There are about 450 amusement parks and top attractions in the U.S., and roles at these theme parks go far beyond just designing roller coasters and rides. To learn more, checkout the above infographic created by Ohio University’s online Master in Engineering Management program.
Top amusement companies
Not surprisingly, Disney leads the pack of amusement companies with over $12 billion in sales annually. The next closest is Universal Studios, which has over $2 billion in sales per year. Rounding up the top five are Sea World, which includes Busch Gardens, Six Flags, and Cedar Fair, which owns Cedar Point; each of these companies has over $1 billion in sales annually. Entertainment and amusements are big business, and people are willing to pay well for them.
American roller coasters
There are 100 firms in the United States that design and build roller coasters, and each of them has a team of project, design and environmental engineers to assist in their completion.
Roller coasters take quite some time from idea to reality– wooden coasters typically are built in eight months, steel ones in a year and a half, but themed coasters can take from three to five years to be completed.
The average cost to build a roller coaster is about $8 million dollars, and it typically involves the input of the entire engineering team. Coaster and project engineers plan the design and layout, electrical and design engineers add the control systems, structural engineers ensure they are sound and can withstand the elements they’ll be exposed to, and mechanical engineers complete the coasters with vehicles, chains and lifting systems and brakes.
Walt Disney World
Disney employs engineers falling under 140 different titles; imagineers, ride engineers, lighting professionals, architects, landscapers and design engineers among them. Of course, they have a lot of territory to cover. Disney runs 20 resorts, 6 theme parks, 6 cruise lines, 2 downtown Disney areas, 2 water parks, 3 distribution centers and 4 textile plants.
Extreme theme parks
Busch Gardens, initially an animal-themed park built by Anheuser Busch, today sits in the middle of urban Tampa, as the city has grown up all around it. Still, the park is an oasis in the city and covers more than 330 acres. Falling under the umbrella company of Sea World, Busch Gardens offers two extreme roller coasters on its grounds.
Cheetah Hunt is built low slung to the ground, but goes 60 miles per hour both uphill and downhill. It has 109 magnetic motors per train and a 70-ton water chiller to cool the 103 electric motors on the track. This coaster is managed by three separate control rooms.
Busch Garden’s other star coaster is Sheikra. Scary to look at, this dive coaster climbs 200 feet, holds you in animation for a few seconds, then drops you 90 degrees straight down. After that first drop, you will be twisted and turned through a whirlwind of a coaster before being dropped again into an underground tunnel and a final splashdown.
Six Flags Worldwide
Six Flags owns 16 amusement parks in the United States, one in Mexico and one in Canada, with over 120 roller coasters and 680 other rides.
One of Six Flags’ latest undertakings was upgrading the Texas Giant. Originally a mammoth wooden coaster opened in 1990, the Giant had lost popularity as the ride became rougher over the years, and routine maintenance could not return it to its former glory. Six Flags committed $10 million dollars to upgrading the ride, and the result is a hybrid roller coaster that has steel track and the look of a wooden coaster. It re-opened in 2011 after 18 months of work. The New Texas Giant is even taller than before and stands 153 feet, with a 79 degree drop, as well as multiple banked turns and nearly a mile of track. The success of this revamped ride can be attributed to a team of computer programming engineers that simulated the new ride, and civil engineers that added safety features even while making the ride steeper.
Water parks around the world employ many different types of engineers, for a multitude of purposes.
- Computer engineers are needed to calculate everything from mass and friction to rider spacing and curve sizes for optimal safety and fun.
- Design engineers plan the layout and aesthetics at a water park, from landscaping and hardscaping, as well as building facades, fences, artificial rocks, paintings and murals– everything that hides the mechanical aspects and makes them look great.
- Industrial and structural engineers are in charge of using gravity, waterflow and velocity in the best combinations to reduce friction and overcome air resistance and inertia.
- Civil engineers are employed to apply physics principles to make water slides fast and fun, while maintaining structural integrity and safety.
At the Schlitterbahn water park in Kansas City stands the world’s tallest water slide, Verrückt. Verruckt is taller than the Statue of Liberty at 168 feet. You strap into a 3 person raft for the initial drop, and are then shot back up a second hill and dropped 50 feet very quickly. Civil engineers did safety testing on a 100 foot scale model prior to building the full-size slide, and tested it first with sandbags before allowing humans to dare try its amazing drop.
Future engineering needs for amusement parks
You can see that amusement parks have many needs for skilled and knowledgeable engineers to ensure everything from ride safety to lighting and landscaping. The future holds promise of still further opportunities for engineers to work in these fun environments.
- Magnetic levitation roller coaster rides, that will use high-speed frictionless tracks.
- Lots more 3D and other interactive displays and experiences.
- Fast tunnel rides inspired by the Hyperloop, the zero to 400 mph pod train conceptualized by Elon Musk that uses frictionless air tube technology.
- Lots more animatronics, robotic devices that bring lifelike characteristics to inanimate objects.
- Virtual reality roller coasters and visual projections for those projects.
- Massive multiplayer parks for video gamers to compete in real time, in similar environments.
An engineering degree can lead you directly to these exciting and fun engineering careers working on the latest and greatest entertainment projects and complexes in the world. What’s not to love about making millions of people happy for a living?