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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.

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Superman – Ultimate Flight Outfitted with Seatbelts

The train of Superman – Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has been modified while the park was closed this past week.

The single train of 12 passengers now includes seat belts as well as upgraded, metal side guards. Originally the ride included only plastic guards along the sides of the seats, however, they were continually broken due to guests leaning on them in order to enter the train.

Riders on Superman - Ultimate Flight will be greeted by an additional restraint the next time they ride. IN addition, they are being asked NOT to lower their restraints. Photo by CGA Insider, Billy D'Anjou. Used with permission.

Riders on Superman – Ultimate Flight will be greeted by an additional restraint the next time they ride, and are asked not to lower their own restraints. Photo by CGA Insider, Billy D’Anjou. Used with permission.

Superman Train Modifications, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom

Metal, more resilient side guards have also been installed on Superman’s trains. The old ones were plastic and broke easily. Photo shared by CGA Insider, Billy D’Anjou. Used with permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to riders on the coaster this weekend, the seatbelts have made the ride uncomfortable, with a “pinching” effect on the vertical drop.

Seatbelts seem to be the “new norm” on coasters across the country, in addition to the ubiquitous lap bar roller coaster restraint. It would appear the “dual restraint system” is here to stay – especially with the ride in litigation against parks in recent years. We shall see if it affects operations as the year goes on. (Superman’s crews are traditionally the most efficient in the park due to the single train design of the ride).

As for the side guards – these should prove to be much better and resilient than the plastic ones that debuted with the ride in mid-2012. These trains are not the easiest to get into our out of – so a more solid place to lean on will be a welcome addition!

Thanks to our site partner, CGA Insider (Billy D’Anjou) for the photos – you can visit his page at: au13watch.blogspot.com