by Paul Ruben
Because parks try to differentiate their rollercoasters from similar rides for marketing purposes, they often establish a new record for height, speed, number of loops and so on. We call these bragging rights, and I for one take them very seriously. Or as seriously as one can for something intended primarily for entertainment. When new bragging rights are established, we have the making of a Roller Coaster Arms Race.
Lately parks have been getting very excited over steepness of the first drop. Recent steel coasters have featured straight-down 90-degree drops. Then Gerstlauer introduced its first Euro-Fighter at Denmark’s Bon Bon Land in 2003, featuring a hair-raising 97-degree drop. After various other versions of the ride in Europe, it then appeared in North America as the Mystery Mine at Dollywood in 2007. The 97-degree drop was equalled in 2008 when Hersheypark added Fahrenheit from IntaRide. The honour didn’t last long, however, as a month later Indiana Beach unveiled Steel Hawg by S&S Worldwide with a whopping 120-degree drop. The arms race was on! Who’s next?
You might try to remind me that in 2002 S&S created the first Screamin’ Squirrel. It was an outrageous new style of ride, an inverting coaster that included multiple 175.5-degree drops. Three now operate, in Italy, China, and Russia. But I would argue that while these are fun rides, they are also one-trick ponies, with the same manoeuvre repeated several times. They don’t have the necessary pacing of a good coaster such as the Euro-Fighter, Fahrenheit, or Steel Hawg.
But if you don’t want to take the challenge of introducing the next steepest drop, here’s a new idea for an arms race, not that I’m a provocateur. It came to me about the time I was photographed after riding Steel Hawg at Indiana Beach. Notice the lap bar? It’s there for a reason. The lap bar kept me comfortably seated during my rides on Steel Hawg, even when I raced down the 120-degree drop. It became more crucial moments after this drop. The third turn is banked not inwardly, where it would transmit the g-forces through your seat, but instead banked 45 degrees outward!
That is soooo wrong, so bizarre, so against everything they teach you in Roller Coaster College. But taken at moderate speed it worked, thanks to the restraints. It was jaw-dropping fun, as guests at Flamingo Land in England will find out this summer when the park unveils its own version of the ride, called Mumbo Jumbo.
The ideas for outward banking came from the demented mind of coaster designer Alan Schilke, who joined S&S when it purchased Arrow Dynamics. He brought some fresh ideas, like the head-over-heels 4th Dimension coaster. He is so twisted. So here’s the battlefield for the new arms race – outward banking. How steep an outward-banked angle dare you build beyond 45 degrees? 50 degrees? 90 degrees? That’ll separate you from your seat, and your heart from your throat. But first double-check the restraints, will you?