With speeds up to 93 miles per hour and a 300-foot drop at an 80-degree angle, the Millennium Force at Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, is two minutes and 20 seconds of adrenaline rush.
It scares even the most daring of thrill ride enthusiasts. And that's the point for the engineers who keep pushing the envelope to design rides that are faster and scarier than ever. Last year, an estimated 317 million people visited amusement parks, generating $9.6 billion in revenue.
The young and old the are soaring to new heights in search of adventure, with sports like bungee jumping and mountain climbing. And extreme sports enthusiasts are the same people who want the fastest, steepest and scariest thrill ride.
"As a designer, it's important not to put limits on what you can design," said Jim Seay, a former aerospace engineer who now uses rocket science to design roller coasters, and is president of Premier Rides.
His greatest innovation: the linear induction motor, a technology that uses magnets and electricity to launch riders from zero to 70 mph in just seconds.
Computer technology allows designers to cater to the thrill-seeking crowd. The added bonus: you get to test the safety of the structure before the manufacturing begins.
"You are analyzing the stresses on structure; analyzing the G-forces that are being seen and only when the rides are completely designed on the computer does the first piece of steel or wood actually get fabricated," Seay said.
So as long as enthusiasts pay the price of admission, designers will continue to create more intense thrill rides. Some of the biggest new coasters reach speeds up to 100 mph, plunge 300 to 400 feet nearly straight down and twirl riders inverted eight times in 40 seconds.
Living on the Edge
"We all want to live on the edge but most of us aren't athletically equipped to do things like go whitewater rafting," said Scott L. Jordan, of amusementpark.com. "So these rides let everyone know what it feels like to jump out of a plane. It's theater without danger."
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, golf equipment caused nearly five times as many injuries as amusement park rides in 1999. And the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions says the chance of serious injury on a ride is one in 23 million.
Here are some of the nation's top rollercoasters according to Jordan.
1. Millennium Force, Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. It is touted as the tallest and fastest roller coaster in North America. It is 310 feet tall, reaches speeds of 93 mph and sends passengers down the mammoth first hill at an outrageous 80-degree angle. Riders have to be at least 48 inches tall.
2. The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, Universal Studio's Island of Adventure, Orlando, Fla. It is part of Marvel's Super Hero Island.
3. Hypersonic XLC, Kings Dominion, Doswell, Va. It is the world's first compressed air launch coaster featuring unique acceleration, zero gravity airtime and free-fall sensations.
4. Superman the Ultimate Escape, Six Flags Worlds of Adventure, Aurora, Ohio.
5. Superman Ride of Steel, Six Flags in New England. At 200 feet tall, it is the tallest and fastest ride in the park. Passengers climb over 20 stories into the air before plunging almost 200 feet into a dizzying 70-degree high-speed drop and rocketing along more than a mile of rock-hard steel track.
6. Shivering Timbers, a wooden roller coaster at Michigan's Adventure in Muskegon, Mich.
7. Boulder Dash, Lake Compounce in Bristol, Conn.
8.Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Disney MGM Studios, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
9.Titan, Six Flags Over Texas, in Arlington, Texas. At 255 feet above the earth, the steel superstructure features one of the world's mightiest drops at hyper speeds of 85 miles an hour. Guests speed through three-and-a-half minutes of spectacular plunges, a 120-foot-long tunnel shrouded in total darkness, a series of camelback hills, huge spiral curves, and high-speed helixes.
10. Nitro, Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N. J. It takes thrill-lovers on a white-knuckled ascent to the top of its lift hill, topping off at 230 feet only to dive 215 feet back to Earth at a mind-numbing speed approaching 80 mph.