Free fall

By Lynn Stanley

This story was originally published as a web exclusive and updated for the July/August 2016 Top WebEx issue.

Manufacturer delivers thrills and chills with roller coaster products

July/August 2016 - “Holy fourth dimension, Batman!” Visitors didn’t pussyfoot around but made straight for the Batcave at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio, on Memorial Day 2015 to climb aboard the park’s new roller coaster—Batman: The Ride. It was the world’s first 4-D free-spin roller coaster designed and manufactured by S&S Worldwide Inc. in Logan, Utah. The manufacturer of vertical and family thrill rides based the Batman model on technology borrowed from X2 4th Dimension, located at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Los Angeles, with a few new twists. 

A typical roller coaster operates in three dimensions, explains S&S Senior Project Manager Preston Perkes. “The free spin upgrades the ride to 4-D, which allows the seats to freely spin forward and backward using gravity and the weight distribution of each passenger seat.”

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The new roller coaster at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, in San Antonio, features “free spin” which brings the rider experience to 4-D.

S&S also employs a mature technology in a fresh way to help control the ride. “On most coasters, magnets are used to produce eddy currents in the braking fins to deliver a smooth, comfortable stop,” Perkes says. “We worked with our supplier to use an eddy current system in a new and innovative configuration to help force or retard spins. Based on rider feedback, Fiesta Texas can increase or decrease the amount of spinning by adjusting the coaster’s kickers.” 

Preston says the engineering was designed to give repeat customers a different experience each time. “I rode the coaster and I spun two times and did three or four 180s. I rode it a second time, sat in the same seat and spun five times. That’s one of the coaster’s great features: You get a different thrill each time. It’s a very exhilarating feeling to be hanging 120 feet from the ground with nothing below you, then before you can blink, you are spun forward. It’s not for the faint-hearted.”

But one thing the vast majority of park guests won’t have to worry about is motion sickness. S&S reduced this probability by identifying riders’ center of gravity and designing the spinning motion to occur on the axis of heart line (a medical term that describes a line passing through the center of the base of the heart to the apex).

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Batman: The Ride includes 165,000 components and 95,000 fasteners. Perkes estimates the structure weighs in at 275 tons.

The prototype

The S&S engineering team specified high-strength steel for the ride, the majority of which was heat treated. “When you are in the business of transporting people, your design has to be sound and that means using high-strength materials, particularly for the passenger cars,” says Perkes.

S&S spent considerable time prototyping and testing its free-spin design concept. “This ride had never been built before. Anytime you fabricate something for the first time it’s not uncommon for the manufactured components to behave in ways the design didn’t intend. Our decision to test the concept allowed us to make key adjustments to the design, manufacture new components and test the ride to prove the concept successfully,” he explains.

Featuring a 12-story lift, six full inversions and two 90-degree-plus drops, the ride has a compact footprint yet reaches a top speed of 50 mph over 1,000 ft. of track constructed to move back and forth like a vintage foosball game. Beyond-vertical drops have been done before, Perkes says. “but this coaster’s drops occur faster than other rides due to passengers riding in cars located on the sides of the track instead of under or on top of the track.”

Visual impact

“We also fabricated the ride’s structure with a visual design that is different from other rides,” Perkes adds. “Ride structures are usually vertical, but our ride has members that form two Ws. The arrangement leans out to each side reaching the outermost sections of track for a very unique look.”

FFJ 07816 batman image3

Featuring a 12-story lift, six full inversions and two 90-degree-plus drops, the ride has a compact footprint yet reaches a top speed of 50 mph.

S&S hired Rocky Mountain Construction to fabricate the track. The Hayden, Idaho, company used its patented technology calling for steel plates to be cut and welded together, producing a square or box track versus the standard round pipe used to form most track rails. “This type of track was especially suited to the Batman roller-coaster because the ride doesn’t have any left or right turns,” Perkes says.

Launch sequence

Fabrication of the track, structure and mechanical ride components was completed in December 2014. Passenger vehicle fabrication was completed in March 2015. The ride includes 165,000 components and 95,000 fasteners. Perkes estimates the structure weighs in at 275 tons.

Once thrill-seekers are securely fastened, they ascend a 120-ft.-tall vertical lift and head straight into a 360-degree loop. A double set of outside helixes exposes riders to 4 Gs before the ride ends with a final forward flip. Props create atmosphere for the coaster, allowing each rider to suspend one’s critical faculties and become the caped crusader. Beautiful park grounds and tall, carved gates quickly give way to a sense of decay and evil as the coaster hurtles deep into the Batcave stocked with high-tech equipment from Bruce Wayne Industries. 

Five thousand to 6,000 people ride the coaster every day, so it “has been a huge hit,” Perkes says. The TravelChannel cited the coaster among the best amusement park rides of 2015. It also earned high praise from USA Today. And the technology behind Batman: The Ride has brought exposure for S&S Worldwide. 

“Our company continues to push the boundaries of innovation in the rides we design and introduce while making safety and comfort our first priority,” Perkes said. “We’re currently designing a triple launch coaster that employs eddy current brakes and magnets. But what is different is that we are using the technology to propel people forward and backward.”

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On Memorial Day 2016, S&S debuted The Joker 4-D Free Fly Roller Coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey. 

Park visitors flocked to the giant steel structure with its huge floating, twisting I-box track frame sporting  green and purple paint. Riders face each other as they climb the 120 ft., 90-degree hill, then drop into a maelstrom of flips and drops. 

“We tweaked the design to give the park a unique configuration,” says Perkes. 

Whether comic book fans and visitors favor Batman or the Joker, he says, “people wish the ride could be longer.” FFJ



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