Soarin’ is a flight motion simulator attraction at Disney California Adventure, Epcot, Shanghai Disneyland, and Tokyo DisneySea. It is also known as Soarin’ Around the World, Soaring Over the Horizon, and Soaring: Fantastic Flight. To replicate a hang gliding ride over six continents, it uses a mechanical lift system, a projected presentation on an 80 ft (24 m) concave 180-degree dome screen, and artificial odors and wind. Many see it as the first flying theater.
Soarin’ Over California, the attraction’s original edition, debuted on February 8, 2001, at Disney California Adventure. It flew visitors over many California destinations and included a pre-show about the history of the state’s aviation sector. In 2005, it was also installed as Soarin’ at Epcot in Walt Disney World.
On June 16, 2016, the current global version of the attraction, Soaring Over the Horizon, launched at Shanghai Disneyland Park. On June 17, the American versions were similarly replaced with the new film, Soarin’ Around the World. Soaring: Fantastic Flight, the fourth attraction at Tokyo DisneySea, debuted on July 23, 2019. The original Soarin’ Over California returned to Disney California Adventure in June 2019 for a limited engagement, and due to its popularity, Disney extended the run until the end of August of that year. Another restricted run began on February 28, 2020 as part of the park’s Food & Wine Festival, but was cut short on March 13 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney announced on February 13th 2022 that Soarin’ Over California would return on March 4th for the Disney California Adventure Annual Food & Wine Festival.
Soarin’ was originally conceived in 1996 as Ultra Flight, a moniker that can still be seen on the California Adventure attraction’s tower consoles. It was supposed to have an OMNIMAX screen with an inverted track that would allow passengers to fly over California’s landmarks. It was to have three load levels and operate on a horizontal wire, similar to a dry cleaner’s rack. When it was discovered that the design’s construction and labor expenses would be prohibitively expensive, the concept was scrapped. Soarin’ seemed doomed until engineer Mark Sumner came up with an alternate idea for the ride cars, utilizing an Erector Set and thread to make a working model. The new design allowed Disney to efficiently load visitors on one level rather than three, resulting in significant cost savings.
Each ride vehicle has three rows of seats under a wing-like cover and seats 87 people. After passengers are safely confined in the vehicle using ordinary lap belts, the canopy falls slightly and a cantilever system raises the seats forward and into the air, leaving the visitors’ feet dangling freely. The car is hoisted forward, allowing customers to gaze into a big, concave cinema screen that displays aerial views. The scenes in the original film were shot at an IMAX HD frame rate of 48 frames per second, which is twice the standard rate of regular films. The vehicle is propelled forward toward the dome’s center, allowing passengers to see only the projected visuals and feel the sensation of flying. The ride structure is made of around one million pounds (454,000 kg) of steel, and each ride cycle lifts 37 tons (33.5 metric tonnes).
Subtle vertical movements of the seats are synced to the film to enhance the illusion. Horizontal motion is achieved by combining vertical carriage movement and turning the image on the screen. Scents that compliment the scenes are also infused into the air streams that blow on motorcyclists. When it first came out, the aroma was only noticeable during the Redwood Creek and Valencia Orange Farms scenes. Rose flowers in the Taj Mahal area, grass in the Africa image, and a sea breeze in the South Pacific scene are among the fragrances in the revised exhibition.
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