With a crowd of hundreds of roller coasters enthusiasts from around the nation cheering, America's first launched wing coaster took flight over Holiday World Theme Park this morning.

"This is an incredible day in our park's history," says park president Matt Eckert. "We can't wait to see and hear our guests' reaction to riding Thunderbird."

Thunderbird, Holiday World's new steel roller coaster features a zero-to-60 miles-per-hour launch in 3.5 seconds, followed by multiple inversions — including a 14-story Immelmann loop, Zero-g roll, barrel roll and a loop soaring 125 feet in the air.

Continuing Holiday World's tradition of sending roller coasters through its thickly wooded and hilly terrain, Thunderbird at first soars and loops high in the air and then hugs the ground, surprising riders with rapid-fire "near misses" such as keyholes, themed elements, other rides, trees, and even the ground.

"A wing coaster creates a feeling of incredible freedom — you ride beside the coaster track with nothing above or below you," says Eckert. "Thunderbird is the first launched wing coaster in the nation — it's a whole new experience for thrill seekers."

Eckert calls Thunderbird's manufacturer, Bolliger & Mabillard, the "Cadillac of roller coasters, known for their safety, quality and reliability. We've dreamed of adding a B&M steel coaster for many years and are excited that Thunderbird will be B&M's first launched coaster."

Thunderbird's $22 million price tag is more than twice the amount of any other single-ride investment at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in the park's 69-year history.

Thunderbird, which opens to the public Saturday, is located in the park's Thanksgiving section.A new restaurant, the SmokeHouse, and a shop named Hevron's Mercantile will also open Saturday.Also new this season is George's Gluten-Free Pizza & Snacks, the park's latest effort to provide menus for those with special dietary needs.

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