Saturday, April 14, 2012

L is for Lightning Loops

Today's roller coasters are absolutely crazy!  It seems that each year, the newest rides are bigger, faster and badder than ever before, thanks to continuing research in the technology that helps coaster manufacturers to push the envelope when it comes to thrilling and frightful ride experiences.  As it is in almost everything else in the world, today's technology is rooted in simpler ideas that have evolved over time.

MP3 and 4 technologies are more advanced and convenient than the CD's that came before them, which were better than the cassettes and records that preceded them, etc. Without these earlier technologies, we wouldn't have the unprecedented access and convenience we have today.  Many who have lived through the earlier days of music-listening can appreciate the wonder at opening a new album and reading the cover from front to back while playing the new music for the first time, or the joy it was to be able to find songs much more easily on a CD than rewinding or forwarding a tape.  It is the same with roller coasters.

L is for Lightning Loops

For the majority of my life, I've always been a big fan of roller coasters, and I remember the many firsts in coaster technology: the first steel coaster, suspended coasters, floor-less coasters, stand-up coasters, wing coasters...the list goes on and on.   One of the earliest breakthroughs in coaster technology that I can remember is the loop.

In 1978 and 1979, my local Six Flags park, Great Adventure in Jackson, New Jersey, premiered two new roller coasters.  The park was a fledgling at the time, and this was one of their first big moments.  One of the coasters, "Rolling Thunder," was a classic racing wooden coaster that still operates today, and the other was to become my first experience with a loop.  "Lightning Loops" debuted at the park in 1978 and it was terrifying!

You have to remember that at that time the loop was not a common thing.  Sure, the idea had been around for awhile, even back in the days of Coney Island's "Loop the Loops," but in the late seventies, using the concept with a steel coaster was just beginning to emerge.  "Lightning Loops" was the region's first such ride, and it attracted a lot of people!

"Lightning Loops" was an imposing structure in the park.  Four huge scaffoldings formed the base of the ride, each with steps, and two of them served riders climbing to the launching station above.  I remember getting butterflies in my stomach as I waited on the steps, inching my way slowly through the line to get to the top.  Every time the coaster would take off, the entire scaffolding would shake from the force, and the butterflies would flutter even more.

One of the launch platforms of "Lightning Loops"

"Lightning Loops" was actually two separate rides, interlocking at the loops.  There was a red car and there was a blue car, and each carried had a slightly different experience.  Once at the top, the nervous anticipation was at a high.  The ride simply started on one platform, took off straight ahead and almost completely downward, only to be thrust up and through the loop and then stopping on the opposite side.  

You'd sit there, with your heart somewhere at your mouth, looking pleadingly at the ride operator who stood alone on that faraway platform, to stop the madness.  Seconds later, you inched forward until you heard a loud 'click.'  At this point, your heart is absolutely racing and suddenly you were flying backwards through the track again in reverse.  As you can imagine, this was pure, enjoyable terror!  

The view from the launching platform

Lightning Loops

"Lightning Loops" thrilled riders for years, but in 1987, tragedy struck.  In June of that year, a 19 year-old girl was thrown from the ride and killed.  An investigation found that the ride operator, not the ride itself, was at fault for not properly checking the restraints, but "Lightning Loops'" image was tarnished.  As the years rolled on, newer and more thrilling technologies attracted riders and eventually the ride was put to rest for good in 1992

Though it's not around anymore, I still kind of miss "Lightning Loops."  Today it may seem like nothing compared to the stuff of today, but I'd bet that people would still get scared climbing up that platform and taking that one-minute ride of pure thrill!

Images Source: GreatAdventureHistory  


  1. I love roller coasters, but I have never gotten used to the ones with loops. There is just something about going upside down that scares me to the core!

  2. I remember Lightning Loops at Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ. I experienced it when I was 12 (in 1980), and it was truly an adolescent rite of passage for many of us. Later, I conquered it's evil cousin, Rolling Thunder (and don't forget the Runaway Train). Sad to know it's gone, but hey, NJ ain't really the same anymore, so oh well!

  3. Thanks for the comment buddy!