Lesson 15.4: Real-World Connection

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The world's newest roller coaster is one wild ride.

As you wait in line, you hear the screams of people riding Kingda Ka. Part of you can't wait to ride the roller coaster; another part of you wants to bolt in the opposite direction. Before you know it, it's your turn to board. You brace yourself.

Whoosh! With a roaring blast, the thrill ride rockets from 0 to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds. Before you can catch your breath, the train whisks you straight up 456 feet. When it can go no farther, gravity plummets the coaster downward into a dizzying spiral twist. The train then whips you through another valley and zooms up another hill.

Congratulations! You have just experienced the fastest—and tallest—roller coaster on Earth.

Thrill Ride

Kingda Ka, or the “King of Coasters,” opened in 2005 at the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park in Jackson, New Jersey. The jaw-dropping thrill ride shatters the world's record for roller coaster speed and height. Of the more than 1,000 roller coasters in the United States, it is the latest “extreme” coaster to be built.

Six Flags roller coaster designer Larry Chickola says building Kingda Ka wasn't easy. “We considered the wind strength, the possibility of earthquakes, the weight of Kingda Ka itself, as well as the forces caused by launching a [coaster faster than one] has ever gone,” he told Weekly Reader.

How Coasters Work

Changes in energy enable roller coasters like Kingda Ka to move for most of the ride. According to scientists, energy is the ability to cause change. At the beginning of the ride, Kingda Ka blasts passengers to a speed of 128 miles an hour with technology similar to the kind that launches Navy jets from aircraft carriers. Each train on Kingda Ka is hooked up to a hydraulic cable. Liquid under high pressure is pushed through the cable. Along with motors, the hydraulic power rockets the coaster skyward.

After reaching the top of the first hill, the coaster works in the same way your bike does when you roll, pedal-free, down a slope. When a roller coaster is stopped, it has potential energy, or stored energy. At any moment, the coaster can move, so it has the potential for motion.

As the roller coaster starts cruising, gravity takes over and converts the potential energy into kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion. The repeated changes of potential energy to kinetic energy and then back again drives the roller coaster.

It's a Scream!

Kingda Ka covers 3,118 feet of track and lasts less than a minute. To roller coaster buff Steve Urbanowicz from New Jersey, the new ride is a scream! “The ride seems like it's over really quickly, but Kingda Ka packs eight high moments of drama into those 50 seconds,” he told Weekly Reader.

Urbanowicz, 46, speaks from experience. He has ridden 876 roller coasters around the world. In fact, he has taken more than 5,000 rides on one in particular—the wooden Cyclone at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, where the first true American coaster opened in 1884. “I loved going to amusement parks when I was a kid and never grew out of it.”

Word Wise

The ability to cause change

The force that pulls things toward Earth's surface

The way machines work on power created by liquid being forced under pressure through pipes

kinetic energy:
The energy of motion

potential energy:
Stored energy

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Make a list of the words or phrases the article's author uses to describe the exciting movements the roller coaster makes. Use a thesaurus to add more words to your list.

Data Hunt

Create your own roller coaster design including the following information:

  1. What type of coaster (wooden, steel, inverted, floorless) would it be?
  2. What special features (loops, tunnels, hills) would the coaster have?
  3. What would you name the coaster?

After you have completed your design, describe the ride from a rider's perspective, from beginning to end, and create a poster that promotes the coaster.