Not to be confused with an inverted roller coaster, a roller coaster inversion is an element where the track turns riders upside-down and then returns them to an upright position again. Roller coaster inversions first appeared in the early 1900s and are now a common element on modern roller coasters. The Smiler at Alton Towers holds the World Record with 14 inversions.
History of the Roller Coaster Inversion
In the early days, Europe was still the pioneer in coaster history. The inspiration for the first looping roller coaster came from a popular childhood toy in England and France known as the “Loop-the-Loop.” The toy used centrifugal force to hold a ball on a track as it rolled through a loop. Based on this concept, the first roller coaster in history to feature an inversion was the ‘Centrifugal Railway’ ride in Paris. Constructed in 1848, the ride consisted of a 43ft sloping track which lead to an almost circular 13ft vertical loop.
Over 50 years later in 1901, New York City’s Coney Island, home to several amusement parks, followed with its own looping roller coaster. The ride used an ellipse rather than a circle for the loop. Relying on the laws of physics, the ride was advertised as having an excellent safety record even though there were no harnesses. This ride offered a much more comfortable experience than the ‘Centrifugal Railway’ but suffered due to its low capacity of 48 people per hour and was poorly received after the discomfort of previous attempts at rides featuring inversions. Early looping roller coasters faded and disappeared, due to the novelty wearing off, their dangerous reputation and the developing Great Depression.
Tubular Steel Tracks
In the 1950s, Disneyland in California opened the Matterhorn, which introduced tubular steel tracks. These revolutionary tracks allowed roller coaster trains to travel faster and quieter. In 1968, Karl Bacon of Arrow Dynamics created a prototype steel roller coaster with a corkscrew, the first of its kind. The prototype ride proved that a tubular steel track, the same as that used on the Matterhorn could execute inversions both safely and reliably. The prototype, aptly named Corkscrew, was installed at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, United States, making history as the world’s first modern inverting roller coaster. Similar tracks would later be used to build the inverted and suspended coasters that we still see in modern Theme Parks today.
The previously disastrous vertical loop was successfully revived in 1976 when Anton Schwarzkopf constructed the Great American Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain of Valencia, United States. This ride became the world’s first complete circuit looping roller coaster.
The Shuttle and The Boomerang
The next few years brought innovations that are still popular in modern coasters. The shuttle roller coaster was invented by Schwarzkopf in 1977 and realized at Kings Island with the Screamin’ Demon coaster. Europe’s first looping roller coaster, ‘The Revolution‘ was built in 1979 at Blackpool Pleasure Beach by Arrow. The Orient Express opened at Worlds of Fun of Kansas City, United States, in 1980, with the newly invented batwing (also referred to as a boomerang or kamikaze kurve), a single track element with two inversions. In 1981, Vekoma invented the Boomerang roller coaster which has had over 50 clones built worldwide. The first Boomerang was built at Reino Aventura (now Six Flags México) in Mexico City.
Looping Roller Coasters in the UK
Roller coasters featuring inversions are now commonplace at Theme Parks across the UK. The first was Revolution at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Alton Towers had the Thunder Looper and when they installed The Corkscrew in 1980 crowds flocked to ride it. The same model Corkscrew could also be found at Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire.
The majority of roller coasters that feature inversion are made from steel but in recent years there has been a surge in wooden looping rollercoasters thanks to advances in technology and construction methods.
The Smiler – 14 Inversions
Riders experiencing some of the 14 Inversions on The Smiler at Alton Towers Resort.