A new loop in roller coasters Technology: Premier Rides of Millersville is helping to bring faster launches to roller coasters with linear-induction motor technology.

November 24, 1997|By Samantha Kappalman | Samantha Kappalman,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Ever since the first roller coasters were built in America in the 1920s, they have worked pretty much the same way.

After the cars leave the loading platform, they begin a long climb up a wooden tower, pulled by chains, to the ride's highest point. Then comes the big drop.

Premier Rides Inc. of Millersville is helping to change that with linear-induction motor (LIM) technology.

LIM roller coasters are launched at 55 mph -- or faster -- and often don't hit their highest point until well into the ride on the twisting and looping steel track. The rides are powered by an electric current that pushes the car along with the help of aluminum fins on the side of each car.

"It's going to take roller coasters to the next level because they're no longer reliant on a chain lift," said Robert Coker, a member of the American Coaster Enthusiasts who lives in New York. "To have one of the more dramatic moments at the beginning, the launch, makes it an incredible experience. But they can conceivably put the linear-induction motors anywhere along the track."

Coker was one of the first to ride the LIM coaster that Premier built at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey -- Batman and Robin: The Chiller.

"It's an incredible, amazing rush," Coker said. "The launch is just incredibly intense. Within the blink of an eye you go from sitting still to 65 mph without any acceleration."

Premier President Jim Seay said the technology was invented for use at slower speeds -- such as people movers in airports. He said that employee-owned Premier Rides was the first to incorporate the technology into roller coasters in 1995.

The first two of seven roller coasters that Premier has built using LIM technology were in 1996 for Paramount Parks Inc., and are called Outer Limits: Flight of Fear. The indoor roller coasters were built for parks in Ohio and Virginia, cost a reported $11.2 million and won two awards from the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. Traditional roller coasters average between $4 million and $6 million.

In April, Premier, which employs 14 people, will become the first American company to bring LIM technology overseas. Seay (pronounced Shea) said the new coaster is being built for Suzuka Circuitland, a theme park near Tokyo that houses Japan's Formula One Race Car Track, for an undisclosed amount.

This roller coaster will also use LIM technology and will be similar to the other designs, he said. Riders will turn upside down four times, speed through 30 vertical curves, and experience up to 4 1/2 times the force of gravity during the 144-second ride on 2,700 feet of track.

"To create the magnetic wave needed to launch the ride to 60 mph in just over 3 seconds, the roller coaster takes 5,000 horsepower of energy, and suddenly turns the ride on," Seay said. "The technological challenge is how to control that kind of energy."

Coker said the amount of horsepower used is part of what makes the ride so exciting. He rode Outer Limits, which launches at 55 mph, two times during the summer it opened. He said the new technology was also part of the thrill, and the complete darkness of the ride was also exciting.

"You have no idea what's coming. Before you exit you're in a dimly lit chamber, then you start twisting and dropping, and then boom, it's over," Coker said. "It's right up there with the best rides in the country. I've been on hundreds of roller coasters, but these make my heart race. There's no slow gradual climbing to prepare you, all of a sudden you just do it."

It hasn't been all downhill for Premier. The company started an uphill ride of its own when a lawsuit was filed against it by Paramount Parks in September 1996 because the roller coasters took longer to build and cost more than the original model, which did not include LIM technology, said Premier spokeswoman Courtney Simmons. This was because the original plans for the coasters did not include LIM technology, she said. The suit has since been settled.

"It was a dispute over final business arrangement issues -- essentially money issues," Seay said. "Paramount will be designing new attractions with us in the future because of our exclusivity on the technology."

Lynn Shiau, senior counsel for Paramount Parks, confirmed that although there is nothing specific in the works, the parks are looking for opportunities to do business with Premier again.

Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Parks Services Inc., an industry consulting firm, said these types of lawsuits are common in the industry.

"It happens all the time," Speigel, who has 38 years' experience in the industry, said. "It is not unusual for rides to have lawsuits, especially with prototypes because they are an unknown quantity."

Speigel said LIM has had a "major impact" on the industry because it had eliminated the need for chains, grease and belts.

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