Fort Meade fair attraction offers flight into alien world


Even after four rides, Tracy Wolfe could not describe everything she saw and felt on the Chameleon.

"So much is happening when you're on it," Miss Wolfe said of the high-tech, "virtual reality" amusement park ride. "It's incredible though. There's no doubt about that."

Chameleon came to Fort Meade on Friday for MeadeFest, a four-day fair that continues today and tomorrow from noon to 11:30 p.m. Admission is free.

The machine's 3-D graphics and motion-based simulation let riders "fly" their aircraft through tunnels of the planet Terium and shoot down enemy Graaks -- evil, green monsters -- while dodging exploding mines. The "pilots" are seeking Limonium, which provides food and energy for Teriumians.

The three-minute ride costs $3 for children up to age 12 and $6 for adults.

"It's wild. . . . You're riding through mazes of tunnels, ducking in and out trying to avoid aliens and the whole time your stomach lifts up, just like when you go down the first hill of a roller coaster," said Miss Wolfe, a marketing coordinator.

The machine looks like a giant octopus, with six arms holding gondolas, called TurboPod 9000s.

Before getting on the ride, there is a five-minute video explaining the characters. Then the riders board their gondolas and fasten their seat belts. The engines roar as the arms begin to rotate between 12 rpm and 18 rpm, creating G-forces that simulate a 150-mph ride over red and gray terrain.

"It was so cool," said Chris Wagner, 9, of McLean, Va., who took five rides on Chameleon. "I was speeding through the whole ride, blowing stuff away. I hit the tunnel's sides a few times, but we just kept on going."

About 12,000 people have ridden Chameleon since it became a commercial ride in October, said Dale Roberts, president of Chameleon Technologies Inc.

"We've only had four people get sick the entire time we've been doing this," he said. "The high thrill excitement and the simulated environment makes most people forget the outside surroundings. They become immersed in the ride."

Veda International, an $80 million corporation that has built flight training simulators for the government for 29 years, designed Chameleon, said publicist Amy Bowden. Chameleon and similar rides made by Veda have appeared throughout the country and were a popular attraction at MTV's spring break celebration in San Diego and at spring break in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Miss Wolfe said the best part of the ride is the "death drop," a steep cliff leading from one tunnel to another.

"When we hit that steep drop-off point, it's like you're going for your life," she said. "You get a kind of light feeling."

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