Perfecting the inversion

AT: B. Derek Shaw

Turning riders upside down on a roller coaster is not just a development of the mid-1970s, although that’s what most recall. As early as 1901, loops were built in roller coasters at amusement parks, fairs and expositions; most notably Loop the Loops and Flip Flap Railways. In most cases, more people watched than rode as the vertical loop was completely circular, exerting intense g-forces due to the tight radius.


Fast forward to 1976 when Anton Schwarzkopf successfully revived the vertical loop element. This is a clothoid-based design that resembles an inverted tear drop. His version provided a smoother, more enjoyable experience. The prior year, Arrow Development did their variation on a theme with the introduction of the corkscrew element. The 1980s and ‘90s saw the introduction of the boomerang, bat wing, bowtie, barrel roll, Immelmann loop, cobra roll, inline twist, pretzel loop, zero-gravity roll and more.

However, the inversion innovations seldom evolved at the same rate as restraint design or transition understanding, so often these rides first came with restraint systems that weren’t comfortable for all and/or were hindered by poorly timed transitions which caused undue stress.

For those reasons, I am not always a fan of inversions. That is why when attending media day at Kennywood for The Steel Curtain, I thought nine inversions could be a “one and done” ride. However, I was incredibly mistaken. S&S Worldwide is joining other manufacturers to engineer inversions that flow and easily transition from one to the other seamlessly, without discomfort and the use of the dreaded over-the-shoulder restraints. On top of that, the ride had all the other criteria needed to make a good roller coaster: smooth track, good speed, plenty of airtime, continuous action and rerideablility.

Roller coaster designers usually “build” a ride. The Steel Curtain feels as though it was “orchestrated” by S&S engineers and designers — all the elements are in concert with each other, which produces harmony. It’s a complete concerto. It flows. It works. It’s fun.

That brings me back to the final criteria: re-rideability. Standing on the platform that day I was really excited about what I rode once and then again and yet again. I was happy to fill in when empty seats were available. At the end of that time, I easily managed and enjoyed 15 different thrilling, exciting and fun laps on The Steel Curtain.  

They say, “The proof is in the pudding.” What a fine pudding you have made.

This article appears in the SEPTEMBER 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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