From its conception, Air was meant to be something a little different from the usual scary coasters; a ride to simulate the feeling of flight. And so, the restraints are designed to be comfortable as the seats tilt by ninety degrees to horizontal, placing the rider in a face down position in order for the 'flight' to begin.
After the initial crawl through the boarding tunnel, the ride emerges onto the climb; the ground slowly dropping further and further away until the top, followed by a dip and twist, launch the ride smoothly into the first speed gathering swoop. Sometimes seeming to barely clear the ground, sometimes soaring into the air or floating upside down, the remainder of the flight brings the rider as close to being a bird as technology will allow.
Technology was certainly a problem in the early days. Originally planned for the 1998 season, the complexity of the design led to it being postponed; its place in the batting order being taken by the much more straightforward build of near-vertical drop Oblivion. Air was finally unveiled on 16th March 2002, constructed during winter rains which reduced the site to a lake of mud!
Air was designed by John Wardley and manufactured by Bollinger & Mabillard for a total cost of £12 million. During the design stages it was known as Secret Weapon 5; the ride's identity hidden to guard against industrial espionage. In the course of its 840m track, it reaches a top speed of 47mph, exerting a maximum G Force of 3.5G. The drop is 20m and the entire ride lasts 1 minute 30 seconds.
Whenever I can, I visit Alton Towers away from the busy school holidays, meaning that queue times are quite reasonable. On a busy day in the height of summer when the secondary schools are enjoying their 'enrichment' activities, queue time for Air can be anything up to one and a half hours. Do I think it's worth it? I'd have to be queuing with somebody pretty interesting!