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.
In 1996, two roller coasters called Outer Limits: Flight of Fear opened. They were built by Premier Rides and were the first full-circuit launched roller coasters as well as 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.
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 Industries, Intamin, Gerstlauer, Premier Rides, Maurer AG, Zierer, MACK Rides and Bolliger and 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.
Hydraulic-launched roller coasters give the riders high acceleration, yet with improved smoothness, over the electromagnetic and catapult launch mechanisms. The Swiss manufacturer Intamin pioneered this new style.
The heart of the system is several (usually eight) powerful hydraulic pumps, each capable of producing around 500 horsepower (373 kW). Hydraulic fluid is pumped into several different hydraulic accumulators (energy storing devices) containing two compartments separated by a piston. As the incompressible hydraulic fluid is pumped into one compartment a gas in the other compartment is compressed.
At launch, the fluid under pressure from the accumulators is used to drive a number (typically 16 or 32) of hydraulic motors, which spin a large winch drum that rewinds a cable attached to a catch-car under the train in a matter of seconds. The catch-car moves in a groove in the center of the launch track with the motor at one end, and the waiting train at the other.
While the train inches forward, the pusher moves back from the motor towards the train. Once the pusher connects, the anti-rollback braking system drops beneath the track, giving the train the green light to be launched. In the Kingda Ka roller coaster, the system as a whole can produce a peak power of up to 20,800 hp (15.5 MW) for each launch.
These launches are considered capable of giving a far greater and smoother acceleration than the LIM/LSM styles. The acceleration from a LIM/LSM launch is greatest at the beginning and dies off rapidly towards the end of the launch, but the acceleration from a hydraulic launch remains nearly constant throughout the launch.
The first hydraulic launch coaster was Xcelerator reaching 82 mph in 2.3 seconds. The world's current tallest and 2nd fastest coaster Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure, which opened in the spring of 2005 is capable of reaching 128 mph (206 km/h) in 3.5 seconds.
Hydraulic launched rides usually have a tower after the launch, with differing layouts afterwards depending on the park's financial resources. Top Thrill Dragster brakes after the tower and Kingda Ka features a single 130 ft hill after the tower, while Storm Runner at Hersheypark offers a series of overbanked turns and inversions after its 180 foot (55 m) tower drop. Rita at Alton Towers does not have a tower, only airtime hills and banked turns. Stealth at Thorpe Park has a large tower that travels to the left over the top hat, and then slows on an airtime hill with magnetic brakes. Xcelerator at Knotts Berry Farm offers two overbanked turns after the tower. Along with the height and speed, these coasters, named "Rocket Coasters" in the industry, are considered more comfortable because of a smoother launch than LIM-style launches.
Vekoma opened a coaster in 2004 called Booster Bike at Toverland in the Netherlands, said to give riders a sensation of racing on high performance motorcycles over a low twisted layout, at speeds up to 47 mph (75 km/h). The cars imitate real motorcycles, and the riders sit in the same posture as real bikers.
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.
- Counterweight launch system on Schwarzkopf rides
- Flywheel launch system on Schwarzkopf rides
- Intamin official website
|Types of roller coaster|
|Track materials||Hybrid • Steel • Wooden|
|Scale||Kiddie • Family • Hyper (200+ feet) • Giga (300+ feet) • Strata (400+ feet)|
|Train configurations||4th Dimension • Bobsled • Flying • Inverted • Motorbike • Pipeline • Side Friction • Spinning • Stand-Up • Suspended • Winged|
|Track layouts||Figure 8 • Out and Back • Wacky Worm (Big Apple) • Wild Mouse|
|Multi-tracked||Number of tracks: 2 (twin, möbius) • 3 (triple) • 4 (quad) • 6 (sextuple)|
|Style||Mine Train • Water (liquid) • Virginia Reel|
|Situation||Enclosed • Indoor|
|Roller coaster descriptions|
|Basic elements||Brake run • Station|
|Advanced elements||Bunny hill • Headchopper • Inversions • Pre-Drop • Tunnel|
|Propulsion||Lift hill (Cable lift • Chain lift • Elevator lift • Ferris wheel lift)|
|Technology||Block brakes • On-ride camera • On-ride soundtrack • Train • car • Track • Transfer track • Underfriction • Wheel assembly|
|Other||POV • Queue line • Rollback • Theming|
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