main Content

Afterburn 20th Anniversary

Skip to Next Section

Afterburn Turns 20!

Andrew Stilwell

Andrew Stilwell is a writer for Coaster101.com and was a member of the Carowinds “Caroblogger” Program from 2015-2017. You can follow him on twitter at @stilwell and Coaster101.com on twitter at @Coaster101.

One of Carowinds’ 14 roller coasters reaches a major milestone this year! Afterburn, widely regarded by coaster enthusiasts as one of the best inverted coasters in existence, is celebrating its 20th birthday in 2019.

When the inverted coaster originally opened in 1999, did you know it had a different name? When Carowinds was owned by Paramount, the coaster took its theme from the 1986’s Top Gun and was given the moniker Top Gun: The Jet Coaster. It was the fourth coaster to receive “Top Gun” theming, following installations at Paramount’s (now California’s) Great America in 1993, Kings Island in 1993 and Canada’s Wonderland in 1995.

Despite considering several other themes while conceptualizing and designing the new roller coaster, Top Gun fit the coaster perfectly, according to Steve Jackson, director of maintenance and construction for Carowinds.

“When looking at it as a roller coaster, it had all of the aircraft moves in it, and it did them perfectly,” he said. “It’s got all of the forces naturally that you’d feel in an F-14. It made sense to do it that way. It drives the theming and overall experience of the attraction.”

Top Gun: The Jet Coaster was considered the biggest investment in park history.

“We expect it to become our park’s signature attraction,” then-General Manager of Carowinds Watt Burris said to the Charlotte Observer in 1998. “Top Gun will give us a state-of-the-art inverted coaster that compares with any in the country.”

According to Jerry Helms, Carowinds’ long time Vice President of Operations, Burris had grand plans for the coaster in concept.

“Watt had this vision,” Helms said. “He said, ‘We’re going to tell Walter [Bolliger] that he can build this ride, but we’re not going to cut down any trees. He has to work through them’.

“We wanted to maximize the height in the field of vision. We located the coaster at the highest point of elevation in the park, on the hill. We turned the hundred-plus feet into a lot more, and leaving the trees in gave an amazing sensation.”

The location of Afterburn also helped Carowinds “show off” to visitors traveling south on I-77.

“A lot of people come down I-77 South and from way up the road, you can see the park,” Helms continued. “What it did was give definition to Carowinds. On one side, we had the Drop Tower. That defined that side of the park. Then we had the Skytower in the middle, and in the distance, you could see Top Gun. People could see that Carowinds was growing.”

But what about the overall ride experience? I feel that the March 19, 1999 description from the Charlotte Observer‘s Dean Smith is the best way to describe it.

Up you go, cresting at 113 feet, then hesitating ominously as the train eases over… then leans right… then DOWN, DOWN, DOWN toward the parking lot below before whipping out of that drop and on to six inversions.

When you hit the vertical loop, you lose sight of all machinery and get your first sense of free flight. Then a diving loop called an Immelman gets your ears spinning in the other direction before a Zero-G Roll spins the train in a corkscrew in one smooth motion.

Then you hit a Batwing, two loops angled at 45 degrees with a plunge underground in between. In the tunnel, you hit a blinding mist before sliding into a 360-degree Flat Spin and a final dizzying spiral.

According to Jackson, Afterburn was a roller coaster that put Carowinds “on the map.”

“Our attendance jumped significantly after Top Gun opened,” he said. “Usually when you get a new coaster, there’s an attendance bump, and it goes back down, but we opened the coaster, saw the bump, and kept it. It was the ‘We’re here we’re here to stay. Buy your season pass, and let’s go.’ moment.”

When Cedar Fair purchased the Paramount Parks, nearly all of the Paramount-themed attraction branding had to be changed. While many of the other Top Gun-themed coasters were renamed to Flight Deck, Carowinds’ version was renamed Afterburn in 2007.

But where is the best seat on the Afterburn?

Helms prefers the front, while Jackson split his answer depending on time of day.

“If I had my druthers, I’d ride in the front during the day,” he said. “You can see so much more in front. At night, when there’s not as much to see, I’ll ride in the middle or the back of the train.”

Regardless of seat location, Smith had one piece of advice that still holds true 20 years later: “Don’t close your eyes. You’ll know when to scream.”

Afterburn is still a fan favorite at Carowinds, giving rides to more than 750,000 riders during 2018. To Jackson, it’s special to have a roller coaster that is still so popular, even after 20 years of operation.

“It gives you bragging rights!” he said with a laugh. “It is the best invert. They got that one 100% right!”

This post first appeared on Coaster 101.

Related Topics:

Share This

Andrew Stilwell

Andrew Stilwell is a writer for Coaster101.com and was a member of the Carowinds “Caroblogger” Program from 2015-2017. You can follow him on twitter at @stilwell and Coaster101.com on twitter at @Coaster101.

Post a Comment

Skip to Next Section

SCarowinds Survival Guide 2019

Fall is just around the corner, and you know what that means: SCarowinds is upon us! Opening on Friday the 13th (spooky!), our 2019 Scarowinds season is sure to scare up a good time with returning fan-favorite haunted attractions as well as three new shows and three new scare zones. To make sure you're prepared for all the fear and fright, we've created a guide to help you survive the night.
Read More

Top 7 Coaster Hair Don't Care Photos - National Roller Coaster Day 2019

One of the most exciting days for Carowinds is August 16 - National Roller Coaster Day. It's a day filled with guests taking selfies in front of their favorite coasters, fans across the nation debating which ride takes the top spot, and all of us enjoying the rides that we love.
Read More

The Carowinds Guide to the Belk College Football Kickoff

For just one day this week, Carowinds won’t be the sole place “Where the Carolinas Come Together.” As the 2019-2020 college football season kicks off over Labor Day weekend, the University of North Carolina Tar Heels will take on the University of South Carolina Gamecocks in the Belk College Kickoff Game, just up the road at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Read More

Six Sinister New Experiences for SCarowinds 2019

It’s August, which means the summer theme park season is winding down. Fortunately, that means that Halloween is right around the corner, and with Halloween comes SCarowinds.
Read More

Afterburn 20th Anniversary Time Capsule

I have been a fan of Carowinds for as long as I can remember. There really has not been a time when this special place wasn’t in my life. Early on, however, I had one small problem…I was terrified of roller coasters.
Read More

7 Sensational Ways to Cool Off at Carowinds

That Carolina summer heat is no joke. If you're looking for ways to cool down in the park, we've got you've covered!
Read More

Introducing the All-New WinterFest Wonderland Parade!

Winterfest at Carowinds is already known as one of the area’s most sought-after immersive holiday celebrations as the park is completely transformed for the season. This year brings an even more spectacular experience with the debut of the larger-than-life WinterFest Wonderland Parade, a Christmas parade brimming with dazzling displays, exciting performances and extravagantly decorated holiday floats.
Read More

Meet the Carowinds Carpenters

When you consider Carowinds’ more than 4,000 employees, you probably think about the parking lot and gate crews, ride and game attendants, lifeguards or security staff. However, there is another group you’ve likely never seen on a trip to Carowinds. Allow us to introduce you to our carpentry team.
Read More

9 Cool Merch Items 

One of the best ways to commemorate your trip to the park is to pick up something special from one of the park shops. Carowinds has some awesome new merch (we’re not biased or anything) that you need to know about!
Read More

Gluten-Friendly Eating at Carowinds

We understand that many park guests avoid eating foods with gluten (whether it's because of a sensitivity, a medical condition, or personal preference). With that in mind, we thought you'd appreciate a handy list of all of the places in Carowinds guests can enjoy gluten-friendly* foods.
Read More