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Extreme Innovation: The Best Roller Coasters in the World


Heart pounding, arms up, wind blowing in your H face, your mind sending feelings of exhilaration coursing through the rest of your body. Something about the human condition demands this kind of thrill and excitement. It’s the good kind of fear. There’s nothing quite like it—the rush that comes from not knowing the next turn. You just want more. And that’s what roller coaster designers will continue to provide.

Since the very first roller coaster made its debut over 200 years ago, more and more thrill rides have been added to theme parks everywhere. Roller coaster design has become an art in and of itself, with people creating new, innovative coaster designs every year. Many theme parks exist for the sole purpose of creating new crazy thrill experiences, often constructing new roller coasters only when there is a world record to be broken. The boundaries of human creativity have been pushed and stretched through some of these roller coasters, resulting in more and more intoxicating thrill experiences, especially for those who consider themselves hardcore adrenaline junkies. Let’s take a look at some of the best examples of mankind pushing their physical and creative limits through extreme, world-famous roller coasters.

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World's Fastest Roller Coaster: Formula Rossa

Formula Rossa, a Formula 1 racing-themed ride, opened in Ferrari World Abu Dhabi in November 2010 and smashed the world record for the fastest roller coaster in the world. The roller coaster’s massive top speed creates an experience comparable to the rush of a Formula 1 race. Before getting on Formula Rossa, riders are required to put on safety goggles! But that doesn’t stop them. Once in their seats, riders are launched forward from 0.0mph to 149.1mph in just under five seconds. What’s even more impressive is that this top speed isn’t reached from dropping down a massive hill like most other roller coasters. Instead, Formula Rossa uses a hydraulic launch system to achieve this record-breaking feat.

Many other high-speed coasters rely on their top speed as the main attraction of the ride. However, Formula Rossa doesn't settle for just one thrill. The ride is full of intense hills, twists, turns, and straightaways for over a minute and a half. Throughout the ride, participants will experience a whopping 4.8 g's, something that is rarely found in any other ride. Ferrari World Abu Dhabi's star attraction, Formula Rossa, is a crowning jewel that showcases unmatched, ludicrous speed. It is a spectacle of incredible engineering and creativity.

World's Tallest Roller Coaster: Kingda Ka

When most people think of roller coasters, they picture a long track full of fast hills, exciting loops, and unexpected twists and turns. However, people must break the rules of this typical roller coaster formula to provide new thrills and reach new heights. The Kingda Ka, located at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, is one such coaster. Riders who are brave enough to get on board are launched from 0.0 mph to 128 mph in 3.5 seconds using a hydraulic launch mechanism, similar to the Formula Rossa; carried 456 feet into the air at a 90degree angle; and dropped back down 418 feet at another 90degree angle. Twenty-eight seconds after takeoff, the ride is finished.

Some people might scoff at waiting hours in line for a ride that lasts less than half a minute. However, anyone who has braved the Kingda Ka before will tell you that the electrifying sensation experienced in those 28 seconds is worth any wait. When the Kingda Ka opened in January 2005, it broke three world records: world’s fastest roller coaster, world’s tallest roller coaster, and world’s biggest drop. While the first record has since been broken again by the Formula Rossa, the Kingda Ka still holds the last two records, securing itself on the list of incredible engineering achievements where mankind’s creativity and daring were pushed to the limit.


World's Longest Roller Coaster: Steel Dragon 2000

While the Kingda Ka may be a pretty short roller coaster, this next ride makes up for it. Located at Nagashima Spa Land in Japan, the Steel Dragon 2000 opened in August of 2000 and immediately broke the record for world’s longest roller coaster. Riders who are brave enough to step onto this monstrous ride are strapped into their seats for exactly four minutes as they speed along 8,133 feet of track. After ascending the initial hill, the ride plummets down a 307-foot drop, the fifth tallest in the world, reaching speeds of 95mph. The rest of the ride is full of giant hills and incredible rushes of speed. While other rides provide only a flash of adrenaline, this coaster extends the rider’s high far beyond the typical limit. The Steel Dragon 2000 is a great example of an all-in-one thrill package, born from a dream to create the world’s longest roller coaster.

Steepest Drop: TMNT Shellraiser

As roller coaster innovation has progressed, the ideas for higher thrills have become more and more exciting. Roller coaster designers have moved past the point of just wanting to design huge hills and lots of loops. Rides are now crafted in unique ways with the intention of being set apart from all other roller coasters. A perfect example of this is the TMNT Shellraiser, located at the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park in New Jersey, which currently holds the record for the steepest drop in the world. After reaching the crest of the ride’s biggest hill, riders will feel like the world has fallen out from underneath them as they drop down at a shocking 121.5-degree angle.

While other coasters around the world have achieved drops that are more than 90 degrees, none come close to the thrill that is the TMNT Shellraiser’s inverted drop. Riders won’t be expecting it either, since the drop occurs in the middle of the ride, rather than at the beginning like with most other roller coasters. The TMNT Shellraiser is one-of-a-kind; you won’t be able to experience something like it’s absurd drop anywhere else in the world.

Most Inversions: The Smiler

Some people prefer the biggest or the fastest rides around, while others gravitate toward rides with tons of flips, loops, twists, and turns. This is where The Smiler shines. With a total of fourteen inversions throughout the duration of the ride, The Smiler, located at Alton Towers in the United Kingdom, holds the world record for roller coaster with the most inversions. Riders who brave this ridiculous ride will be treated to a very unique experience. After a quick 180-degree turn right at the beginning, riders will spiral and swerve around a large five-legged structure in the center of the ride called "The Marmaliser," which divides the ride into different sections, allowing up to five separate trains to be moving at one time. This means that more people get to experience the ride each hour than most other coasters around the world.

Despite its record-breaking achievements, some controversy surrounds this infamous roller coaster. In 2015, a gust of wind led to an empty test car stalling on the track. A train full of riders collided with it, resulting in eleven injuries. Two people required partial leg amputations from the crash. This event may cause some people to question the safety of extreme roller coasters. Has the concern for safety been lost in the ambitious pursuit of record-breaking? Or does the potential danger add to the appeal? The Smiler has since reopened with additional safety features in place. Despite its history, the ride continues to draw in hordes of riders every year.


The End of the Ride

The creativity and innovation present in the creation of roller coasters is amazing, and it means that the designs of roller coasters are constantly changing and evolving. Today, so many examples of mankind’s inventive nature are demonstrated through roller coasters all around the globe. Records are constantly being broken, limits are consistently being pushed, and new ways to entertain and thrill guests are always being brainstormed.

In the pursuit of new experiences, designers are bound to encounter some risks. Accidents are inevitable, but people will continue to improve the safety of rides alongside the level of thrills.

Yes, roller coasters are terrifying, but that’s part of the appeal. They are an incredible experience where people feel like they are close to death, but deep down, all riders know that they are safely secured in their seats, trusting the incredible engineering that has been perfected at this point.

We love that feeling that we are putting our lives at risk, pushing the limits of what our body can handle without ever having to really risk anything. Roller coasters are the perfect outlet for this; they are an example of how humanity rises to the challenge and creates something that is truly impressive.

Nate Harris