TAMPA - Flying face-down, straight-down at 60 mph for five seconds from a 335-foot tower: Busch Gardens Tampa President Jim Dean says he can't wait to try it when the theme park's newest attraction - Falcon's Fury - opens in late spring 2014. Neither can 12-year-old Madyson Winters of Tampa, though her 5-year old brother Gavin will have to wait until he's at least 4 feet 6 inches tall. "It's different from all the rides," said Madyson, whose family, which holds Busch Gardens season passes, attended Tuesday's session where Dean revealed details of the first drop tower of its kind in the world. "It's going to be really cool," Madyson said, to which her father, Shawn Winters, responded, "I will be watching from a solid place on the ground."
Dean showed he's not adverse to heights when he dropped from the ceiling of the Moroccan Theater suspended by wires to make his presentation on the ice rink stage. "Have you ever wondered what it might feel like to fly?" Dean asked. "That is the inspiration for this presentation. Face down it will be sheer terror. The ride that is under construction in the park's Timbuktu area will carry 32 passengers along the rim of a tower tall enough that it will be seen from downtown Tampa. Then it will swing the passengers in their open-air restraints so they are face down for the descent that will reach forces of 3.5 g's, three and a half times the force of gravity. Other theme parks, including Busch Gardens Williamsburg, have drop towers. What sets the Tampa version apart is rotating the riders so they fall face down, like a parachutist on a free fall or a falcon on the hunt for aerial prey, before restoring them to a seated position before they land. While the ride is bound to offer theme park enthusiasts a new adventure, Cora, a 9-year-old Peregrine falcon who lives at the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka and whose species inspired Busch Gardens Tampa's drop tower refinement, was unruffled at the presentation. Her handler, Scott McCorkle, explained that when he takes Cora for a hunt, she circles an area from about 600 feet overhead, before diving head first at speeds beyond 150 mph to strike another bird with her feet, which stuns or kills the prey in mid-air. "Until now, I didn't know much about Busch's Falcon's Fury, " McCorkle said. "They did a god job of keeping it a secret." Busch has been planning the new ride for more than a year. It's part of a annual cycle of introducing a major ride, animal or entertainment attraction each year. Busch has closed its Sandstorm ride to make room for the new attraction, but the park has not yet announced plans for further change to Timbuktu. One detail of the new ride built by the Swiss company Intamin that won't be disclosed is how much it will cost, in keeping with Busch Gardens' policy. "We can say it will be a major investment," Dean said. Busch Gardens Tampa's parent company SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., began publicly trading stock in April. Last month the firm reported a $40.4 million loss during its usual off-peak first quarter period, but reported a 12 percent revenue increase to $238.6 million and a 2 percent gain in all SeaWorld theme parks attendance to 3.5 million. Shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange declined 56 cents of 1.5 percent by midday Tuesday to $37.17, but that's more than $10 higher than the initial public offering on April 19. The company does not break down financial figures for individual theme parks. The independent industry trade source, Themed Entertainment Association's most recent report showed Busch Gardens Tampa ranked 11th nationwide in annual attendance with 4.3 million visitors in 2011, 2 percent more than 2010. firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7817