Why All Roller Coaster Enthusiasts Should Know the Name Eric Laithwaite
There are several names synonymous in the roller coaster and theme park community: Karl Bacon, Ed & Dana Morgan, Anton Schwarzkopf, Walter Bolliger & Claude Mabillard and Walt Disney, among many others.
But one in particular seems to have fallen by the wayside – Eric Laithwaite. And yet every enthusiast who’s ever enjoyed a modern, launched roller coaster owes those very thrills to him, because he is “the father of linear induction.”
Laithwaite’s most famous work centered around using magnetism to provide frictionless travel, on maglev trains. He had figured out that if you uncoiled a standard, electrical motor, an object could simply glide over it on an electromagnetic wave – and it would stay on course with the attraction and resistance already natural to those magnets.
Perhaps his most famous work of the time was the magnetic river from “The Spy Who Loved Me”
But for parks, chain lifts were just fine modes of gaining potential energy – and the technology wasn’t seen for amusement purposes until 1975, with the debut of Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland Transit Authority. While it kept a consistent pace to the ride – it’s hardly a thrill ride, too.
People at the time did not see the true potential of the futuristic, potential acceleration system. Computer control systems were still rudimentary by today’s standards – plus the weight drop and flywheel launches of Schwarzkopf and Arrow were doing the job just fine.
It would take over two decades before amusement ride manufacturers would take the technology to it’s full potential, with the debut of Premier Rides’ “Flight of Fear” indoor coasters at (then) Paramount’s Kings Island and Kings Dominion in 1996.
And, after a year of technical issues, the technology would reach it’s top speed, with the debut of Intamin’s spectacular Superman: The Escape at Six Flags Magic Mountain. It still holds the record for fastest linear launched coaster on Earth at 100 mph (on a good day).
With the explosion in launched coasters over the past two decades, just remember to add the name Eric Laithwaite to your coaster lexicon. Because without him – you would literally be going nowhere, fast.
Renewing a Classic Coaster
Fans of classic roller coaster designs rejoice – one of the original looping coasters has received a new lease on life.
If you’re a hardcore roller coaster fan – you should instantly recognize the the motion being mimicked in this commercial – for the uninitiated, it’s the famous profile and movements of the Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loop.
Sadly, only half of the installations of this compact, but thrilling ride remain in the world today. The one we’ll be focusing on resides at Walibi World in Belgium.
The ride, originally called “Turbine,” had been closed since 2008, when parts simply ran out to repair the ride. (Schwarzkopf went under well over a decade ago). But the park had an idea – they contacted current coaster manufacturer Gerstlauer and asked, “Could you modernize the launch system on ‘Turbine’ to make it faster, more reliable and cheaper to operate?”
Turns out they could!
With a newer, more reliable launching system, utilizing all of the original track, mind you – Walibi went a step further, by giving the attraction an entirely new theme and completely enclosing the ride’s track. “Turbine” would enter the new millennium with a modern, linear induction launch system and be re-born as “Psyké Underground,” a dance club themed coaster.
Now at first thought, the theme might be a bit too much – a bit “over hip,” if you will. But after seeing the effects and how they work in tandem with the storyline of the ride – well, it WORKS!
For fans of this type of ride (and you know who you are), you’ll also be happy to know the ride still goes “all the way” up the back spike as well.
With the success of this transformation, my attention turns to another classic shuttle loop that has cheated the wrecking ball several times: “Montezooma’s Revenge” at Knott’s Berry Farm.
Because Schwarzkopf went out of business in the mid-1990’s, many of the parts for the ride have become scarce or must be manufactured in-house at enormous expense. When the clutch for the flywheel system burned out in the mid-2000s, many fans wondered if the ride would simply be removed, because of the lack of available parts.
With the recent closure of “Greezed Lightning” at Kentucky Kingdom, many of the parts and indeed the train from that ride (which itself was a combination of the original “Tidal Wave” weight drop shuttle loops from the two Marriott’s Great America parks) were purchased and shipped to Knott’s earlier this year to assist in keeping “Monte,” as it’s affectionately known, up and running.
Built in 1978, it’s the last flywheel shuttle loop of it’s kind in the United States, and one of only TWO left operating in North America).
A modification and modernization such as the one done to “Psyké Underground” in Belgium not only could keep the ride around for many more years, but could also significantly lower overall operating costs. No need to enclose the ride – though it would certainly make for a different riding experience with those strobe lights in a tube!
Now, I know, it’s not the “classic” launch system…but to me – it’s still the same ride if the track layout and design isn’t modified. The renovation done at Walibi World just goes to show, that a brilliant design, no matter the age, will ALWAYS stand the test of time!
And for those who are fans of the bouncy, modern dance soundtrack for the ride, you can find it here and on iTunes: