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Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes: The Swarm

A month after the ride opened, Total Thorpe Park was fortunate to be given access to the ride plans, design concepts and marketing strategies behind 2012's new blockbuster attraction, The Swarm. This "Behind the Scenes" feature will offer a look at how The Swarm made it from the drawing board to reality - and includes a few rare photos of areas of The Swarm the public don't usually get to see..!

Ride Concept

Take a look at these shots of a PowerPoint deck outlining aims and early ideas for The Swarm. The Swarm is "an alien machine; an atomic creature, part organic, part machine, so powerful it is capable of bringing about the apocalypse". The Park knew this would be the biggest investment they had ever made, and these documents show the thought process behind marketing it - actors on Park, teaser videos, and a healthy dose of controversy to stir interest. Note also on the "Marketing" slide the suggestion of a 2013 follow on attraction, much as SAW Alive was for SAW - The Ride in 2010...

Ride Concept Overview Alien machine vs organic alien Possible adaptation of Raptor
Marketing Sky News Controversy LC12

Ride Plans

Many wondered in the run-up to the ride launch whether Thorpe would be installing the first 4D B&M coaster, where the seats can tilt on their own individual axes, rather than install the same fixed-seat ride type as Raptor has at sister park Gardaland. Apparently commissioning the manufacturer to produce a 4D prototype was seriously considered, but prohibitively high costs prevented the idea ever coming to fruition. Bolliger and Mabillard said that at present, the cost of making a 4D version of their Wing Rider would be so high that no Park (including Thorpe) would ever buy it. Technology is ever-improving though, so we may not have seen the last of the idea...

Whilst we can often view ride plans in the run-up to a new installation (as they have to be submitted to Runnymede Borough Council for planning approval), there are many other documents that never get seen by the general public. Here are some of those documents - detailed plans from the manufacturer Bolliger & Mabillard, as well as detail on how the ride was to be operated. The Swarm requires the most staff members to run out of all the rides in Thorpe Park - 10 staff vs. only 8 for SAW - The Ride. And of the two queueline designs featured below right, Option 2 was the chosen one, although the Single Rider queue was omitted in favour of a shorter Front Row queue. According to the Park's research, Single Rider queues hinder throughputs, rather than aid them...!

3D model Side view 180 roll Safety envelope
Ride profile Ride areas Brakes and transfer track
Bolliger & Mabillard Queue system Option 1 queue Option 2 queue

Themeing/Design

Thorpe Park is all about the technically highest, fastest, most powerful rides, so the design team knew that to make The Swarm experience even more thrilling, a heavy investment would also be needed in themeing. Very little was cut from the themeing budget, which is often not the case when it comes to UK attractions - the fire engines, helicopter and crashed aeroplane all became a reality. To ensure that this was the case, though, the team had to compromise on the design of The Swarm's trains - instead of going for expensive brand new moulds (see images below for the suggested designs), the Park economised by recycling sister park Gardaland's Raptor train shells.

Potential train design Alien machine Mock up images Further mock ups
Proposed vehicle design Ride vehicle concept A Ride vehicle concept B Final design

Construction

TTP followed construction of The Swarm from inception right through to opening day, but here are some photos we couldn't have featured - insider views from both the construction site on Park and from Merlin Studios North, which is located by Alton Towers. Much of the themeing was constructed in-house at Studios North and then transported to the Park once complete. The aeroplane, fire engine and helicopter are all real; the helicopter was only a couple of years old but was sold to the Park following considerable damage to its tail. Even the plane engines are real, but for safety reasons the blades were removed and replaced with artificial themeing instead.

Church fly by Fire engine Helicopter Operators' booth
Inside of the plane Plane wing Engines at Merlin Studios 2 completed engines
Foundations for wing Early construction site

Operator's Booth

TTP was also given access to the ride after the Park had shut - below we can offer some unique views of The Swarm with an empty station, from the operators' booth, and on the transfer track being shut down for the evening. Interestingly the operators' console showed that on this particular Saturday, train 1 of The Swarm had completed 153 circuits, with train 2 completing 154. Assuming every 28-seater train was full, that's 8,596 riders riding in just one day! Note also the CCTV screen showing the 16 different cameras placed around the ride - with health and safety the Park's top priority, having eyes all over the attraction is vital.

Empty station Operators' console View from the operators' booth 16 CCTV cameras
Train being transferred

Crashed Aeroplane

The crashed aeroplane is probably the best piece of Swarm themeing, and makes for an excellent head-chopper for the trains ducking under it following the initial dive drop. There is, for obvious reasons, no public access in or around the aeroplane, but we were lucky to be given an after-hours tour around by a staff member!

Swarm Crashed Aeroplane

It is a real aeroplane, and was reportedly moved to Thorpe Park only a couple of weeks after having been taken out of service! All of the interior has been stripped out (seats, carpet flooring, air conditioning units etc), but the shell remains, including two toilets, the back trolley storage rack and working doors. Oddly, despite having been ripped in half and exposed to the elements, the inside of the shell even still smelled like an aircraft!

Inside of Aeroplane Looking through the windows Aircraft doors Toilet! Trolley storage rack

With thanks to the European Coaster Club and Thorpe Park for making this "Behind the Scenes" possible.

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