The world’s longest steel looping roller coaster: Part eleven of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

The world’s longest steel looping roller coaster: Part eleven of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

The signature attraction of Paradise Pier is the most visible: California Screamin’.  Every seaside amusement park featured a wooden roller coaster.  Still, this was not feasible in a Disney theme park with its high utilisation and year-round schedule: wooden roller coasters require specialised maintenance with frequent track repairs.  WDI looked at an alternative: masquerading a steel roller coaster as a wooden coaster.  This would also help with an aspect that Disneyland ran into with the park’s location: it is much closer to residential areas than Disneyland, so noise management was needed, and then, wooden coasters all ran steel wheels on steel tracks and featured noisy lift hills.

Tim Delaney went on a journey to try various roller coasters, and he noticed a few things:  Viper at Six Flags Magic Mountain was not even ten years old at the time, and all the tight inversions were not very comfortable.  He did enjoy other roller coasters with massive loops that didn’t toss riders around.  His team started to work on a roller coaster layout that would integrate his other findings.  Pat Doyle, a ride designer at WDI, aired out the layout to give a break in the action, and Tim Delaney asked for a large non-intense smooth loop. 

The attraction went to tender and Intamin won the contract, using its track system, they debuted in 1993 on Indiana Jones et le Temple du Peril at Disneyland Paris.  Previously,  Temple du Peril and Lethal Weapon Pursuit (Warner Brothers Movie World Germany, opening in 1996) used short two-car trains, Monte Makaya opened in 1998 at the defunct Terra Encantada theme park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  Monte Makaya used a more traditional-looking fiberglass shell for the cars in a seven-car configuration, throwing its riders around eight times with a massive loop to start the chaos. 

Intamin then turned the WDI layout to Werner Stengel’s engineering office for final calculations.  The result is a record-breaking roller coaster, which is not something you see at Disney usually.  At a surprising 6072 feet long, it opened as the second-longest steel roller coaster in the United States and the longest one if you consider looping rides.  At the time, only the Son of Beast (7032 feet) and Beast (7359 feet), both at Kings Island (Mason, Ohio) and Millennium Force (6595 feet) at Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio) beating it in length in the US.  Once Son of Beast lost its vertical loop in 2006-2007, followed by the eventual removal of that ride, California Screamin’ still holds the record for the longest looping coaster in the world.

Packing such an amount of track in a compact location without jostling its riders is an incredible feat of engineering.  The loop that was important to Tim Delaney is featured front and center, initially as part of a Mickey Mouse head.  It is around 80 feet tall, perfectly engineered not to be too intense while giving riders a nice head over heels feeling. 

For the most part, the ride uses Intamin two-tube track, mounted on a complex structure of steel pieces, originally painted white.  That structure, fabricated locally in California by Valley Iron Fabricators-Erectors, a long-time Disney supplier, replicates a classic wooden roller coaster appearance.  The vertical loop and middle section with airtime hills are an exception, utilizing Intamin three-tube triangular track that they premiered in 1997 on Lineal Gale at Korakuen Park/Tokyo Dome City in Tokyo, Japan.

One lesser-known reason for the dense structure is to serve as a berm for the park: Disney’s California Adventure does not use a traditional berm, and Tim Delaney designed California Structure to hide the outside world from the park, which is right behind the attraction at that point.  What about riders then?  The elevated sections and drops feature half tunnels on the Anaheim/Garden Grove side, to cut sounds from going toward the residents and hide Katella Boulevard. 

Going back to Lineal Gale, that was the first launched suspended/inverted coaster in the world, utilizing track-mounted Linear Induction Motors.  Linear Induction Motors (LIM) consists of an electric motor mounted horizontally that interacts with copper (or other material that is highly susceptible to magnetism) fins mounted on the car.  When the LIM’s are energised, they move the train in a quick, smooth motion, with the programmer capable of controlling the speed and forces that riders will experience.  They are also nearly silent, with low whiny noise as their only sound, perfect in a controlled theme park environment. 

The ride was engineered to move large crowds: a record-breaking seven full-sized trains were supplied by Intamin, with six of them capable of running at once on the ride.  Utilizing dual loading stations, the capacity was initially listed at 2400 riders with a launch every 36 seconds, later reduced to 5 trains operation/2000-2100 riders per hour.  The trains are similar to Monte Makaya, with a more wooden coaster appearance and equipped with speakers at every seat to blast the soundtrack at riders.

The cars feature a set of five metal fins: three under the vehicles made of aluminum or copper alloy and one on each side, made of a sturdier material.  The under-carriage ones interact with the LIM’s and magnetic brakes.  In contrast, the side ones are squeezed by pneumatically activated calipers mounted on each track side.  The pneumatic system was first used on Temple du Peril.  Instead, Lethal Weapon Pursuit used eddy-current magnetic brakes in the same side configuration.  Still, the number of trains on California Screamin’ and braking arrangement forced the hybrid system instead.

While some looping roller coasters at the time used lap bars, Disney preferred to use the Intamin shoulder bar.  That was to accommodate more riders’ shape, faster loading, and a more secure feeling for passengers.  As the ride is possibly the smoothest looping coaster globally, they are not a factor in riders’ comfort and still allow guests 48″ and up to ride.

Later on, some middle cars on the trains were modified to eliminate a seat to allow easier access for disabled riders.