Roller Coaster Design

Florida Guide > Miscellaneous

Having written about a number of the roller coasters I have ridden, it dawned on me that much about the engineering and design of these sophisticated structures is very much taken for granted by all of us. As a result I decided to produce this small insight into the design considerations of a typical roller coaster.

Roller coaster design is very much a science with designers using kinematics knowledge (the branch of mechanics that deals with pure motion) to prevent overstressing the human body and building an unsafe ride. The acceleration of the ride is a particularly important factor, especially as the ride slows down and speeds up. A good coaster needs to allow its passengers to be able to sense stress changes and adjust tension in the body so as to avoid the ride causing an injury.

G Force is a very important consideration in the design of a roller coaster. Our bodies have limitations and G force must be carefully factored into the design. The absolute maximum vertical (positive) force that can be withstood is around six times (6G). Negative force, the type that provides the sensation of weightlessness and the hardest for the body to endure is usually limited to a maximum of 2 G. On a roller coaster this sensation is often experienced as the coaster vehicle summits a hill where passengers are pushed out of their seat from centrifugal force. The final force, i. e. lateral G-force is experienced on almost every roller coaster ride in existence. This force throws the passenger to one side of the seat when going round curves. Lateral forces on a roller coaster generally do not exceed 1. 5 G. Anything greater than this can be quite uncomfortable for the human body to endure.

Once beyond the kinematics and ride physics good roller coaster design depends largely on whether the ride is pure thrill, a scenic fun filled adventure ride or a combination of both. Pure thrill rides tend to consist of large steel designs with vast sections of the ride running very high in the air. At the time of writing the competitive thrill ride is one that provides high speed, high G force and long vertical drops. However just as impressive (some would say more) are the hugely themed roller coasters. Good examples of these are Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and The Mummy at Universal Studios, both in Florida. Rides that attempt to do both may have heavily themed queuing areas and then extend out into a steel structure for the bulk of the ride.

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