Saturday, October 7, 2006

Top Thrill Dragster Redesign Concept -Part 1

The history of modern roller coasters can be traced back to 15th century Russia. Russia has always suffered extremely cold winters due to its northern latitude. At some point during the 15th century, people had the idea that they could use the copious amounts of ice and snow as a form of amusement. They built sleds and used an iced-up wooden slope to serve as the track. This was the first major step in ride development; the deliberate construction of a slope for the specific purpose of carrying passengers for pleasure. They were eventually known as the Russian Mountains.

From sleds and ice roller coasters began to take shape when mine carts were used to provide amusement. These “rides’ popped up on hills after old railway tracks were no longer in use. They were essentially run away mine carts with no mechanical components and few safety considerations.

It wasn’t until 1826 in France, that mechanical components were incorporated into “roller coasters”. The cars on these rides were anchored to the track by an extension of the wheel axles projecting into grooves in the sides of the track, later, cables would be added. These new features allowed for speeds of about 30 miles per hour. Just like the Russian Mountains, these carts were powered by gravity, and in order for the ride to begin, the carts had to manually be pushed to the top of a hill.

The first modern roller coaster is considered to be the Switchback Railway, built by La Marcus Adna Thompson, in 1884, operating in Coney Island, New York. This ride was much like a Russian Mountain with mine carts in place of sleds, and a track in place of ice. A year later the first closed circuit coaster was implemented, and shortly after a lift hill was introduced to take over the chore of lifting the cart to the top of the hill.

The 20th century saw the large scale development of the modern day roller coaster. Initially, these attractions were made of wood, closed circuited, and all possessed the same basic features. Just like their predecessors, these roller coasters were all powered by the potential energy that they acquired at the beginning of the ride. This energy was now obtained by mechanically pulling the train up a lift hill, as opposed to being manually pushed.

For years to come advances in technology would change many of the major features of roller coasters. Steel tubular tracks were introduced in 1959, allowing for new design features. These included suspended, stand up, and looping roller coasters, developed during the 70’s and 80’s. It was around this time that launching systems were also conceived.

Launching systems were first developed so that looping roller coasters could be built in parks that didn’t have enough room for traditional closed circuit tracks. These rides would launch, go though a series of twists, turns and loops, and make their way up a ramp until they briefly came to rest . They would then make their way down this ramp backwards and run the course in reverse.

The first of these was built in 1977 and was dubbed the Schwarkzkopf Shuttle Loop. It was propelled by dropping a 40 ton weight from a nearby tower. The weight was connected to a pusher, by a clutch and cables. As the weight fell the cables would pull the pusher, which rode in a slot in between the track’s rails. The pusher, located behind the train, would then push the train down the track.

At about the same time flywheel systems and electric motors were aslo designed. A motor, would spin a flywheel to high speeds and when ready to launch it would grab a cable and accelerated the train using a similar pusher system. Although they could achieve sufficient amounts of power, they were plagued by mechanical problems.

In order to overcome these problems, magnetic launch systems were devised in the mid 1990’s dubbed LSM (Linear Synchronous Motor) and LIM (Linear Induction Motor). The principle behind these systems was to use electrically charged magnets to propel a train down a track. Physical contact was not needed between parts, and the system as a whole was much more reliable and low maintenance. This system was first used on the Outer Limits Flight of Fear, located in Paramount’s Kings Dominion in Virginia, in 1996. Although this ride was a traditional closed circuit coaster, the majority of launched coasters are not.

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