Galactica (formerly known as Air) is a flying virtual reality roller coaster located in the Forbidden Valley area of Alton Towers amusement park in Staffordshire, England. Previously known as Air, it is the first ever flying coaster. Manufactured by Bolliger & Mabillard, Galactica is the company's first flying roller coaster. Guests ride in a prone position lying chest down and experience the feeling of flight by "flying" close to the ground, under footpaths, and narrowly past trees and rocks.
The roller coaster originally opened as Air (sponsored by Cadburys) on 16 March 2002 as the world's first flying roller coaster. Following the close of the 2015 season, the ride underwent refurbishment and reopened as Galactica on 24 March 2016. It features an 840-metre-long (2,760 ft) track, reaches a top speed of 75 km/h (47 mph), and debuted a dedicated virtual reality experience.
Alton Towers conceived the concept of a flying roller coaster in 1990, twelve years before Air eventually opened. Following the opening of Nemesis in 1994, a flying coaster was planned by the park to open in 1998, but was delayed due to technological limitations. During its development, Alton Towers marketed the ride as Secret Weapon 5 (abbreviated to SW5), following the naming pattern established for previous major park developments. The ride was developed in part by ride designer John Wardley, the producer of many attractions at Alton Towers and other former Tussauds Group theme parks.
Construction of Air began in mid-2001. Later that year, Alton Towers initially advertised the new rollercoaster as a "next generation Aerial Inversion Ride"; subsequently revealing the name Air.
In early 2002, testing of Air began with special crash test dummies. At the time of opening, Air tied with Oblivion as the most expensive ride at Alton Towers, at a cost of £12 million. A £4.5 million marketing campaign for the ride included commercials based around the ride's slogan, "assume the position". Air officially opened to the public on 16 March 2002. On opening, Alton Towers entered into a five-year sponsorship agreement for the ride with Cadbury Heroes.
In June 2015, the park submitted a planning application to make modifications to the station building and retail space. This proposed adding a new photo opportunity into the queue, enclosing the station building with new walls, and constructing additional theming elements around the ride area. This was in addition to an earlier planning application to convert the existing ride shop into a restaurant. In October 2015, the first promotional material was posted on the Alton Towers website, advising guests to "prepare for a new flight" and to "watch this space".
On 12 January 2016, Alton Towers announced that Air would be re-themed as Galactica for the 2016 season and would include on-ride virtual reality headsets simulating a ride through the cosmos. The announcement was made at an event held at the Science Museum. Each seat on the roller coaster is fitted with a Samsung Gear VR headset and pouch. The virtual reality experience is optional, as guests can choose to ride without using the headsets. A promotional website was also released explaining more information about the ride and its new storyline. In late February 2016, the park announced that the official opening date would be 24 March 2016.