S&S Sansei Technologies - Explained

S&S Sansei Technologies - Explained

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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.

2022-03-05 16:06

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