Powered Launched mechanisms are a modern form of roller coaster propulsion which has increased in use in the last two decades. The hydraulic powered launch utilises a similar mechanism to the steam catapults used to launch fighter jets on large military aircraft carriers. Stealth at Thorpe Park is one of a growing number of ‘hydraulic launch’ rollercoasters. In place of a traditional chain lift, powered launch roller coasters initiate a ride with high amounts of acceleration via one or a series of linear induction motors (LIM), linear synchronous motors (LSM), catapults, or other mechanisms employing hydraulic or pneumatic power. This mode of acceleration powers many of the fastest roller coasters in the world.
Powered Launch Roller Coasters
The majority of Powered Launched roller coasters feature improved speed, and the capability to accommodate more “thrilling” layouts than those using traditional chain-lifts. However, these roller coasters can be less reliable than traditional chain-lift ones and are considered to require more maintenance.
There are a number of variations of the powered launch mechanism. Recent developments utilise electromagnets, compressed-air and hydraulics. Prior to these new developments, weight-drops, flywheels and other methods were used for propulsion. The majority of the different powered launch mechanisms can be found on roller coaster rides in Theme Parks across the UK.
Weight Drop Launch
The original powered launch roller coasters involved a large weight being dropped at speed, which wound a cable to propel the roller coaster train. Thunder Looper which used to be located at Alton Towers Resort in Staffordshire was an example of a ride which utilised a weight drop launch for propulsion.
The Weight drop launch was superceded by the Flywheel launch which was used on some Anton Schwarzkopf designed shuttle loop coasters and Zamperla Motocoasters. A flywheel launch is a launch which powers a roller coaster train using energy from a flywheel. The mechanism works by spinning a large flywheel at high speeds which is attached to a cable that propels the roller coaster train forward.
Electric Motor and Spring Tension
Arrow Dynamics’ Launched Loop coasters, which were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, use a powerful electric motor and tensioned springs to propel the roller coaster train forward. A working example of the Electric Motor and Spring Tension launch is Revolution at Blackpool Pleasure Beach.
Friction Wheels are a common form of propulsion, they are also referred to as drive tyres or kicker wheels. Frequently used in station areas and brake runs, they can also be used to launch trains at greater speeds.
When installed horizontally, friction Wheels are put in pairs so as to “squeeze” a portion of the train as it crosses that section of track. Friction wheels can frequently be seen on junior roller coasters fitted in a vertical orientation.
Hydraulic-launched roller coasters are very smooth and offer high acceleration. To date, many high-speed accelerator roller coasters, also known as launch coasters, use hydraulics to provide the initial rapid get away. It’s a similar mechanism to the steam catapults used to launch fighter jets on large military aircraft carriers.
Pneumatic launched roller coasters are very similar to hydraulic launched ones. The major difference between the two types is Pneumatic Launch roller coasters use compressed air, whereas hydraulic launched models use nitrogen gas or oil.
Electromagnetic Launched roller coasters use Linear induction motors (LIM) or linear synchronous motors (LSM) to propel the roller coaster train along its track. This modern technology requires large amounts of electricity.
A wide selection of roller coaster manufacturers now offer models using this form of propulsion. A big advantage of LIM/LSM is that it’s more or less maintenance free, as you don’t have any wear contact in between the mechanical parts of the drive system.
Built at a cost of £16.25m, ICON at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is a double launch roller coaster using Linear Synchronous Motors (LSM) to propel the train along the track.