Japan was again the site of significant innovation in 1984 when the first roller coaster with a near vertical drop opened at Nagashima Spaland (Mie, Japan). Togo, initially founded in 1935 diversified into rides and notably built the first steel roller coaster in Japan, in 1953 at their facility, Hanayashiki in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. They started making looping rides in 1979 and 1984 launched one of the oddest roller coaster in the world, the Ultra Twister. Designed to fit in a very narrow strip of land, this roller coaster has no turns and use tubular rails located at the passenger shoulder level. To support those rails, rings of steel encircle most of the ride, and this contributes to a very intense feeling of speed since you have all those close things right next to you.
Ultra Twister at its original location at Nagashima Spaland.
The original loading station.
The ride was moved across the park in 2012 to allow an expansion of the children area.
A car entering the station on Ultra Twister. Notice that because of the rail location, large mobile arm guards are mounted on the shoulder bars and this provide the vehicle safety enveloppe.
The whole car. At this point, it runs on the left running rail and is supported by pusher tires.
Since the ride could not turn at that time, Togo created the world’s first vertical track switches, where a car is stopped and then is moved up or down depending on what end of the structure it is at the time. The first track switch is right at the station and is angled a little downward in its position to receive a car. Once a pneumatic pinch brake stops the train, the whole track section tilts backward about your position, and it ends at a 90-degree angle. It aligns with the main lift section, and a hydraulic pusher pushes the car upward until it engages the chain lift hill. The vehicle then goes up 99 feet in the air and immediately goes down the main drop, the record-breaking one.
The lift base.
The lift hill and drop. You can see the bottom track switch is waiting for a car and its slight downward angle.
This is Ultra Twister Megaton, located at Greenland in Arao, Japan. The ride features an incredible color scheme. The grey section at the top is where riders experience weightlessness.
Angled at a steep 85-degree and with a sharp angle at the top, riders feel weightlessness as they plunge down the drop before the track levels out. An airtime hill follows, and what follows is the world’s first perfect barrel roll. The track position allows the track to spin correctly around its axis and riders experience a brief moment of weightlessness as their heart remains in the same, everything revolves around it. After that spectacular moment, the vehicle rises and is slowed down by the first safety brake. Once it is slowed down, it stops on the second track switch. This one initially had two low techs, but very effective ways of stopping a car in case of an issue with the pneumatic pinch brakes: first, a pair of braking calipers welded in a shut position. Second, a massive rubber bumper would also absorb the car energy and stop the car.
The airtime hill at Nagashima Spaland.
After the car engages the track switch, it tilts down to a 45-degree angle and the car is released backward, passing two more barrel rolls separated by a small section of track.
The second track switch on Ultra Twister Megaton.
The barrel rolls of Nagashima Spaland.
The last barrel roll and safety brakes at Nagashima.
The ride was dramatic and very photogenic due to its unique design. Six Flags signed up to open the first one in North America in 1986, and they placed it at their New Jersey property, Six Flags Great Adventure. Six Flags did order some safety and operational modifications compared to the ones in Japan, and those are the following:
- The loading platform equipped with a conveyor belt that runs at the same speed as the cars for easier loading and unloading.
- The second track switch back-up braking system went away from the welded brake and rubber bumper to an extended upward track section that would cause the car to slow down very fast if it ever reached that point.
Six Flags did have challenges with the vertical lift hill and its evacuation process, so when the ride closed in 1989 at Six Flags Great Adventure, it had a new lift hill when it reopened at Six Flags Astro World (Houston, TX) in 1990. The track after the station extended and the track switch moved further away. The track switch now tilts the car to a more manageable 45-degree angle, and the lift hill now equipped with a staircase versus the previous two person elevator. That ride was a signature attraction and received a fantastic green and blue paint job in 2004. Unfortunately, it closed down at the end of the 2005 season along with the park, and it was never rebuilt.
An overview of the course at Six Flags Astro World, courtesy of Ello Coaster
Interestingly, Togo further innovated the Ultra Twister with a variant that removed the second track switch and replaced it with a dramatic twist and dive maneuver. That particular version opened at Rusutsu Resort in Hokkaido in 1994 and the twist and dive consisted of a half barrel roll that immediately went into a half loop. The whole gravity course is navigated in a forward position; to put the cars back into position for the lift, a rotating track switch was added after the station to place the vehicles backward.
The Ultra Twister at Rusutsu Resort, courtesy of Richard Bannister at themeparks.ie