Many of today’s superfast rollercoaster Anatomy of a launcher rides wouldn’t get anywhere without special launching mechanisms. These mechanisms are typically powered by hydraulics and grant incredible speeds to the coaster’s train; indeed, the fastest in the world can achieve 240 kilometres (150 miles) per hour, which it reaches in under five seconds.
Key to a hydraulic launch system is its ‘catch car’, which runs underneath the coaster’s train and track. The car is responsible for receiving the energy generated by the launcher’s hydraulic motors and mechanisms and converting it into linear motion. The catch car does this by effectively towing the train down a portion of the track at high speed, with it then detaching at the last moment, leaving the train and its passengers free to zoom away.
These hydraulic coaster launch mechanisms share much technology with aircraft carrier launch systems for fighter jets, with both situations requiring the vehicle to be propelled to high velocity within a short distance and timeframe. Both the fastest and tallest rollercoasters in the world – the Ferrari-built Formula Rossa in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and the Kingda Ka in the USA, respectively – use hydraulic launch systems for propulsion.