What was the point of Galactica?

Galactica rollercoaster, Alton Towers

In 2002, Air opened as another of Alton Tower’s “world first” rollercoasters.

This one was a little more inventive, as there was already a flying-style rollercoaster on the market, but this was indeed the first model by manufacturers Bolliger & Mallibard.

14 years later, Air was was re-themed into the outer space-themed Galactica.

Once again it was claimed as a world first – this time the first rollercoaster “dedicated to virtual reality”.

Again, there were rollercoasters incorporating virtual reality out there, but this was the first where every rider had a VR headset.

At opening, RideRater gave Galactica a four-star review. It also was named Best New Addition among UK theme parks in 2016.

It was seen as an impressive and innovative refreshment of an older ride.

‘Blown away’

Even the original concept designer of Air, John Wardley, was won round by Galactica.

He told the Birmingham Mail newspaper: “I was very unsure when I heard they were going to use VR on riders, it felt like a gimmick and I was very sceptical.

John Wardley changed his made about Galactica
John Wardley changed his mind about Galactica

“I thought ‘why mess about with it’, it is a bloody good ride and still very popular.”

Wardley however changed his view after he was invited to ride prior to its launch.

“I rode the prototype and it was far beyond anything I could have expected,” he said.

He added that he was “completely blown away” by the experience and that guests would be “very surprised” by the ride.

VR removed

But it soon became apparent that the transformation of Air did nothing to increase the profile of a ride that had, as Wardley suggested, remained consistently popular among guests.

In fact the severely-reduced loading times of the ride became a source of frustration, particularly among ride enthusiasts who doubted the rebranding of Air from the start.

Two years after the Galactica transformation, the ride began running with VR only in certain seats, and on some days none at all.

By the start of the 2019 season, the VR head sets were completely and permanently removed from the ride after less than three years.

Alton Towers said that it took the decision in response to guest feedback.

While the original reasons for the re-theme aren’t clear, it does seem that the park has acknowledged that it was a mistake.

Galactica rollercoaster, Alton Towers
Galactica now operates without virtual reality

So the ride now operates as it did before as Air, with the exception of a Stargate-type portal and some graffiti-prone changes to the ride’s station and queue line.

Certainly the headsets would not have survived the COVID-19 pandemic and would have been removed in any event when Alton Towers eventually re-opens.

In hindsight, it might have been better to spend the money used on the Galactica re-themed on realising some of the original landscaping concepts that Air had been designed for before budgets were cut and finishing touches were scrapped.

Those water and rock features would better compliment the graceful flying feeling the ride provides.

But sadly now, the next generation of riders are left with a ride whose name is both confusing and ultimately pointless.