Out of This World

Aerospace technology fuels this summer’s thrills at Bush Gardens Williamsburg. 

Tempesto features tight turns taken at 63 miles per hour and a gravity-defying inversion 154 feet in the air.  

Photo courtesy of Bush Gardens Williamsburg 

Tempesto, the engineering marvel and don’t-eat-the-same-day-you-ride roller coaster, now in its second season at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, is named for a fictional turn-of-the-century Italian daredevil, a dashing fellow fearless enough to test the limits of man and machine. Think of Tempesto as an even-crazier Howard Hughes without the $3.8 billion in today’s dollars.

When Tempesto employs magnetic propulsion to jettison you smoothly through tight turns at 63 miles per hour, rolls you through a complete inversion more than 150 feet in the air and then drops you and stops you on a dime back at the start, you can thank fun-loving, thrill-seeking, aerospace engineers like Jim Seay, president of Premier Rides, the company that built Tempesto, for bringing tech intended for space and the battlefield to the world’s greatest playgrounds.

“Those smooth, quiet, faster, taller and wilder rides are all possible because of aerospace technologies being transferred to entertainment purposes,” says Seay, whose Baltimore-based company builds an average of three or four coasters worldwide each year. “Many of the modern roller coasters you see now are very serious technological marvels.” 

It was in the 1980s that large entertainment companies, including Busch Gardens, Disney and Six Flags began recruiting aerospace and mechanical engineers like Seay—a pilot and self-admitted thrill-seeker whose first job was with Hughes Aircraft in Los Angeles—to help bring leading edge technologies into amusement parks. 

And the innovation continues with the March announcement that Busch Gardens will open its first wooden roller coaster next spring. Themed around Viking exploration of North America, the park’s eighth coaster will comprise a wooden track supported by a steel structure with a 74-foot drop and nine airtime hills. The 2,100-foot ride will pass through woods and an underground tunnel in the New France section of the park. Last spring, Busch Gardens invited fans to help select the ride’s name, calling it the first “crowdsourced ride.” No word yet on a winner, so stay tuned. BuschGardens.com

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