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Roller coasters are driven almost entirely by basic inertial, gravitational and centripetal forces. Amusement parks keep upping the ante, building faster and more complex roller coasters, but the fundamental principles at work remain basically the same.
New catapult launching techniques, hanging-train designs and other technological developments have opened a world of options for designers. There are now coasters that give riders the experience of flying, and those that shoot riders down long stretches of spiraled tracks. “Fourth dimension” coasters spin or rotate seats as the ride twists, turns and free-falls.
Here are some interesting facts about roller coasters:
- As you might be aware that some roller coaster structures are made of wood and even though wood structures are more sensitive to the weather, they are still as safe as the steel ones and in most cases more durable. However, because wood can shrink or expand with changing humidity, on some days the ride might actually be shakier, noisier and more aggressive than usual. The structure can even flex back and forth more depending on weather conditions.
- The Swtichback railway, America’s first roller coaster at Coney Island in Brooklyn reached the speed of mph, which is a bit slow by today’s standards and the ride costed a nickle. Despite the less-than-impressive top speed, the Switchback Railway still managed to bring in $600 a day at one point (around $15,000 in today’s currency). Considering there are 20 nickels in a dollar, that 12,000 people riding the Switchback a day. Serious numbers.
- When the steel roller coaster aptly named Big One opened at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in the UK, it was the tallest roller coaster in the world, reaching 67 meters high. One million people ride it every year, and its trains and track are tested every single morning before operation. Although it has been surpassed by other coasters in height, it’s still the tallest in the UK, even 22 years after its construction. During the morning routine on Big One, engineers are literally harnessed to the track while they walk around and manually look for cracks, loose bolts and foreign objects that could potentially affect the safe operation of the ride. After the visual inspection, sandbags are strapped into the train to simulate passengers. The train is then sent around the track at full speed, around 76 mph to test.
- Walt Disney’s Expedition Everest is the most expensive roller coaster in the world, coming in at $100 million. It took six years to design and create. While its height, length, and speed are fairly average as far as coasters go, it’s set apart by its story line—a yeti guarding the “forbidden mountain”—and the fact that it can go forward and backward during a single ride.
- That clicking you hear while going up the lift-hill on a roller coaster? It’s actually an intricate anti-rollback device, a standard safety feature consisting of a continuous, toothed metal ratchet on the track that fits into teeth on the bottom of the train. This system ensures that the train can’t roll backward in the event of a power failure or broken chain.
- Philip Guarno, Adam Spivak, John Kirkwood and Aaron Monroe Rye went to ten parks in four US states to go on 74 roller coasters in 24 hours! They used a helicopter to get from park to park as quickly as possible, and the record setting day raised $40,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network. A day of craziness raising decent money for a good cause.
- The late Ron Toomer, known as the king of steel roller coaster design, designed 93 rides for big American amusement parks including Six Flags, Busch Gardens, Knott’s Berry Farm and Cedar Point. Despite his prolific work, he actually suffered from intense motion sickness. This has led to a rumor that he never rode a single ride that he designed, but that’s not actually the case. Truly a man to suffer for his craft, he would still usually ride his coasters at least once or twice.
- The loops on roller coasters are intentionally never perfectly circular, they are designed to be an upside down teardrop to allow for less intense g-forces on the riders because a more severe loop might cause neck injuries.
- When you’re at the very top of a loop, gravity is trying to pull you out of your seat, but the car’s acceleration is doing the opposite—it’s pushing you into your seat. These two forces counteract each other, which is why you might feel weightless for a moment right at the loop’s apex, until you end up right side up again and your acceleration starts working with gravity. When that happens, you actually start feeling heavier than normal for a short time.
- The fastest roller coaster in the world today can be found at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE. It’s called the Formula Rossa and it reaches 150 mph in just under five seconds! Insane !
Roller Coaster Museum https://rollercoastermuseum.org