S&S Sansei Technologies - Explained
S&S Sansei Technologies is an American ride manufacturer located in Logan, Utah, USA. Today, the company produces a wide range of roller coasters, from small scale family rides, to large scale innovative attractions. However, S&S is perhaps best known for their tower rides, in particular, the widely known space shot tower. The company found success by revolutionising the game,
pioneering pneumatic technologies to create rides like no other. S&S continued to build on their initial fortune, enabling them to install over 400 thrill rides across 30 different countries. That success came from one man - a man who was a natural born thrill seeker. Born in the Cache Valley region of Utah, Stan Checketts was a thrill seeker. He used to tie ropes to trees and off cliffs for him and his family to ride.
Though, Stan initially thought he wouldn’t be able to sustain a career by trying to thrill people. Instead he studied electrical engineering and became a journeyman wireman, travelling across the country to work on various projects. One day, he learnt about people in New Zealand and Australia who would use bungee cords to jump off bridges. Interested in the idea, he obtained the permits necessary to build structures for people to bungee jump off, and bought some bungee cords. This venture would mark the start of S&S, under the name of Sports Towers inc, in 1988. Stan quickly got to work building bungee towers across the world. Though,
he was concerned about the safety standards of the bungee jumping industry as a whole, as several high profile accidents had led to a decline in popularity of the sport. Stan attempted to instil guidelines to improve safety standards, but this proved difficult. Several years after 1989, in 1993, the company was expanded with a new division named S&S sports. This involved producing trampoline equipment, with the two S’s representing Stan and his wife, Sandy. Concerned with safety standards, yet still desiring a way to thrill people, Stan looked for alternatives. He remembered that he would playfully throw his children up
in the air and catch them, which would make them laugh and smile. What if he could design a ride which achieves the same thing? Originally, Stan looked to use bungee cords to propel people upwards. However, he quickly began looking at other methods, including compressed air. Initially, he was told that compressed air cylinders couldn’t be made long enough to achieve his idea. Naturally, Stan forged on, building his own system.
The concept was a success - he had managed to create what is now known as the Space Shot tower. This tower ride was, at first, one-of-a-kind using compressed air to propel a car up a large tower within seconds. At the centre of each tower was a large air accumulator, capable of storing air under high pressure. Along the edges of the towers are four pneumatic tanks called shot tanks. Each
tank has a piston attached to a steel cable on either end which connects to the top and bottom of the gondola located around the tower. When ready to launch, air is released from the accumulator tank into the shot tanks, moving the pistons and pulling the gondola. The system also provides natural braking for the ride, as the piston attempts to compress the air within the shot tank, slowing the ride down. With this technology, Stan was able to create a thrill ride that could launch riders to great heights and speeds - something the industry had not seen at the time. Not only was the ride original, but it was compact, inexpensive and safe to operate too. The first two space shot rides opened in 1995, at Reino Adventura, now Six Flags Mexico, and D&D Adventures in the Wisconsin Dells. Both towers stood 54.8m 180ft high,
and sat 8 riders and 4 riders respectively. A year later, S&S refined the design, offering a new 12 passenger option with seating configurations of 3-3-3-3, or 4-2-4-2; and a 16 passenger option with 4 riders on each side of the tower. In 1996, World’s of Fun also approached S&S to construct a new shot tower, but were concerned about the capacity of a single tower. The solution,
build two space shot towers, housed in a single structure. At the same time, S&S built Big Shot, a new tower ride at the top of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas Nevada, breaking the record for the world’s tallest ride at the time. During the same year, both Sports Towers Inc. and S&S Sports inc. were sold to create a new, single organisation, S&S Power.
For the first two years of their construction, the Space Shot tower was designed with additional height the gondola would never traverse. However, in 1997, S&S improved the design, adding another set of pulleys to the base of the tower. This allowed for the gondola to be controlled more precisely, enabling the ride to utilise its full height. On top of this, the new pulley system could also be used in reverse. Instead of launching gondolas up the tower, the base pulleys could be used to pull them back towards the ground.
Thus, the company introduced the Turbo Drop - a ride which sees guests slowly climb into the sky, before being propelled towards downwards. At roughly the same time they also debuted the Combo tower, a ride which featured both the space shot launch, and turbo drop plummet, in a single cycle. The tower rides produced by S&S were an instant success. Between 1995 and 1999, the company installed 85 towers at theme parks around the world. It was clear Stan was onto something with his compressed air technology. To further capitalise on their success, he began to think of other ways to utilise the air propulsion system. This quickly led him to consider a ride
which used the same technology as the shot tower, but on its side. What would be the perfect ride to utilise such a system? A roller coaster! With this concept in mind, S&S began producing the Thrust Air 2000 roller coaster, a ride which launched guests along the track using compressed air. A prototype attraction was built at S&S’s facility - the company’s first ever roller coaster. The prototype was able to propel the trains from zero to 129 kph (80 mph) in less than two seconds. Following this, they would then climb a 52m (170ft) tall top hat, before completing the remainder of a short circuit. The prototype also featured two unique firsts for coaster design. It became the world’s first full circuit roller coaster to feature both a 90 degree ascent
and descent, becoming the world’s steepest full circuit coaster at the time. The prototype's second first was born out of necessity. As opposed to using standard polyurethane plastic wheels, S&S opted for pneumatic wheels similar to those found on aircrafts. This was done to make the ride smoother, quieter, cost effective and more maintenance friendly.
S&S had big plans for their debut roller coaster model, stating it could easily reach speeds of 160kmh (100mph) and reach heights of 107m (350ft). In 2001, two Thrust Air 2000 roller coasters were sold, one to Kings Dominion in the United States, and the other to Fuji-Q Highland in Japan. The infamous Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion became the first to open, becoming the world’s original pneumatic launch coaster. In fact, the ride was actually a slightly modified version of the prototype built at the S&S test facility. Several months later, in December of 2001, Fuji-Q Highland
opened Dodonpa. The ride was statistically more impressive than Hypersonic XLC, reaching 172 kmh (106.8 mph) in just 1.8 seconds. This made it both the world’s fastest roller coaster and the world’s fastest accelerating roller coaster at the time of opening. Sadly though, the Thrust Air 2000
roller coasters weren’t successful. Hypersonic XLC suffered from consistent down time, closing for three months after only a year of operation to improve reliability. In the end however, the ride became too much for Kings Dominion. The ride closed to the public in October of 2007, never to operate again. Fortunately, Dodonpa fared better. The ride has remained operational since
its debut in 2001. Although, it too underwent modifications to enhance the ride experience. In 2016 the ride’s top hat was replaced with a vertical loop, while the launch acceleration was improved. No other Thrust Air 2000 roller coasters were built - likely due to their poor reliability. Though the introduction of Intamin’s hydraulic launch coaster, with the debut of Xcelerator at Knott’s Berry Farm in 2002, likely overshadowed S&S’s own developments. Nevertheless, S&S would later go on to revive their air-powered launch coaster model.
Retrospectively, it was at this point in time that S&S entered an era of innovation. The company began to develop and introduce a range of new ride ideas. However, many of these were short lived - leading to a ‘see what sticks’ approach to attractions. At the same time as the introduction of the Thrust Air 2000 Coasters, S&S launched the Sky Sling. The ride used three large towers to accelerate a gondola, attached via cables, up nearly 91m (300ft) into the air. This created a
reverse bungee-like experience. Only a handful of these rides were ever built, with many closing a year after opening due to a partial collapse of a sky sling ride located at Cedar Point. 2002 would mark an important year for S&S and their presence within the amusement industry.
The company acquired Arrow Dynamics, a previously highly influential roller coaster manufacturer, after the business went bankrupt in December of 2001. S&S purchased the company for $1.9 million, absorbing all of its assets in the process. When asked why he had decided to purchase Arrow, Stan cited nostalgia. Arrow had previously led many of the innovations within the amusements
industry, and in the process, built a large number of rides and attractions. With Arrow's assets, S&S was now capable of providing support to all of their attractions, giving parks the option to maintain these legacy rides. This is a service S&S continues to offer to this day as the company maintains an inventory of arrow parts to keep older rides going. On top of this, they also offer a ride rehabilitation service, which includes upgrading or replacing aspects of the attraction to improve its experience and lifespan. S&S offers everything from train replacements, to a full ride rebuild. In 2002 however, after the acquisition, S&S hoped to collaborate with the engineers of Arrow to continue innovating. The company then hired Denise Dinn, the former owner of
Custom Coasters International, a previously popular wooden roller coaster manufacturer. Custom Coasters International filed for bankruptcy in 2002, and after the company was liquidated, S&S hired Dinn to establish a wooden coaster division at S&S. Likely riding off the legacy of Custom Coasters International, S&S quickly constructed four wooden roller coasters, the first being Timberhawk at Wild Waves and Enchanted Village. Although this momentum was
short-lived as after 2004, the company’s wooden coaster division was disbanded. Fortunately Stan had many other ideas up his sleeve. In 2003, S&S debuted three new ride concepts - two flat rides and a new compact roller coaster. In the second half of the year, the company built a prototype of their new roller coaster, dubbed the Screaming Squirrel. The coaster is a spin on the classic wild mouse roller coaster,
with its hairpin turns placed vertically instead of horizontally. Guests navigate tight 180 degree drops, leaving the trains inverted for several seconds. The idea was to produce a thrilling, yet small scale roller coaster any park could invest in. The manufacturer's two new flat rides also offered a thrilling ride experience. Firstly, S&S debuted the Sky Swatter, a ride
which saw guests rotate 360 degrees in the air, on two large paddles. This produced an unusual sensation of diving towards the ground, or flying into the sky. The company’s other ride was perhaps a bit more conventional. The Screamin’ swing saw guests board two large arms, which would swing into the air, providing exhilarating negative g-forces. Of S&S’s three new models,
only one saw real success. 3 Screaming Squirrel rides were built around the world, the last in 2007. Two Sky Swatter attractions were ever built - both of which encountered issues with reliability and maintenance, leading to their closures. The Screamin’ Swing ride however was a success. The interesting motion provided by the attraction had led it to be installed at over 20 different theme parks around the world, most recently in 2022 at SeaWorld San Antonio. At the end of 2003, S&S were contracted to do something a bit unusual. 4 years prior,
Silver Dollar City, a theme park in the United States, opened a new Premier Rides water coaster named Buzzsaw Falls. The ride was a maintenance nightmare, and it quickly became clear to the park that the attraction needed to be altered. As a result, Silver Dollar City contacted S&S with the idea of replacing their faulty ride with an air-launched roller coaster. To reduce costs, the manufacturer decided to utilise aspects of Buzzsaw Falls for the new ride, including its track and lift hill. S&S used Arrow’s previous designs to build new traditional roller coaster trains, capable of climbing a lift hill. As a result, Powder Keg, the reimagination of Buzzsaw Falls, was the first coaster in the world to utilise both a launch and lift hill - something extremely unique in 2005.
Powder Keg wasn’t the only project which saw S&S use Arrow designs. In 2006 the company debuted Eejanaika at Fuji-Q Highland in Japan. The ride became the world’s second fourth dimensional roller coaster, the first being X at Six Flags Magic Mountain in America - a ride designed and constructed by Arrow Dynamics. The ride rotates guests in their seats at specific points of the ride, a large innovation at the time. X however was riddled with issues, issues that S&S wanted to resolve. The company enhanced Arrow’s designs by making the trains lighter, and the systems more reliable. S&S would later go on to redevelop X as X2 for the 2008 season,
applying many of the same upgrades to Arrow’s original ride. A third fourth dimensional roller coaster was later built in 2012, Dinoconda at China Dinosaurs Park. Eejanaika was just one of the projects ongoing in 2006 however. In the same year, S&S debuted their Celebration Center, a family entertainment centre located in Logan, Utah - the town in which the manufacturer is based. The celebration centre was created not only as a place to entertain guests,
but also as a showcase of the company’s ride designs. The most impressive attraction was the centre’s 110m 360ft tall drop tower, named Sonic Boom. The ride had no physical breaks, but instead relied on air pressure within a vertical tunnel to slow the 160kmh 100mph gondola to a stop.
The following year S&S introduced the next evolution of the Screaming Squirrel model, called the El Loco. The new roller coaster was a compact, small scale ride, one which was capable of navigating turns and other complex elements such as inversions. However, they didn’t make this transition in one go. In 2007 the manufacturer opened Afterburner at Wonder Island in Russia, a Screaming Squirrel ride that was capable of navigating simple flat turns. Then, a year later, they introduced Steel Hawg at Indiana Beach in the United States, the world’s first El Loco. At the time, Steel Hawg broke the record for the world’s
steepest roller coaster, featuring a drop of 111º. The ride type has become one of S&S’s more successful models, with six installations across the world. Several years later, in 2009, the company was looking to enhance their previously unsuccessful air launch coaster. S&S wanted to take the technology pioneered on the thrust air 2000 model and apply it to a more traditional roller coaster. They began to construct Ring Racer at the Nürburgring in Germany. The ride was intended to become the world’s fastest roller coaster, reaching the top speed of 217kmh 135 mph in just 2.5 seconds. Unfortunately however, the project suffered extreme delays.
When the ride did eventually open in 2013, 4 years later than it was scheduled, its top speed was reduced to 160kmh 99mph. The launch coaster remained open for only a few days, inevitably closing because it wasn’t economically viable to run. The manufacturer didn’t give up on their next generation air launched coaster though. In 2011, two years before the eventual debut of
Ring Racer, S&S opened Extreme Rusher at Happy Valley in Beijing China. Similar to Ring Racer, the ride features traditional roller coaster track and trains, with a snappy compressed air launch. The company has gone on to build a number of their launch coasters around the world, most predominantly in China. However, recently they constructed Maxx Force at Six Flags Great America in 2019, marking the return of their launch technology to the United States. In the same year as Ring Racer, S&S also debuted a new type of roller coaster model - the Free Fly. The ride, named Tranan at Skara Sommarland in Sweden, suspends guests
over the sides of the track. As the trains navigate the layout guests swing freely, keeping them upright whilst the train inverts around them. Despite the innovative nature of the attraction, the company’s Free Fly never caught on, making Tranan the only one of its kind. In the years following, S&S underwent various structural changes. 2010 saw the manufacturer exchange ownership, with Larsen MacColl Partners LP acquiring a majority of the company from Stan Checketts, marking the end of his involvement with the business. However, Stan continued to create amusement attractions. He went on to establish another company,
Soaring Eagle, to continue his work constructing thrill rides. S&S on the other hand went on to enter an agreement with Sansei Yusoki Co in 2012. This saw Sansei provide financial support to S&S to continue the development of rides and roller coasters. As a result of this, the manufacturer gained its current name S&S - Sansei Technologies. In the following year,
the company produced a seemingly one-off mine train style roller coaster for Etnaland in Italy, named Eldorado. Although, this ride is still available on the company’s website. Fortunately for S&S, after introducing a whole list of new roller coaster models, one of them would prove extremely successful. In 2015 the manufacturer opened Batman: The Ride to guests at Six Flags Fiesta Texas in the United States. The ride was the world’s first 4D free spin coaster - the next generation of the fourth dimensional roller coaster.
S&S developed a vertical layout which saw guests freely spin in their seats as they navigated the course. Magnets were also scattered along the track to promote additional rotations. Interestingly, the model was designed in conjunction with Rocky Mountain Construction, ultimately utilising the company’s steel I-box track design. As of early 2022, 9 S&S Free spins are currently operating around the world, with another three set to open this year. The small number of roller coasters built by the company means that, on average,
since they were founded in 1994, one in every four roller coasters built by S&S is a 4D free spin. The success of the free spin pushed the business into a new, explorative era. More recently, S&S has attempted to expand its roller coaster offering even further. In 2017, they debuted GaleForce, a triple launch coaster. The ride became the manufacturer’s
first roller coaster to utilise LSMs, linear synchronous motors, a magnetic launch system. Despite featuring different track and trains to the El Loco model, the ride is categorised as a launched variant of the El Loco model on the company’s website. In 2018, they revitalised Arrow’s classic Steeplechase roller coaster model, constructing a proof of concept at their facility. The business also opened their first inverted roller coaster, Merlin’s Mayhem at Dutch Wonderland in the United States. The following year, in 2019, S&S built Steel Curtain at Kennywood in the United States, a large scale looping coaster. The ride broke several records upon its debut, including the world’s tallest inversion, and the most inversions on any single roller coaster in the North America - nine in total. In
the same year, the manufacturer also constructed Maxx Force. Despite their good reception, the manufacturer’s new roller coaster models are yet to gain any additional momentum. Though, S&S continues to find success with their air-powered launch coasters, and newer free spin rides. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped them innovating further. Using their other fourth dimension rides as inspiration, towards the end of 2019 S&S unveiled a new type of roller coaster, one they called Axis. Using a test track built at the company’s facility, they demonstrated what
the new ride was capable of. The model features trains suspended by a single rotating support, enabling them to spin freely. This design allows the train to transition between sit-down and suspended positions throughout the layout. The hope is the new roller coaster can navigate a mixture of highly dynamic elements, ultimately providing a unique one-of-a-kind experience.
The company has confirmed that the world’s first axis coaster will be built in Europe in 2023. Though, Axis isn’t S&S’s only new model. More recently they revealed a modification to their classic space shot tower, named the Spin Shot Tower. The new model takes the manufacturer’s
4D free spin seats and attaches them to a tower ride, creating an even more thrilling experience. The rotation of the seats can be controlled throughout the ride, whilst the seats themselves can be retrofitted onto older S&S towers too. Looking back at their entire history, it’s clear that the founder of S&S, Stan Checketts, was determined to thrill guests. Since its beginning,
the company has tried anything and everything to provide safe ways to excite and delight as many people as possible. Sometimes these attempts were wildly successful; other times they simply missed the mark. Underpinning it all however, was Stan’s love and determination for his craft. Sadly, Stan Checketts passed away at the start of 2022. Although he is gone, his love for, and contribution to, the amusements industry will not be forgotten. S&S continue to innovate, bringing new and unique ideas to the table. And, because of that, the future of S&S looks bright.