On a traditional roller coaster, the train is given potential energy by a lift hill, which is converted to kinetic energy as the train accelerates due to gravity. A launch is much quicker than a lift hill and can accelerate the train faster than gravity, adding an additional thrill.
Most new launched roller coasters use electromagnetic technology, with some using pneumatic technology or electric motors.
The first launched roller coasters were also the first modern shuttle roller coasters. Two designs debuted in 1977, one from American company Arrow Development and another from Werner Stengel and Anton Schwarzkopf, both German. Arrow's Launched Loop incorporated both a forwards and a backwards launch, both using a winch powered by an electric motor. Schwarzkopf's Shuttle Loop meanwhile used a counterweight which, when dropped, provided a burst of energy used to accelerate the train. Later Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop installations used a flywheel - a large disk spun at high speed by a motor. When a train is launched, it uses energy stored in the flywheel.
In the early 1980s, Schwarzkopf and Stengel built the Weiner Looping (now called the Bullet). This shuttle roller coaster is the first known to use friction wheels to launch the train forward and backward. It is also the first multi-launch roller coaster.
In 1996, two roller coasters called Outer Limits: Flight of Fear opened. They were built by Premier Rides and were the first electromagnetically launched - using LIM technology. This technology allows for much faster launches. Intamin used a similar technology, LSM, to launch the car on Tower of Terror to a record-breaking 100 mph. Since the opening of Tower of Terror, all taller and faster roller coasters have used a launch.
Linear Gale, Intamin's first Impulse Coaster, opened in 1998. It was a launched inverted shuttle roller coaster. Riders were launched forwards and backwards up two vertical spikes. Volcano The Blast Coaster was designed by Intamin and also opened in 1998. It operated until 2018 and remains the only full-circuit inverted launched coaster ever built.
The first Intamin Accelerator Coaster, Xcelerator at Knott's Berry Farm, opened in 2002. It uses hydraulic motors to propel the train over a top hat. The system was used again for Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, which became the tallest and fastest roller coaster when it opened the following year, at a height of 420 feet and reaching a speed of 120 mph. In 2004, Storm Runner opened at Hersheypark; it is a launched coaster and it remains a popular ride at the park. Only two years later, Intamin broke the records again with Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure, which remains the tallest roller coaster to this day. In 2010, Formula Rossa opened up to the public and set the world record for fastest roller coaster with a top speed of nearly 150 mph.
Cheetah Hunt at Busch Gardens Tampa opened in 2011 and is the first full-circuit roller coaster with multiple launches. It has three LSM-powered launches. The first multi-launched coaster in Europe, Helix at Liseberg, opened in 2014.
The newest launch coaster is the VelociCoaster at Universal's Islands of Adventure. It opened to the public on June 10, 2021. This coaster has 2 LSM launches. The first launch propels the train from 0 to 50 mph in 2 seconds flat, and the second launch gives the train a boost, going from 40 to 70 mph in 2.4 seconds. It also contains 3 inversions.
LIM / LSM
Linear Induction Motor (LIM) and Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) coasters use propulsion via electromagnets, which utilize large amounts of electricity to propel the passenger compartment along vertical guides or coaster tracks. Such designs have been successfully installed by Vekoma, Intamin, Gerstlauer, Premier Rides, Maurer AG, Zierer, Mack Rides, and Bolliger & Mabillard.
Electricity is transferred into a motor so that it controls the speed at which it will urge the car forward. LIMs are mainly used in Premier Rides roller coasters and Intamin impulse coasters. However, LIMs are also used for transport systems and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority in the Magic Kingdom for low acceleration, unlike what most roller coasters use for high acceleration.
S&S Power acquired the Arrow Dynamics catalogue in 2002, rising from its beginnings as a maker of elastics-based amusements (bungee jumping and trampoline equipment) to a position which it leveraged to pioneer the pneumatic technology which currently dominates thrill launch design. Their earliest such products, such as the Space Shot, the Turbo Drop, and the Thrust Air 2000 coaster, used Ingersoll-Rand screw type compressors. Thrust Air 2000, installed at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia, USA, under the name HyperSonic XLC was clocked to launch from the rest at station to 80 mph (128 km/h) in 1.8 seconds. The coaster proceeds to ascend a tower at 90 degrees and descends vertically. Another compressed air–launched coaster, built in Fuji-Q Highland, is Dodonpa. This coaster is capable of launching passengers from 0 to 106.9 mph (171 km/h) in 1.8 seconds.
In the catapult launch, a large diesel engine or a dropped weight winds a cable to pull the train until it accelerates to its full speed.
These rides are often not very tall, and usually achieve speeds of 60 mph (96 km/h).
Flywheel launches are used on some Anton Schwarzkopf designed shuttle loop coasters and Zamperla Motocoasters. A large flywheel is spun at high speeds and is attached to a cable that propels the train forward.
Electric motor and spring tension
Arrow Dynamics' Launched Loop coasters, which were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, use a powerful electric motor and tensioned springs to propel a launch car forward. The launch car pushes the train outward to a drop, and then returns to its position. After the train reaches the opposite platform, another catch car works the same way. An example of this is Irn Bru Revolution.
Another type of launch is by friction wheels. The launch track consists of a series of horizontal tires that pinch the brake fins on the underside of the train. One example of this is the Incredible Hulk at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
Types of launches
Rolling launches occur when the train launches while moving.
Boost launches occur when the train launches to gain speed.
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