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Tampa Bay Business Journal - 1:12 PM EDT Tuesday

Final touches applied to SheiKra

Larry Halstead

Busch Gardens is testing SheiKra, its dive coaster, with the intention of working out any bugs before the ride opens to the public on May 21.

The Swiss design firm Bolliger & Mabillard Consulting Engineers Inc. is on hand to see that the ride is up and running. The company that has built 59 coasters around the world worked with Busch Gardens on two other coasters, Kumba and Montu.

"I like to ride coasters myself, and it's a bit like a cook who likes to taste his food," said Walter Bolliger, founder of B&M, about how he came up with the design.

The coaster is the first of its kind in the United States. The only two other dive coasters are in Taiwan and England, and B&M built them both.

With each new coaster, B&M tries to instill elements that thrill the riders. SheiKra has a 200-foot vertical drop, an additional 138-foot drop into a black hole, an immelman or inversion and a drop into a water pond that sprays water 30 feet into the air while keeping riders dry.

Bolliger said that those riders sitting on the outside edge of the coaster will feel amplified motion, much as if they were sitting on the edge of an airplane wing. The coaster will seat 24 riders in three rows of eight, stadium-seating style.

SheiKra's design was completed on computers in Switzerland. Its actual manufacturing of the track and steel was done in a plant in Cincinnati.

"The track is too heavy and difficult to ship from Europe," Bolliger said. Everything is engineered to one-millimeter precision.

It took six months of collaboration between Bolliger and Busch Gardens to agree on the design. It's taken nearly four years in all to complete the project.

While neither Bolliger nor Busch Gardens' officials will confirm SheiKra's cost, it is estimated that the final tab is more than $20 million. Bolliger said that his roller coasters cost between $6 million and $10 million just for the track, steel and cars and that this project was much more extensive, including all the infrastructure.

© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.

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