Imagineering & You: Formula Rossa vs. Sand

It's been a while since I've posted one of these. This one is for the mechanical and materials engineers out there. What kind of impact will sand have on Ferrari World's record-breaking roller coaster?

From Joshua Counsil
Posted June 4, 2010 at 7:11 AM
In October 2010, Kingda Ka will step down as the reigning roller coaster champion of speed. Formula Rossa, an Intamin launch coaster set to debut at Abu Dhabi's Ferrari World theme park, will send guests at 145 mph through a winding track mimicking that of an F1 Grand Prix.

Many people have expressed concerns about the roller coaster, mostly pertaining to its extreme speeds. Robert Niles posted a vote regarding wearing goggles on high-speed attractions. 71% of those who voted agreed that some roller coasters should require riders to wear goggles. The main concern Robert and the ride designers had with this new coaster was that guests would be exposed to sand, and, as Robert so eloquently put it, "High speeds + blowing sand = need for goggles."

That quote got me thinking. Eyes are delicate, so exposure to high-speed particles, regardless of the period of time, is an important safety concern. But what about the coaster itself? I'm working in the mechanical engineering department of a military college. Sand-exposed aircraft have been one of the newer research incentives. We have damaged or destroyed multiple aircrafts, including expensive UAVs, in Afghanistan and Iraq because of our relatively "limited" knowledge of sand impact. Icing, birds, ash, and other extremities have been studied thoroughly since the inception of aircraft, but sand remains a relatively new field. It can severely damage both the external (e.g. nacelle, wings) and internal (e.g. turbine blades, inlet) components of a plane. Small particles over long periods of time drastically affect the aerodynamics of a body, and can cause undesired effects such as increased drag.

My questions to you are these:

Have the designers at Jack Rouse Associates, the group responsible for designing the park's attractions, considered the impact of airborne sand on their vehicles and track? If so, what have they done? Did they use coatings, shielding, or special materials to reduce damages?

Will the designers have comparatively stricter maintenance procedures for their outdoor high-speed attractions?

If they haven't taken this issue into consideration, what would you do? What problems can you foresee?

As an example of a possible solution, I have a friend who's thesis is currently covering plasma-injected coatings for turbine and compressor blades to protect the surfaces from deformation.

From Nick Markham
Posted June 4, 2010 at 9:23 AM
This field is way over my head, but it seems to me that there won't be much sand in this area by the time it is all developed. I do however think I would take some precautions with the vehicles since there are always sandstorms.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted June 4, 2010 at 11:09 AM
Thanks for the response, Nick, but I think you're wrong in assuming that there might not be much sand. The attraction is outdoors. It's pretty difficult to control the sand accumulation near a ride when that ride is located in the desert. There's a reason they want guests to wear goggles.

From Bob Miller
Posted June 5, 2010 at 6:27 AM
Joshua, I wonder if they could be using the powder coating that's in use today? I believe the stuff is pretty tough. If I remember correctly, it's applied using a positive and negative charge so that it bonds with the metal, rather than being brushed or sprayed on like paint. I do remember working at a window company back in the 60's that used metal bonded the same way as powder coating + and - charged and that paint was very tough but both coatings are expensive to do I believe.

From Melissa Donahue
Posted June 5, 2010 at 4:59 PM

It's really funny that you mention Jack Rouse Assoc. because my husband is a designer at JRA! I asked him about your question, and he says that they definitely thought about the sand issue; however, it's really more of a concern for Intamin, the ride manufacturer. JRA designs the ride concept and the theming, but Intamin is responsible for the actual ride vehicle and mechanics of the coaster itself.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted June 6, 2010 at 1:36 AM
Thanks for the responses!

Normally, the questions I pose are meant to stir-up discussion. However, this one was mostly just out of personal curiosity.

Bob -
Funny that you'd mention that. The plasma-coated materials method I mentioned is an alternative to the traditional charged method. That method is still being used; I'm interested to know if that's what Intamin implemented.

Melissa -
Very cool that your husband works for J.R. I had no idea they handled the creative aspects. I'd love to hear Intamin's method of protection.

From Robert Niles
Posted June 7, 2010 at 11:09 AM
Total shot in the dark here, but wouldn't Ferrari also have some experience in working with high-speed vehicles in a sandy environment, having had to prep its F1 cars for the grand prix in the UAE?

Just imagining a conversation among Intamin, Rouse and Ferrari sends me straight into theme park geek heaven.

From Melissa Donahue
Posted June 7, 2010 at 1:48 PM
Ha ha, Robert! I'll have to share your comment with my husband!

From Nick Markham
Posted June 7, 2010 at 2:10 PM
Oh also Joshua (this comment is a bit late) but while the goggles will work for sand, they were mostly for the wind from the high speeds the vehicle will be traveling.

From Joshua Counsil
Posted June 8, 2010 at 12:54 AM
Good point, Robert. Is Ferrari aiding with the design at all, or are they just lending their name to the project? Oh, baby. A Ferrari-designed roller coaster? Robert, I hope there's an extra seat up there in theme park geek heaven, 'cause I'm comin' up.

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