Regardless of where you are on the planet, the roller coaster is the undisputed king of the amusement park. Even the words "roller coaster" sound exciting. In Spanish, they're called "la montaña rusa" -- literally: Russian Mountain -- and in Japanese the words translate to "big dipper." Roller coaster parks around the world constantly strive to one-up each other, sparking a race of speed, G-force, height and loops. Discovery News brings you the tallest, oldest, fastest and most amazing roller coasters from around the world.
The records are constantly in flux, but as of the 2012 season, the tallest roller coaster in the world is Kingda Ka in Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. The monster stands 456 feet high and accelerates riders to 128 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds, making it the fastest in North America. The coaster sits on top of so many lists it had to go first. Many enthusiasts call Kingda Ka the best coaster in the world. Ride testers from Popular Mechanics admitted to losing control of their facial muscles during the 28-second pounding.
The world's oldest continuously operating roller coaster is located in Melbourne, Australia's Luna Park. Called the Scenic Railway, this wooden coaster opened in 1912. The coaster is so old, an operator must stand in the middle of the 20-person train to operate the brake manually and keep the train on the tracks. The oldest coaster in the world that you can still ride today is "Leap-the-Dips." It was built in 1902 and lives in Altoona, Penn., at Lakemont Park. The distinction between the two is Leap-the-Dips was closed for many years and so was in continuous operation from 1902 until 1985. In 1997, a campaign to refurbish the classic amusement succeeded and it re-opened in 1999. Both of these coasters use side friction to keep on the track, much like a traditional railway. This means if they go over a bump too fast, or take a turn too rapidly, they could derail. This causes many coaster operators to limit their height and speed. That being said, Leap-the-Dips clocks in at a gasp-worthy 10 mph after its tallest 41-foot drop.
There is a constant battle for speed in the roller coaster world. The current title-holder, Formula Rossa, is located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This massive steel-tubed beast launches riders from 0-150 mph in less than five seconds. The cars mimic the look of Formula-1 racecars painted Ferrari red, fitting as the coaster lives at Ferrari World. The coaster goes so fast, the riders must wear safety goggles in case of impact with insects or other debris.
The Fuji-Q Highland theme park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan holds the current record for steepest steel roller coaster. Opening in 2011, the Takabisha has a drop of 121 degrees! As 90 degrees is straight down, this coaster dips back inward on itself. Because of the 121-degree drop, the riders head back toward the ground, dipping inward, at 62 mph, which is about half the speed of a falling skydiver.
The deadliest roller coaster on our list doesn't even exist ... yet. Designed by Julijonas Urbonas, the Euthanasia Coaster has only one objective: to "take the life of a human being." The coaster is a euthanasia machine of the most interesting sort. Urbonas wrote in an email to Discovery News, the "Euthanasia Coaster is a hypothetic euthanasia machine in the form of a roller coaster, engineered to humanely -- with elegance and euphoria -- take the life of a human being." The coaster's design would drop the rider so fast they'd likely pass out. After the drop they'd traverse loop after loop, pulling the blood from their brains to their lower extremities and causing "cerebral hypoxia" or suffocation of the brain. Without oxygen, your body would experience a variety of effects and ultimately, death. Read more: ANALYSIS: Suicide by Roller Coaster
Looping back to Japan, the Steel Dragon 2000 is the longest coaster in the world. If length isn't what you're into, it also has the fourth-largest drop on the planet. Located in Nagashima Spa Land, the Steel Dragon hits 95 mph at top speed, but the thrill lasts for a full three minutes due to the 8,133 feet of steel track. Aside from the coaster itself, the ride lives in an earthquake zone, and in 2003 several of the wheels found their way off the train striking a man in a nearby pool and breaking the hip of a rider. Needless to say, this dragon has a bite.
If you're both a thrill-seeker and a green-energy activist, you can still enjoy thrills, albeit of a tamer variety. The Skycycle at Washuzan Highland Park in Okayama, Japan is a pedal-powered "skycycle" that lets you experience the breathtaking views along a mountainside track. The views of Washuzan Highland Park and the surrounding area are serenely enjoyed without a single drop or coaster-like thrill, however, since under pedal power you control the speed. Go as fast as you dare. As a commenter wrote on ThemeParkReview.com, it's "Exercise .... with a view!!!"
The Japanese love their roller coasters, so, staying in Japan, we find a giant pink coaster called the Vanish. Located at Cosmo Land in Yokohama, Japan, the name Vanish is a hint at its best feature -– it goes under water. Under water doesn't mean riders actually get wet, but the track does drop into tunnel set inside a pool of water. After a few seconds, the tunnel pops riders, safe and dry, out the other side. This is definitely a unique coaster, but maybe not the MOST unique.
Most Surprisingly Boring
Las Vegas, the city of gambling and sin, brings us a truly unique roller coaster experience. Considered the highest roller coaster in the world, the High Roller was located on top of the 909-foot Stratosphere Tower. It opened in 1996 and looped around the top floors of the 9th tallest free-standing tower in the world reaching speeds of 30 mph. The amusement wasn't particularly amusing as the only drop was a measly 20 feet. The High Roller closed in 2005 when management decided that to refurbish it was too expensive to justify due to the lack of thrills – aside from being on top of a "space needle."
Most Unique II
Wing coasters are the newest advance in coaster technology. Only four "wing coasters" or "wing riders" exist as of publishing. These unique coasters allow riders to sit on either side of the track with nothing above or below them. The first wing rider was Raptor at Gardaland, in Italy, which opened in 2011. The Swarm at Thorpe Park in Surrey, England was the second and is unique in design and execution. The Swarm had a massive marketing effort prior to its opening, involving a post-apocalyptic motif. The entire theme park was involved – including actors dressed as survivors of the apocalyptic event. The coaster throws riders toward burned out buildings and the ground, giving the feeling they're about to crash.
Coasters have a long history, reaching higher, going faster and becoming more extreme with each new season. The physics involved are intense and the designers literally hold the lives of riders in their hands. What will future coasters look like? Based on how far they've come, maybe maglev launches, or 4th-dimension coasters – where the cars can move independently from each other – but it's hard to say. Keep your safety harness on and your eyes peeled. You won't want to miss it.