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Taking to the skies: Silverwood’s new homegrown roller coaster ‘Stunt Pilot’ will open in late May

Jordan Carter, marketing manager at Silverwood, shows off construction on the park’s newest roller coaster, Stunt Pilot, last Tuesday at Silverwood Theme Park near Athol, Idaho.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Jordan Carter, marketing manager at Silverwood, shows off construction on the park’s newest roller coaster, Stunt Pilot, last Tuesday at Silverwood Theme Park near Athol, Idaho. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

Every square inch is being put to use in the footprint for Silverwood Theme Park’s new roller coaster.

“It’s tight,” said Jordan Carter, Silverwood’s director of marketing, standing last week on a slab of concrete where parkgoers will line up for “Stunt Pilot,” the park’s first new coaster in 13 years. He motioned a few feet away to a single rail of steel jutting upward to what will be a 100-foot plummet, which will be separated from those on the ground by fencing. “This right here, this is our first drop. You can reach out and pretty much almost grab this.”

The destination amusement park north of Coeur d’Alene opened Saturday, but thrill seekers will have to wait until May 29 to board Stunt Pilot, an attraction that will honor the park’s past and make it one of three in the country with a single-rail “Raptor” coaster. It’s a homegrown thrill ride, designed and built by Hayden’s Rocky Mountain Construction, a firm started by former Silverwood employee Fred Grubb.

“We’re able to put a lot of elements in a small space, because of the nature of the track,” said Grubb, who worked with fellow coaster engineer Alan Schilke to develop the track technology that makes the single-rail steel coaster possible. “It’s a thousand feet long, but we can fit it in that size space.”

Grubb is also responsible for the “Aftershock,” “Timber Terror” and “Tremors” coasters in the park, getting his start working for park owner Gary Norton in the 1990s. His company built and designed Goliath, which holds the honors of fastest wooden roller coaster (72 mph) and longest wooden coaster drop (180 feet) at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Illinois, among other notable rides that span the globe.

Stunt Pilot, standing 106 feet tall and reaching top speeds of 52 mph, is the sister coaster of RailBlazer, a single-rail Raptor coaster that opened at California’s Great America in 2018, also designed and built by Rocky Mountain. While that coaster employs an off-roading theme, Stunt Pilot embraces the aviation past of the Inland Northwest, including the airshows that took place at Silverwood through 1996.

“We just started brainstorming. What could this theming be?” Carter said. “It was a very natural thing to go back to our air show, and kind of hit the roots.”

The park is holding an auction for the first 10 seats on the ride when it opens. Proceeds will go to the Children’s Place, a trauma treatment center for abused and neglected children in Coeur d’Alene. Bids can be made online at sw4.fun/Auction.

Nestled snugly, perhaps impossibly so, between the wooden coaster Tremors and the park’s log flume ride, Stunt Pilot won’t be subtle in its references to barnstorming roots. The coaster will take a train of 10 single-person cars through the doors of a barn, where cameras will capture a souvenir photo. Other potential features include rings, like those present in the classic flying video game “PilotWings” and its successors.

Grubb said his firm isn’t involved in the decisions on theme but noted that Stunt Pilot’s vibrant colors and smooth design were likely to draw crowds.

“This is one of the nicest looking coasters; it really pops,” Grubb said. “It just fits in there.”

Park staff have also refurbished a classic Pitts Special biplane, the type seen suspended from the ceiling of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. The coaster borrows the biplane’s signature red-and-white color scheme, and the frame will hang upside down above waiting riders, foreshadowing the three inversions they’ll experience on the roughly one-minute ride.

“This one came from a guy down in Boise, who had it in rough shape,” Carter said of the biplane, which received its final coat of ruby red paint last week. “Our team restored it to what it is.”

The park hopes to refurbish another plane, part of a memorial to stunt pilot Bob Heale. Heale helped organize and flew in the Silverwood air shows until his death in a crash at Fairchild Air Force Base in September 1996. Silverwood plans to rebuild and move the 19-foot-long cassette racer plane that once served as a weather vane at Felts Field to the queue line for Stunt Pilot, along with a bronze plaque tribute to Heale, next year. Heale had been building the craft when he died.

“This’ll kind of publicly memorialize (him),” Carter said.

Stunt Pilot is partially the product of good timing for Silverwood, which was able to open at the end of last May in Idaho while many other major theme parks remained shuttered. Orders for thrill rides at Rocky Mountain were pushed back a year as a result, and Grubb said his team worked with Norton to bring a new ride, the park’s fifth high-intensity coaster, right to the company’s backyard.

“It’s marvelous. It will be such a huge sales tool for us,” Grubb said. “We’ll be able to fly people in to ride our coaster, and then we can show them all our different shops, machine shops, weld shops.”

Silverwood will still operate on a reservation system for tickets this season. Payment in the park will continue to be cashless to cut down on physical contact, and there will still be hand sanitizing stations in lines and at vendors throughout the park.

Early season parkgoers will have to wait a few weeks to get their turns on Stunt Pilot. But it’ll be hard to ignore that shiny red rail, which Carter likened to a plate of tangled spaghetti noodles.

The hope is that its striking appearance will continue to wow guests for years.

“Typically, you want a good year to plan things out,” Carter said. “For us, it was September when we were announcing it. The fact that it’s this far along and ready to be open, they’ve been working a lot.”

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