NEW YORK -— Larry Chickola is on a mission to re-invent roller coasters.
Chickola, chief engineer for Six Flags, has come to be regarded as a bit of a rock star in the roller coaster world, thanks to his knack for always dreaming up something new. Nowadays, his ideas are going back to something very old.
“The history of roller coasters is wrapped up in wooden roller coasters,” Chickola said. “Everybody knows the look of a wooden roller coaster. It’s very iconic, so saving that, that’s a great part of the ride.”
Chickola and his team did just that at Six Flags Over Texas, when they updated the 20-year-old all-wood Texas Giant and turned it into the world’s first hybrid coaster.
He explained, “We take the old structure, which still was in good shape, but put a new track on it. The steel, I-box track that’s on the ride lets us put in some elements that are more exciting, steeper drops, overbanked turns.”
Now Chickola intends to outdo himself, taking the hybrid technology he perfected on the Giant, and applying it to the 180-feet-tall Iron Rattler at Six Flags Fiesta outside San Antonio. Chikola said, “We can do maneuvers and do things with the ride that we definitely cannot do with the wood.”
One of those moves is a zero-G barrel roll, making it the first hybrid coaster in the world to turn riders completely upside down. To build it, Chickola uses more than calculators and drafting tools.
“When we get up there, part of the work’s going to be a rappel over the side so we can get a look at some of the structure underneath,” Chickola said.
He also straps on climbing gear and harnesses. He insists on personally inspecting all of his new rides. In addition to looking at the older wood of the rides, Chickola said they inspect the rides to make sure the bolts are in place and see if anything is out of position.
Chickola said, “I love this because I get to do things like this (inspect the rides), I get to build big things, that was the one thing that I really wanted to do. I wanted to build something that has a scale, you know, a really large scale and people love it and, they scream. ... One of the great parts of this job, is I get to be a kid, and kids love what I do, too.”