In 1977 and 1978 a number of the early Shuttle Loop ride installations featured a weight drop launch mechanism. This system involved a catch-car attaching itself to the train, which was attached to a counterweight via a cable. When the launch was triggered, the 40-tonne counterweight was dropped down a shaft pushing the catch-car which in turn pushed the roller coaster train down the track.
Weight Drop Launch
Schwarzkopf shuttle loop roller coasters used a weight-drop to power its catapult launch system. One of the most famous Shuttle Loops was Thunder Looper at Alton Towers in the UK. The Schwarzkopf shuttle loop is one of the most common examples of inverting coasters that operate with lap bars only. More “recent” versions of Schwarzkopf shuttle loops used a flywheel to power its launch instead of a weight-drop.
Thunder Looper at Alton Towers
Thunder Looper was installed at Alton Towers Theme Park for the 1990 season, and Thunder Valley, a whole new section of the Staffordshire Theme Park was opened. This new area was situated right on the very edge of the Theme Park, next to the car parks, and could be seen from the monorail, as visitors travelled to the park entrance. The name Thunder Looper was chosen by Alton Towers because of the noise characteristic that is produced when the train passes through the loop, similar to the sound of thunder. Thunder Looper was originally built in 1977 for the Kings Dominion park in the USA. It was Schwarzkopf’s first Launched Shuttle Loop Coaster and it utilised a weight drop launch mechanism to propel the roller coaster train. The ride itself was quite simple. The track consisted of a long piece of flat track, with a large loop at one end. After the loop, and at the opposite end of the ride, was a very steep incline.
The roller coaster train had simple lap bars, which worried many people, as the ride went upside-down. The station was situated on the long flat track, with the train launched from the station, accelerating from 0 – 60 mph in 3 seconds. It travelled around the loop and climbed up the almost vertical incline losing its momentum. The train then picked up speed as it travelled back down the incline and repeated the circuit backwards before returning to the station.
Thunder Looper was still in operation when Nemesis joined the Alton Towers line-up in 1994, but the ride was removed in 1996 to make way for Ripsaw and Blade. Thunder Looper which now resides in Hopi Hari park in Brazil is probably one of the most missed rides in the park.
How the Weight Drop Launch Works
The roller coaster train is launched from the station by a 40-tonne counterweight that is located inside a tubular tower below the first ascent of the attraction. The weight is the equivalent of 40 medium-sized family cars. The counterweight drops at speed, which is transferred via a pulley system to a device called the “Pusher”. The “pusher” is positioned behind the roller coaster train and when the counterweight drops it pushes the train up to a speed of 85kph in just 3 seconds.