Tower Thrill Ride
Name: Elizabeth R.
What is the physics and the history of the "Giant
Drop" at Six Flags Great
America. It is a free fall ride. But how does it really work?
This type of ride is known as a tower thrill ride or free fall. It is a
rather simple ride that gives a huge thrill. Typically, there are six
"cars" that carry four guest each, arranged around a 70 meter tower. There
is a cabled hook that lifts each car to the top, and after about 10 seconds
at the top, releases the cars for a plunge back to the ground.
Let us begin with the braking system. Strong magnets are mounted into the
backs of each car. The bottom 40% or so of the tower has thick copper
plates attached to the tower. As the magnets pass around the copper
plates, they generate eddy currents. These currents in turn generate an
opposing magnetic field, hindering movement of the car. These currents are
broken up by occasional cuts in the copper strips. In this way, braking
can be controlled.
There is a counterweight in the tower that assists in the ascent of the
ride. The brakes work on the way up, also. Once beyond the copper strips,
there is a burst of acceleration until the top is reached. After a short
delay, the lift hook is released, allowing the car to free fall until the
brakes. After the sharp braking, you are then gently returned to the ground.
Each car has a set of safety harnesses that are both lap and shoulder
design. They must all be locked and checked, and a safety switch must be
pressed for each car. After all are set, safety interlocks at the entrance
and exit must also be depressed simultaneously with the operator to
activate the ride.
---Nathan A. Unterman
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Update: June 2012