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How Do They Do That? Constructing Theme Park Rides

Music producer Pete Waterman famously once said that 'everybody likes a roller coaster ride'. Whether that is strictly true for everyone remains unanswered, but there are those among us that revel in the buzz that a roller coaster brings, without a thought about how they came to be in the first place. Here, the Anderselite team takes a short look at how designers and engineers combine to create the ultimate thrill ride.

The process of designing a rollercoaster
Like any vast engineering project the design process begins in the imaginations of the designers. It is often called the 'blue sky' stage, where everything and anything is possible. Brainstorming sessions are held to identify, within the bounds of technology, theme, geography and budget, plus what the ride could potentially entail.

When a number of ideas have been identified they are taken through to the concept design stage. This involves creating storyboards, like in the film industry, which show the key highlights of the new ride. This helps clarify the story of the ride and demonstrates its viability.

As soon as there are several clear leaders among the candidates the next stage is to create simple models to demonstrate what the finished ride will look like. These are usually made of cardboard and foam and the concepts are enhanced by using computer generated imagery (CGI) to show how the ride will appeal to visitors.

The next stage is cost-estimation. Roller coasters vary enormously in cost, depending on what they are made from, the technology they use, their theme and their location. Wooden roller coasters cost less than steel ones to make, and the budget for newest steel coasters can exceed $20million 

There is speculation that Disney's Mission: Space, at its Epcot Centre in Florida cost over $200million, with half of that coming from commercial sponsors. At this stage in the design process, after budget and format agreements have been reached with the park's operators, detailed blueprints are created.

Feasibility studies are then undertaken to establish how the ride will be built, taking into consideration the engineering and technical detail needed. It is at this stage that special effects, audio and acoustic teams become involved.

A contract document outlining all the work which is required is then drawn up and tender offers are invited. Bidders are usually involved in the separate areas of lighting, audio, show control, the manufacture of the ride and its installation.

The construction of a roller coaster is a specialist job and the designers and engineers employed by them are highly-skilled professionals. These people work in collaboration with the original design team to achieve the vision which was first imagined. Construction can take up to three months, longer if the coaster is particularly complex or there are terrain difficulties.

Once the roller coaster is installed, the testing process can begin. This is a particularly important stage where minor adjustments can be made to the ride to ensure the safety of the riders as well as to enhance their audio visual experience.

Between the original thought process stage to the day of the grand opening there can often be a time period of anywhere between two-to-five years. Once open, the ride is often adjusted by the team to further improve it.
To measure just how successful the ride is in terms of thrills, the ride operators ask guests to complete surveys which ask whether they would return, would recommend the ride to a friend and ask about their general satisfaction. One other vital criterion for measuring success is the Theoretical Hourly Ride Capacity (THRC) which will show, under optimal conditions, how many people can ride per hour.

A roller coaster of facts:

• The idea for roller coasters was developed from 16th century ice slides in Russia.
• The first roller coaster, as we understand it today, was opened in France in 1817.
• The first looping roller coaster was opened in 1846 but was closed due to the high number of injuries it caused.
• Roller coasters these days are made from steel - in the past they were made from wood.
• The tallest roller coaster in the world is Kingda Ka in New Jersey, USA. It is 139 meters high and also boasts the longest drop.
• The fastest roller coaster in the world is Ferrari World's Formula Rossi in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Due to the speed it travels, riders are required to wear goggles to protect their eyes from insects while riding at an incredible 149mph.
• The most G-force you will experience in a roller coaster is 6.3G while riding The Tower Of Terror in Gauting, South Africa.
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