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Holy Batman! The ride.

The bold graffiti warnings on the wall leading up to Batman: The Ride are the first hint that I'm in for trouble.

"Laws don't apply here."

"You'd better turn back."

"This ain't Kansas."

I enter a large rusty sewage pipe, the gateway to Gotham City's underworld, and hear someone scream, "We're all gonna die!" Nervous laughter escapes me as I climb some stairs.

At the top--Holy somersaults!--I'm inside the Batcave, and next in line for the ride.

The man standing next to me suddenly interrupts my terrified thoughts by saying, "It's the world's first suspended, outside looping roller coaster. You ride underneath--not above--the tracks."

He introduces himself as Don Van Hauten, an engineer for Six Flags Great Adventure whose job it is to keep Batman running and its passengers screaming. He volunteers to sit next to me for the ride.

Surely, I say, as I notice a sign warning riders to remove all loose shoes, hats, and earrings. Earrings--geez! My nightmare is just beginning.

We climb into the front car. Clunk! An orange safety harness drops over my shoulders. Click! A ide attendant dressed to look like Alfred, Batman's butler, gives my seat belt a tug. Clank! The train of cars lurches forward.


As a motor-driven chain slowly pulls us up the first hill, Van Hauten explains that we're gaining potential energy, energy that can be used later to make the train go. "The higher the [hill], the greater the potential energy," he says. I watch the ground disappear beneath my dangling feet.

In fact, Van Hauten continues, the energy we get from being pulled up this first climb is all the energy we'll need for the ride. From that point on, we're in the hands of gravity; it pulls the train down the hills.

"How do we get back up?" I ask eyeing the sequence of hills, loops, and spirals ahead.

Van Hauten explains. The potential energy we've gained doesn't disappear during the falls, it just changes into other kinds of energy. (According to the law of conservation of energy, he reminds me, energy can't be created or destroyed. It can only be recycled.)

"What kind of energy does it turn into?" I ask, trying not to notice that we've reached the top.

"Kinetic energy," he screams, as we start to plummet.

With the wind blasting me in the face, I remember that kinetic energy is the energy of motion. The faster we go, the more kinetic energy we have.

I'm thinking that a little less kinetic energy wouldn't be such a bad thing, when suddenly, we hit bottom and start moving up. I'd love to get off this crazy forced into my seat, literally pushed down.

Not so, says Van Hauten. I'm really being forced up by the upward curving track. But this upward force is fighting my body's inertia, its tendency to keep moving in the direction it was already going: down (see SW 10/8/93, p. 12). The result of this battle is that I feel squished into my seat, flattened like a pancake.


As we move up the next hill, Van Hauten explains that our kinetic energy is now changing back into potential energy; we're losing speed but gaining height. I try to follow what he's saying, but my mind wanders when my stomach suddenly does a 360[degrees] flip.

Maybe that's because the coaster car does a 360[degrees] flip, pulling me around the outside of a giant loop. Up top, upside down, all I can see is sky. No track (it's below me), and no exit signs.

"Don't worry," says Van Hauten, "you're not going anywhere." The squished-pancake effect of inertia will keep us glued to our seats even when we're upside down in a loop, he explains. In a hoop, the track is constantly forcing us to change direction--turning us toward the center of curve. But once again, our bodies' inertia comes to the rescue, flinging us outward. Result: We stay pinned.

This butterfly-on-a-mat effect is especially strong at the top of the loop, Van Hauten says. He explains that it's because roller coaster loops aren't perfectly round. Instead, they're shaped like upside down teardrops. The sharper curve up top creates a more drastic change in direction, which increases the inertia effect.

Good thing, I figure, because up top is where gravity threatens to pull me out of my seat and down to the pavement below.


I begin to lose track of all this inertia stuff as we slide out of the loop and into a spiral, another loop, and then two spirals turned on their sides....

Finally, though, the coaster's energy runs out. Not so Van Hauten's explanations. He says that all through the ride, the energy we initially had dwindles; it gets converted into heat (another form of energy) because of friction between the wheels and the track. When we coast back into the Batcave, breaks add extra friction to bring us screeching to a stop.

When I finally unbuckle my safety harness, it feels like an eternity since the ride began. A glance at my watch tells me it's only been two minutes. I begin to wonder if roller coasters warp time ...but decide not to ask.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:roller coaster and physics
Author:Farrell, Kathy
Publication:Science World
Date:Oct 22, 1993
Previous Article:Bug-a-licious.
Next Article:News briefs.

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