Alumna Gives Roller Coaster Riders a Variety of Thrills

Tuesday, August 06, 2019
Wooden roller coaster designed by The Gravity Group

Mechanical engineering alumna Crystal (Hurtle) Meyer has found her dream job, designing elements of wooden roller coasters for The Gravity Group that are providing thrills for riders throughout the world.

Many people attend amusement parks each summer to experience the rush of excitement that results from the thrilling drops, twists and turns, and brief out-of-your-seat moments within each adventurous roller coaster ride.

Before desiring to do it all over again.

Elements of aerodynamics, the laws of motion, mechanics and sensory perception unite with engineering and physics to give riders of all ages incredible experiences they can’t get anywhere else in the world.

“Every roller coaster has special elements that create an unforgettable riding experience,” says alumna Crystal (Hurtle) Meyer, a mechanical engineer with The Gravity Group. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based company is pushing the limits of science and engineering so that wooden coaster technology continues to delight riders.

Meyer relates the following elements of a thrilling roller coaster riding experience:

The Theme: Every ride tells a story. The Kentucky Flyer, which opened earlier this summer at Kentucky Kingdom (Louisville), is a wild airplane-themed ride, while Oscar’s Wacky Taxi at Sesame Place (Langhorne, Pennsylvania) is led by Sesame Street’s Oscar the Grouch.

Airtime Hills: Feeling like you’re being lifted from your seat.

Extreme Banking: The track tilts to 90 degrees or more while going through a turn.

Ride Length: This can vary depending upon the amount of space allotted in a park for each particular ride.

Speed: Another variable depending on the height of the first hill, the degree angle of the first drop and length of the ride.

Inversions: Going upside-down and 360 degrees around in a barrel roll.

Other Features: Tunnels (some underground), dueling tracks, crossovers and interactions with other rides.

“Wooden coasters just have a different sound and feel,” says Meyer, a 2015 mechanical engineering alumna. "Besides the speed, the banking and other elements built into each ride, there’s the sounds of the coaster on the track, the flexibility of the wood, the sights of being surrounded by these massive wooden structures. Each and every ride is unique because the wood conforms to the outdoor conditions.”

The Switchback roller coaster at ZDT’s Amusement Park (Seguin, Texas) takes riders nearly straight up into the sky, before stopping (thankfully) and going backward for the rest of the 2,215-foot trek.

Meanwhile, riders travel up to 67 mph down a 66-degree drop and blaze through three 90-degree banked turns while riding The Voyage at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari (Santa Claus, Indiana). The Mine Blower at Fun Spot America (Kissimmee, Florida) offers a zero-gravity inversion loop at speeds up to 49 mph.

And, not to be outdone, the Dueling Dragons at Happy Valley (Wuhan, China) has riders in two coasters racing side by side with several twists and numerous airtime moments before determining a winner.

Enhancing the family entertainment experience has become the focus of Meyer and other engineers at The Gravity Group. They are now creating ride vehicle restraints that allow parents to ride alongside their children, who are 40 inches or taller in height. And, of course, safety precautions also are paramount to any new design.

“Amusement park owners need to make each day at the park enjoyable for the entire family. Roller coasters used to be targeted for teenagers and adults, but families with younger children want to enjoy the fun, too,” Meyer says. “We need to find ways to accommodate everybody. We want everyone to have a fun day at the park.”