The History of the Inversion

python.jpg (6368 bytes) The word inversion comes from the Latin verb invertere, which means "to reverse" or "to flip over". Applied to roller coasters, an inversion is a section of a roller coaster's track which effectively turns you upside-down and then rights you again. They use various physics principals such as inertia and centripetal force to maintain a force on the rider pulling him into the train. The degree to which riders must be inverted in order for an element to be truly considered an inversion is somewhat nebulous. Nascar Café (Los Vegas, Nevada) is promoting "Speed: The Ride" as having two inversions, one being a turn that banks slightly more than 90°. Millennium Force at Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio), on the other hand, has three sections of trace that bank well past 90°, but the park is not promoting it as having any inversions.

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History's first inversion was the "Centrifugal Railway" built in Paris, France in 1848. The ride consisted of a sloping section of track, leading into a nearly circular vertical loop. Claims were that it attained speeds of 150 mph; however, that is clearly a gross exaggeration. (A roller coaster would have to drop more than 750 feet for that speed to be physically possible.)


During the early 1900s, many rides featuring vertical loops appeared. These primitive loops were very rough, intense rides: the designers did not have the ability to precisely calculate the physics involved. For example, the Flip Flap - one of the first looping rides - pulled 12 Gs, and snapped some of it passenger's necks. As their novelty wore off and their dangerous nature forced them to close, many of these rides were dismantled, and with the onset of the depression, the last of these looping rides disappeared.

It wasn't until the 1970s that the concept of going up-side-down was revisited. In 1968, Karl Bacon of Arrow conceived of the corkscrew. Arrow then built a prototype steel coaster that featured a corkscrew section, and the inversion was reborn. These prototype proved that through the use of tubular steel track, inversions could be executed safely and reliably. In 1975 Arrow installed three corkscrew coasters, first at Knott's Berry Farm (Buena Park, California), and then at Opryland (Nashville, Tennessee) and Old Chicago (Bolingbrook, Illinois). They were all huge successes.

In 1976, there were many changes in the world of roller coasters. Anton Schwarzkopf, represented by Intamin, designed and constructed the "Great American Revolution" at Magic Mountain (Valencia, California); it was the first modern coaster to feature a vertical loop. Arrow also continued to innovate. The "Corkscrew" at Cedar Point (Sandusky, Ohio) was the first coaster with three inversions.
In 1977 the first looping shuttle coasters were built. The first Schwarzkopf shuttle loop was "King Kobra" at King's Dominion (Doswell, Virginia), and the second was "White Lightnin'" at Carowinds (Charlotte, North Carolina). Unlike modern Shuttle Loops, which use a flywheel launch mechanism, these early versions used a weight-drop method of accelerating the trains. Arrow's "Launched Loop" design also made it's debut in 1977, with installations at Kings Island (King's Mills, Ohio), Circus World (Haines City, Florida), and Riverside Park (Agawam, Massachusetts). Another Arrow design, "Double Loop" at Geauga Lake (Aurora, Ohio), opened in 1977. It was the first coaster to feature two vertical loops.


In 1978, Arrow installed the "Loch Ness Monster" at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Virginia). This coaster featured two vertical loops that interlock with each other. These interlocking loops are one of the most visually pleasing parts of any roller coaster, and "Nessie" is likely the most photographed roller coaster of all time. At Six Flags Great Adventure (Jackson, New Jersey), Arrow installed a pair of Launched Loop coasters with loops that interlocked, called "Lightnin' Loops". The two coasters operated there until 1992 when they were seperated and sold to different parks. The upper one was relocated to Wild World (now Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Maryland) and the lower one was moved to Frontier City (Okalahoma City, Okalahoma). Also that year, Schwarzkopf built two very intense double-looping coasters: "Shockwave" at Six Flags Over Texas (Arlington, Texas) and "Mind Bender" at Six Flags Over Georgia (Austell, Georgia). These two coasters both featured two high-G loops, that are known for causing riders to black out. The first Schwarzkopf Shuttle Loops to use a flywheel launch also first appeared in 1978.


In 1980, the first four-inversion coasters appeared. Two vertical loops were added to the very popular "Turn of the Century" corkscrew coasters at both Great America parks, giving them both a total of four inversions. They were also both renamed "Demon". The "Carolina Cyclone", also built that year, featured two loops and two corkscrews, in a similar fashion to the newly enhanced "Demon" rides. The other four-inversion coaster to open that year was the "Orient Express" at Worlds of Fun (Kansas City, Missouri). This coaster featured the third and final pair to date of interlocking loops. It also featured the world's first two-inversion element: The Kamikaze Kurve (now Known as an Arrow Boomerang). It was Orient Express's third and fourth inversions, and immediately followed the second loop of the interlocked pair.
In 1981, Vekoma introduced the Boomerang coaster, and along with it the boomerang element, which is substantially different from the Arrow element of the same name. The first Vekoma Boomerang, "Escorpion", was installed at Reino Aventura (Mexico City, Mexico). Since then, this type of coaster has become the most cloned coaster ever. Vekoma now has boomerang coasters operating everywhere from Chile to Uzbekistan.
1982 brought the first 5 inversion coaster. It was another Arrow coaster, "Viper", at Darien Lake with a vertical loop, a 2-inversion "boomerang" and a double corkscrew.

Dragon Mountain's "Bowtie" Element

The Moonsault Scramble

One of the biggest new coasters of 1983 was "Dragon Mountain" at Marineland (Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada), built by Arrow. This coaster starts by travelling up the side of a mountain, and then continues to follow the terrain for the duration of it's circuit. When it opened, it was the world's longest coaster, and it had the highest total vertical displacement of any full circuit coaster. But the reason it's in this article is that it's third and fourth inversions are unique. This two-inversion element is like the company's boomerang, except that the second half is reversed, so that you exit the element travelling the same direction you entered it. Another big coaster built in 1983 was the "Moonsault Scramble", designed by Meisho - Vekoma's Japanese distributor. It opened at Fujikyu Highlands (Kawaguci Lake, Japan) on the 24th of June. 63.1m (207') off the ground at it's highest point, Moonsault Scramble was the world's tallest roller coaster for over 10 years. But again, it's not in this article because of it's towering 207 foot high reverse points, it's in this article because of what's at it's other end. This coaster contains the world's only example of a pretzel knot element to date. This amazing element, while not a true mathematical knot, is known for it's beautiful structure, and high G forces - G forces of 6.2 in fact. 1983 was also the first year that we adrenaline junkies could go upside-down standing up. On May 31 1983, Worlds of Fun (Kansas City, Missouri) put stand-up trains on "Screamroller", their Arrow Corkscrew coaster, and renamed it "Extremeroller". Also in Japan, TOGO built their first stand-up coaster, the unimaginatively dubbed "Stand-Up Coaster" at Gotemba Family Land (Gotemba, Japan).
In 1984, TOGO brought their looping stand-up coaster to North America. The first one was "King Cobra" at Paramount King's Island (King's Mill, Ohio). It features one vertical loop, and a 80º banked descending helix.
In 1985, Schwarzkopf constructed one of the world's most intense roller coasters, the "Mind Bender" at Galaxyland (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). This coaster features a twisting first drop of 38m (125'), and three high-G loops. In these loops, riders experience G forces of up to 6.4 Gs. Also in 1985, TOGO built the "Ultra Twister" at Nagashima Spaland (Nagoya, Japan). It was the first pipeline coaster, and had the world's first Barrel Roll.
In 1986, another very intense Schwarzkopf looper was built. Named "Thriller", it featured circular loops, and G forces of up to 6.7. Thriller is the world's largest portable coaster, and the last Schwarzkopf design. It toured Germany until 1998, but is now at Six Flags Astroworld (Houston, Texas), as "Taz's Texas Tornado." Also in 1996, Arrow built the "Scream Machine" at Expo '86 (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada). It was the first coaster with an Arrow "sidewinder". It wasn't technically a new element since a sidewinder comprises one half of a boomerang, but this was the first time it had been used on it's own. When Expo '86 was over, the coaster moved to Six Flags St. Louis (Eureka, Missouri) as "Ninja".
"Vortex" at Paramount King's Island (King's Mill, Ohio) opened in 1987, and was the first coaster to feature six inversions. Arrow built it to replace the park's failed prototype suspended coaster, "The Bat".
And after building a the first six inversion coaster, Arrow had simply to add an extra loop and, presto, the world's first seven inversion coaster: "Shockwave" at Six Flags Great America (Gurnee, Illinois). This coaster was also the world's tallest full-circuit coaster when it opened in 1988.

Goudurix's 2-inversion "Butterfly" element

In 1989, Vekoma also tried their hand at a 7-looper, and built "Goudurix" at Parc Asterix (Plaily, France). It not only tied the world record for inversions, but also had a new inversion element: the "butterfly". This element begins like a normal loop, but on the way up it twists slightly to one side. on the way down it twists again and crosses over it's entry. Then the element is repeated in reverse. Vekoma also incorporated a butterfly into another 1989 design: "Kamikaze", at Dinosaur Beach (Wildwood, New Jersey). Kamikaze, it just so happens, also features a reverse sidewinder, Vekoma's first. Schwarzkopf also designed the transportable looper "Olympia Looping" in 1989. This coaster featured a whopping five vertical loops, more than any other coaster. The loops are arranged and coloured in a similar fashion to the Olympic rings, hence the name. And for your trivia buffs out there...Did you know Olympia Looping has something else no other coaster has anywhere: it's first loop had a triangular spine!
In 1990, Walter Bolliger and Claude Mabillard broke off from their parent company, Intamin. Their first coaster was "Iron Wolf" at Six Flags Great America (Gurnee, Illinois), a modestly sized two-inversion stand-up coaster. In the years to come, B&M would become famous for their very large and very smooth inversion elements. Also in 1990, Arrow completed their pipeline coaster design. The prototype features an unnamed element consisting of a half barrel roll/half loop/half loop/half barrel roll, as well as a full barrel roll, which Arrow calls a "snap roll".
In 1991 Arrow built "Steel Phantom" at Kennywood (West Mifflin, Pennsylvania). This coaster was much like any other Arrow coaster with a loop, boomerang, and single corkscrew; but it also featured an almost 68m (225') drop. Steel Phantom still holds the record for the longest drop on any looping roller coaster.

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1992 was a big year for inversions. B&M built the first Inverted roller coaster, "Batman The Ride" at Six Flags Great America (Gurnee, Illinois). With it came the first outside loops, the first in-line twist, and the first outside corkscrews called "Wingovers". Also in 1992, Arrow designed "Drachen Fire" at Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Williamsburg, Virginia). Drachen Fire featured three unique elements. The first was a "wraparound corkscrew" on the first drop. The second was a "batwing", an element almost identical to a Vekoma boomerang, but a new element for Arrow. Drachen Fire's third unique element was it's "cutback", which is like a corkscrew with it's second half reversed, thus creating a 180º turn. Busch Gardens had wanted to include a fourth unique inversion on Drachen Fire; they wanted to have the train complete a roll while cresting a hill; however, Arrow couldn't manage this maneuver.

Busch Gardens Tampa's revolutionary "Kumba"

Busch Gardens still wanted that element though, and so in 1993 they turned to B&M to build a monster looping coaster at their park in Tampa Bay, Florida. The coaster that ended up being built was one of the most revolutionary coasters to ever be produced: "Kumba". Off the top of the lift, Kumba has a curving first drop straight into a loop around the lift hill. Next it roars into a dive loop, an element in which the train dives sideways into a downward loop. After that, it has a camelback, the element Busch wanted to include on Drachen Fire. Following that, we have a cobra roll, (B&M's name for the Arrow Batwing) and a pair of interlocking flat spins (a flat spin is the B&M name for a corkscrew). Kumba was revolutionary for many reasons. It's loop was the world's largest when it opened; it's dive loop, camelback, cobra roll and interlocking flat spins were the first of their kinds. Kumba was smooth and well paced, and on top of it all, tied the record for number of inversions.
In 1994 B&M constructed the first big inverted coaster: "Raptor" at Cedar Point. Raptor featured a vertical loop, in-line twist, two flat spins, and the first Cobra Roll on an Inverted coaster. Also in 1994 was the debut of Vekoma's inverted design, called the "Suspended Looping Coaster". The first of these "SLC"s was "El Condor" at Walibi Flavo (Dronten, The Netherlands). The standard model SLC features a two-inversion "cobra roll" (different from a B&M cobra roll), a twist loop, and "double flips" (like two in-line twists). Also in 1994, Intamin constructed the "7up Shockwave" at Drayton Manor (Tamworth, England). Shockwave was the first stand-up coaster with 4 inversions, and it was also was the first stand-up coaster to feature a double corkscrew since Worlds of Fun's "Extremeroller" closed in 1988. Shockwave also was and still is the only stand-up coaster to feature a "revolution" (an element like a B&M Camelback).

Intamin's "Diving Turn" element on Lotte World's "Spiral Coaster"

In 1995 B&M came out with Kumba's big brother: "Dragon Khan". This coaster broke the inversion record for the last time in the 20th century, with a grand total of eight. Dragon Khan has the same inversions as Kumba, save for an extra vertical loop inserted between the cobra roll and interlocking flat spins. Also in 1995, TOGO constructed "Viper" at Six Flags Great Adventure. This coaster was the first to feature a heartline roll: an element similar to the barrel roll on TOGO's pipeline coasters, except that it is executed on a coaster that runs above the rails rather than between them. Intamin also built their first pipeline coaster in 1995. It was the Spiral Coaster at Lotte World Sky Plaza (Pusan, South Korea). In addition to 2 barrel rolls, this coaster features two "Diving Turns". This element begins like a barrel roll, but once upside down rolls to one side. The Spiral Coaster features two of these elements in a row, the second one being a mirror image of the first, to make a 180º turn.

Lethal Weapon Pursuit

Not far behind TOGO, Intamin also tried this element on one of their standard steel loopers and came up with the brilliant "Lethal Weapon Pursuit" at Warner Brothers Movie World (Bottrop, Germany) in 1996. This coaster is a dual track coaster in which the trains chase each other through buildings. Their first inversions are both vertical loops. Their second inversions, however, are both "Zero-G-Heart Rolls", an element just like TOGO's Heartline Roll. The two Heart Rolls are side by side, and the trains roll towards each other. Also in 1996, B&M built "Mantis" at Cedar Point (Sandusky Ohio). This coaster opened with the world's largest loop, the first dive loop on a stand-up coaster, and the first ever Inclined Loop (much like a vertical loop, except tilted slightly over to the side). Busch Gardens Tampa also continued to Innovate in 1996: B&M's inverted "Montu" was another coaster to make Inversion firsts. It featured two new inversions: an Immelman and a B&M Batwing. The Immleman is an element named after an aerobatical manoeuvre. The element starts with a half loop, and then at the top rolls out to one side. Montu's other first-of-a-kind element was it's B&M Batwing: an element like an Arrow Boomerang, but on an inverted coaster. Montu also broke the inversion record for inverted coasters with seven.

Mantis's Inclined Loop

In 1997, B&M built a couple more record breakers. "Chang" became the first stand-up coaster with 5 inversions. "Alpengeist" at Busch Gardens Williamsburg opened as the tallest inverted coaster, and also boasted the world's tallest outside loop, and the world's largest Cobra Roll. TOGO also extended their Heartline Roll concept in 1997, with an element on the "Manhattan Express" at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino (Las Vegas, Nevada) called a "Twist and Dive." This element rolls riders upside-down before sending them into a half loop downwards. Vekoma also introduced an inverted version of their popular Boomerang shuttle coaster. The prototype, called "Hangover" was originally supposed to be launched using linear induction motors, but after many failed attempts to make it work, the magnetic induction system was abandoned in favour of a conventional chain lift. These delays meant that Hangover didn't open until 1998.

Top Fun's "Typhoon" madel with Inclined Loop

In 1998, Premier came up with one of most refreshingly original inversion elements to appear in a long time: The "Top Hat". This element begins by pulling into a vertical section of track. Next it rolls 90º along it's axis of travel before hitting the half loop on top which sends you vertically downwards into a mirror of the beginning. This element was included on the two "Mr. Freeze" coasters rides that were actually built in 1997, but due to delays were not opened until 1998. After three years as record holder, Dragon Khan's record eight inversions was finally matched by "Monte Makaya". This coaster was another brilliant Intamin design. It's eight inversions are, respectively, a 25m (82') tall vertical loop, a two inversion cobra roll, a double screw, and three zero-g-heart rolls. Inverted Technologies, based in Odgen, Utah, also built a new element in 1998 on a coaster they built at Taman Festival Park (Utara, Indonesia). It is a small element, similar to a B&M Camelback, except that you are upside-down for a little longer, and actually pull a few Gs at the top, as opposed to B&M's version which is supposed to provide a moment of weightlessness at it's peak. Top Fun also tried an Inclined Loop in 1998, on their intriguing Typhoon model single loop coaster.
It's amazing how even though there were so many new coasters built in 1999, there were very few new inversion elements. Perhaps the pick of the litter for 1999 was "Dueling Dragons" at Islands of Adventure (Orlando, Florida). It was the first dual track Inverted coaster, and it's designers exploited this as best they could. Case in point: Dueling Loops. The trains rush toward each other before rising into vertical loops at the last minute, missing by less than 50cm (20"). 1999 also saw the return of the Arrow Looper after a six year hiatus from North America. Dollywood's "Tennessee Tornado" featured a new element, an "Iron Butterfly", which is a modified sidewinder. Also in 1999, Disney's "Rock 'n Roller Coaster" opened with the first Vekoma "Roll-over": an element like a Vekoma boomerang, except that the second half is mirrored.
In the first year of the new millennium, the wood loop reappeared for the first time in almost 70 years. "Son of Beast" at Paramount King's Island (King's Mill, Ohio) opened as the world's tallest, fastest, and only looping wooden roller coaster, with an incredible 36m (118') tall loop. B&M's "Medusa" at Six Flags Marine World (Vallejo, California), also built in 2000, was the first B&M to feature a "Sea Serpent": an element essentially identical to a Vekoma Roll-over. Another 2000 first was Vekoma's "Flying Dutchman", developed in conjunction with Paramount parks. The prototype "Stealth" was installed at Paramount's Great America park (Santa Clara, California). The Flying Dutchman's trains are specially designed to hold riders in a horizontal position to simulate the sensation of flying. Stealth features a vertical loop, a double corkscrew, and four "turnovers". These turnovers are half-inversions which turn the train upside down. This is possible because of the riders orientation.
  Vekoma extended their Flying Dutchman design in 2001 for their installation at Geauga Lake (Aurora, Ohio). The redesign included a helix at the end of the ride, and corkscrew section was modified to be an in-line twist, so that riders experience the element in the flying position.

In 2002 B&M entered the flying coaster game with Superman Ultimate Flight at Six Flags over Georgia (Austell, Georgia). It featured a new inversion element they called a Pretzel Loop, essentially an upside-down loop where riders enter the element in the flying position before diving down onto their backs and back up to exit as they entered. Intamin also smashed the inversion record by two with their ten-inversion coaster "Colossus" at Thorpe Park (Chertsey, England). The roller coaster is essentially the same design as Monte Makaya, save for two extra zero-g-heart-rolls at the finish. 2002 also saw the debut of an unusual new type of roller coaster called the "4th dimension".

Scale model of Schwarzkopf's figure eight looper So what does the future hold in store? Only time will tell. The combinations of possible curves is as infinite as the imaginations of coaster designers. Of course, not every element imaginable, is practical. Take, for example, Anton Schwarzkopf's figure eight loop design shown at left. Truly, only the insane genius of Anton Schwarzkopf could have spawned a coaster such as this. I'm sure completing one circuit on this baby would be an absolutely mind-blowing experience; however, sadly, nobody will ever get to ride this thing. The problem is that human beings begin to lose consciousness at around 6.5 Gs and more than about 10 can kill. Now, I'm sure that some coaster enthusiasts would be willing to make that sacrifice; however, no amusement park in their right mind would be willing to risk that kind of liability. Luckily for us, though, there are many more elements that are practical, and it seems that coaster designers are hell-bent on discovering every one of them.

Written by James Kay
Photos: rec.roller-coaster FTP, Arrow Dynamics, Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Jeffrey Nicholson, Loopyguy, Busch Gardens Tampa, Intamin, Joyrides, Top Fun, Schwarzkopf