There’s nothing like a rollercoaster rush—the rapid heartbeat and churning stomach that comes with every painstakingly slow moment before the first big drop. Then, utter fear (and gravity) takes over.
It’s a thrill David Ickes, a senior electrical designer at Baskervill, knows all too well. A longtime coaster enthusiast, one of his favorite rides was Kings Dominion’s Hurler, inspired by the popular 90s movie Wayne’s World and its many references to, well, “hurling.” The coaster, which opened in 1994, quickly gained notoriety for its steep drops and tell-tale rickety ride experience prevalent with wooden coasters, which jerk and shake riders around because of the differences in fabricating wood versus steel for the track.
Wood’s susceptibility to moisture, heat, and pressure historically meant wooden track coasters required continuous maintenance, no matter how well they’re cared for (more on why materials matter, here). But times have changed, and in the last decade significant advancements in track fabrication and construction have been introduced, precisely combining wooden supports with steel tracks and creating a “best of both worlds” scenario for coaster lovers. It was these advancements that led Kings Dominion to end the Hurler’s 22-year run and introduce a new coaster, Twisted Timbers, to take its place in spring 2018.
And David has a big role to play; he’s the lead electrical designer for the 250-horsepower ride, which promises speeds up to 54 mph, 20 airtime moments, and a 109-foot barrel-roll drop. If you’re keeping score at home: that’s one minute and 32 seconds of terror—and a lot of energy (and engineering) to make it happen.
“The energy needs at an amusement park fluctuate constantly. To design for that environment safely and correctly you have to consider how an individual ride fits into the park’s overall electrical ecosystem,” explains David. And while there’s no significant difference in how you’d go about designing electrical systems for this ride versus a traditional steel coaster, our team’s so excited to take part in bringing Twisted Timbers to life because it’s the first dual-material coaster of its kind in the mid-Atlantic—combining wood supports with a steel track. By using the latest fabrication technology, riders will get a smoother (and dare we say, more electrifying) experience, with maneuvers not normally possible for a wood-only coaster.
You can liken a rollercoaster’s energy needs to a person rolling a boulder up a hill; for a period, a massive amount of energy is needed to move the object (whether it’s a coaster’s train of cars or a boulder). In Twisted Timber’s case, a major energy boost is necessary to pull the train of cars and all the people within them up the ride’s first summit. Once gravity takes over, the load needs are less.
A top priority for David and other design team members is to confirm the electrical system can handle this spectrum of energy needs. Another consideration? Twisted Timbers’ main power source is shared with another ride. So the engineering team has to consider the fluctuating energy needs of each ride, while also verifying the transformer can support a full energy load if both rides simultaneously need a boost.
So, while it seems like an eternity (especially for coaster enthusiasts) between now and Twisted Timbers’ opening day next spring, the electrical design for many amusement park rides is a lightning-fast endeavor. Why? Because the electrical engineering must be wrapped up before rigorous testing of the coaster experience can begin. In this instance, one transformer supports both rides—and that’s a big factor allowing design to proceed quickly. In situations where an additional transformer is needed, the design schedule needs to adjust to account for configuration, assembly, delivery, and testing of a new transformer, a process that can take up to six months.
Take a ride
David’s likely to be one of the first passengers queued up when the ride enters its testing phase. In the meantime, he’ll be experiencing the thrills vicariously through the video below. Click the image to check it out for yourself.