Today’s roller coasters are engineering marvels, taller and faster than ever. Kingda Ka in New Jersey (left) has a 418-foot drop and races to speeds of 128 mph. Its hydraulic launch system catapults riders to maximum velocity in just 3.5 seconds. In 2002, the top speed of the world’s fastest ride was “only” 106.9 mph.
Though it makes you feel weightless, a coaster’s hair-raising downhill plunge actually makes you appreciate gravity’s pull. Some hit G-forces of nearly six times gravity — well beyond what space shuttle astronauts experience upon launch. Albert Einstein called roller coasters perfect examples of energy conservation in a mechanical system, because they convert potential energy into kinetic energy and rely entirely on gravity and momentum. And engineers are still pushing the speed envelope. The Ring Racer in Germany will use an air launch system to zoom to 135 mph in 2.5 seconds. Hold on tight!
Watch a video about the Kingda Ka roller coaster here: