For our final edition of Flashback Friday, we’ll look at how the implementation of a high-speed launch enabled roller coasters to reach unprecedented speeds. One of the first rides to break 100 miles per hour, Superman: Escape from Krypton, opened at Six Flags Magic Mountain as the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster.
While the reputation of wooden coasters might have suffered during the Roller Coaster Wars, steel coaster development flourished, with new innovations surfacing every year. As coasters grew bigger and bigger, one of the main obstacles manufacturers faced was the matter of getting the train 300 or more feet into the air without the use of a traditional lift hill. Chain lifts were notoriously slow, causing ride capacity to come to a crawl, and a lift hill that long would take up a significantly large footprint. Clearly, the industry was in need of a new type of lift, but what? A Swiss manufacturer known as Intamin took up the challenge.
In the mid-1990s, Intamin was hard at work developing a new form of propulsion that would rely on a linear synchronous motor (LSM). Electromagnetic plates built into the track would propel a train forward with a strong blast of electricity, causing it to accelerate as it went. Rather than slowly climbing a lift hill, a train could launch from 0-100 miles per hour in a matter of seconds. The creation of this technology was groundbreaking, and several amusement parks were eager to partner with Intamin to create the world’s fastest roller coaster, including Six Flags Magic Mountain.
The design Intamin offered Magic Mountain was for a 415-foot shuttle coaster that would begin with a 100-mile-per-hour launch. Currently, the world’s tallest roller coaster was only 259 feet tall, so this new ride would break both the 300- and 400-foot barriers. Six Flags Magic Mountain jumped on their opportunity to set such an impressive record. In January 1996, the park announced “Superman: The Escape” as the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster. Unfortunately for Magic Mountain, problems plagued Intamin’s revolutionary launch system early on, and Superman missed its June 1996 opening date. It took nearly a year for Intamin to refine the launch, and by the time the ride opened in 1997, Tower of Terror at Dreamworld had already broken the 100-mile-per-hour barrier.
Nevertheless, Superman became the world’s tallest roller coaster and tied for the world’s fastest roller coaster. Absolutely nothing could keep thrill seekers away from Magic Mountain that year. Riders entered the ride’s themed station and boarded one of Superman’s open-air trains. From there, it was a race as the two trains accelerated from 0 to 100 miles per hour in seven seconds. Building up G-forces, the trains swooped into a vertical position and sped for the sky. Two thirds of the way up the tower, the trains began to slow, gradually coming to a stop and beginning to roll backwards. During the descent, riders experienced 6.5 seconds of airtime as the trains plummeted backwards towards the station. Superman: The Escape was a ride like no other.
Midway through the 2010 season, Superman was abruptly shut down, leading many to think the ride would be removed. However, the ride returned the next year better than ever. New rear facing trains allowed riders to experience a 100-mile-per-hour launch in reverse, and a refreshed theme gave the coaster an updated look. The ride was renamed “Superman: Escape from Krypton.”
The launch system on Superman made a way for roller coasters to go faster and reach bigger heights than ever before. Improving its technology, Intamin would later develop the hydraulic launched coaster, offering even smoother acceleration and greater top speeds. This launch system is what powers Kingda Ka and Formula Rossa, the world’s tallest and fastest roller coasters.
Did you enjoy this post series? Thank you for reading, and please leave a comment if you have a suggestion for a future series. What do you think is next for the roller coaster industry?