Hundreds of people want to be part of the climbing, dropping and twisting
world of roller-coasters. But the fact is only an elite few can become roller-coaster
designers -- the people who invent new roller-coaster rides and see those
ideas through construction.
Modern coasters can take two to three years to design and can cost millions
to build. Recent designs have topped the $8-million mark. Over the years,
the design process has incorporated high-tech computer imagery.
Ron Toomer is a consultant director at a U.S. roller-coaster design company.
"Most people think they just get to draw the up and down," he says.
"A big part of designing roller-coasters is taking that and putting it
into drawings we can work from and figure out forces on people and that kind
For that reason, most designers are mechanical engineers, electrical engineers
or structural engineers. A few are designer drafters. Toomer says the top
drafters have many of the same skills as an engineer.
"Top-level [drafters] have a good ability to do mathematical analysis to
measure stress and things like that," he explains.
Mechanical engineers design the loops and drops that roller-coasters are
famous for. They can also design everything from the coaches to the nuts and
bolts of a new ride.
Structural engineers oversee the structural aspects of design. Just how
do you support a 225-foot structure with coaches moving at speeds of over
80 miles an hour?
But there is more to roller-coaster design than the dreamy ups and downs
that thrill riders. There is also the element of safety.
Double "E" engineers -- electrical and electronic -- design computer programs
that ensure trains don't leave too close together and that the speed they
move at is properly controlled.
"[We] spend more than half the time working on the safety issue. That's
really the whole thing for us," says engineer Glenn Birket. "It's not the
part that you think of first. It's maybe the part that you think of after
you've thought a little harder about roller-coasters."
One designer may have an idea for a new roller-coaster, but it's often
up to a team of people to work out how to safely make that idea a reality.
Designers work for roller-coaster manufacturers and suppliers -- suppliers
are the people who design or build coaches and railings for use by the roller-coaster
A roller-coaster designer works similar hours to other engineers -- usually
9 to 5 -- but design engineers can put in long hours when deadlines loom.
"We just gave our lives over to the project," says wooden roller-coaster designer
Enter a field with big ups and downs