Roller coasters have evolved immensely since they were patented in 1898. Advances in technology in recent history have also triggered a number of exciting changes in the way we enjoy today’s thrill rides. In the past two decades roller coasters have reached greater heights and speeds than ever. In 1991, the looping coaster boom was winding down. Throughout the 1980′s amusement parks added roller coasters that turned riders upside-down on both a large and small scale. There was a good chance you could find a roller coaster with a loop or even two. The next craze was just beginining as theme parks created what’s been called The Coaster Arms Race as parks battled to create the tallest and fastest roller coasters. Rather than emphasizing loops, most of these coasters emphasized height and speed. Twenty years ago, in 1991, the new contender to the height and speed championship, Steel Phantom, opened at Kennywood.
Launch coasters revolutionized the industry
Probably the most noticeable technological advancement in the the past two decades is of the birth of launch roller coasters. Originally, driven by powerful magnets, these coasters don’t need a traditional lift hill to generate speed. Instead, they rocket guests to blistering speeds in only a matter of seconds. In, 1991 Steel Phantom set a new speed record of 80 mph thanks to a drop down a natural ravine. Today, Formula Rossa at Ferrari World uses a hydraulic launch that accelerates riders from 0 to to an unprecedented 150 mph in under 5 seconds.
Riders experience every riding position imaginable
If a roller coaster fan from 1991 entered a theme park in 2011, they would marvel at the wide variety of roller coasters. A number of new seating positions have created exciting new experiences that were not around a few decades ago. Today, riders find themselves below tracks on ski lift-like inverted coasters and face down in a Superman-like flying position all while being thrown into a variety of loops and maneuvers. The most unnerving new ride position can be experienced on 4th dimension roller coasters like Six Flags Magic Mountain’s X2. Like the combination of a spinning amusement ride and a moving roller coaster, these thrill machines place riders outside the track in seats that spin on their own axis. Meanwhile, the roller coaster travels enormous heights and insane speeds.
Roller coasters achieve lofty heights and provide unbelievable drops
The aforementioned Steel Phantom boasted a once record-breaking drop of 225 feet. Currently, the World’s longest drop (and tallest roller coaster) can be found on Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. It nearly doubles Steel Phantom with a 418′ drop from a 440′ tall tower where riders are said to be able to see both Philadelphia and New York City on a clear day.
These are not your father’s wooden roller coasters
Even wooden roller coasters have seen changes. El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure features an ultra-smooth and un-wooden like ride with super steep angles. The Gravity Group designed roller coasters like Hades and The Voyage have featured extreme 90 degree banking that hadn’t been seen on wooden coasters until recently.
Steep drops have gotten a whole lot steeper
That stomach dropping feeling has been taken to a whole new level with today’s ultra-steep roller coasters. Rides like the new Untamed at Canobie Lake and Dare Devil Dive at Six Flags Over Georgia are so steep that the coasters actually travel back up under the crest of their drops. Currently, the United Kingdom’s Mumbo Jumbo at Flamingo Land holds the record with an unreal 112-degree drop.