PRISM Magazine Online - May-June 2000
The Wiild Bunch
When engineers are in charge of the fun, you’d better hold on to your seat.

By Kendra Gordon

Extraordinary engineering achievements have become almost commonplace. For truly heart-stopping innovation, you may have to climb aboard one of the nation's newest roller coasters. Take the Stealth at the Great America Amusement Park in Santa Clara, California. There you are hanging upside down--arms outstretched, suspended 110 feet in the air--when suddenly you begin to fall, plunging toward the ground at a terrifying 50 miles per hour.

More and more engineering students want to be part of this exciting world. In a survey last year, engineering students named the Walt Disney Co. as their number one choice for employment. But how do they learn to develop these magnificent machines of wild flips and turns? New grads rarely have the right kind of experience starting out, but may be hired by theme parks if their computer-aided design skills are strong. However, most parks use outside contractors. Roller coaster design companies, including Arrow Dynamics, D.H. Morgan Manufacturing, Inc., and Vekoma generally want engineers with at least three years of experience in large equipment or machine design.

This season's newest coasters are engineered to break all kinds of records for height, speed, length, and number of inversions. The tallest and fastest, at least for now, is a monster called Millennium Force at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, which rises 310 feet while barreling along at 92 miles per hour. "Because of Millennium Force's towering height, a new way to transport the trains up the hill had to be engineered," says Monty Jasper, the park's vice president of maintenance and construction.

But these new records won't stand for long. Engineers are already hard at work--or is it play--creating new ways to give us that terrifying rush of fun.

Kendra Gordon is a Prism editorial intern.

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