What makes a roller coaster a 'mega coaster'?

Roller Coaster Image Gallery Patrons ride the roller coaster at New York New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nev. The mega coaster has a unique "heartline" twist-and-dive motion and simulates a jet fighter's barrel roll. See more pictures of roller coasters.
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You check your lap­ restraint a minimum of seven times before the ride attend­ant sends the cars inching up the towering incline. With each chink-chink-chink up the first 200-foot (61-meter) hill, the knot in your stomach grows tighter. As y­ou round the top, you fleetingly glimpse the miniature landscape below before barreling toward the ground at 84 miles (135 kilometers) per hour. Stomach in throat, you scream and raise your hands in the air with your fellow adrenaline junkies.

Five minutes later, you line up to do it all over again.

There's a reason people are willing to wait hours in the hot sun for just a few minutes on this hunk of steel. This is a mega coaster, a really high, straight up-and-down coaster that combines extreme height and speed with sharp, almost vertical drops to give riders more of what they crave: airtime. That's roller coaster lingo for that butterflies in your stomach feeling. Few things in life are as thrilling as the breathtaking rise and fall of a roller coaster, and the mega coaster is arguably among the most thrilling of them all.

Mega coasters, sometimes called hypercoasters, got their start in 1972 when coaster designer John Allen designed the Racer for Kings Island. The Racer was 3,415 feet (1,041 meters) long, 88 feet (27 meters) high, and reached speeds of 53 miles (85 kilometers) per hour [source: Ultimate]. Featuring several steep up-and-down hills in succession, the ride provided maximum airtime ­with its sheer drops. Its lack of upside-down loops made shoulder restraints unnecessary, further emphasizing the up-and-down motion.

Although roller coasters have come a long way in the last 30 years, the underlying principles of John Allen's Racer are still in use. Intamin, a Swiss-based roller coaster designer, coined the term "mega coaster," and describes them as follows:

  • 150 feet to 220 feet (46 meters to 67 meters) high
  • 3,700 feet to 5,250 feet (1,128 meters to 1,600 meters) long
  • 84 miles (135 kilometers) per hour fast [source: Intamin].

Their launching system, which was originally designed to launch rockets, can propel them from 0 to 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour in just 4 seconds [source: Farlex].

If a mega coaster makes you yawn, you might want to kick it up a notch, thrill seeker, and read about the baddest extreme coaster of them all on the following page.