The Dodonpa roller coaster, left, with Mount Fuji in the background.
|Opening date||21 December 2001|
|Model||Thrust Air 2000|
|Lift/launch system||Compressed air launch|
|Height||52 m (171 ft)|
|Drop||50 m (160 ft)|
|Length||1,189 m (3,901 ft)|
|Speed||172 km/h (107 mph)|
|Max vertical angle||90°|
|Capacity||1000 riders per hour|
|Acceleration||0 to 172 km/h (0 to 107 mph) in 1.8 seconds|
|Height restriction||130 cm (4 ft 3 in)|
|Dodonpa at RCDB
Pictures of Dodonpa at RCDB
Dodonpa (ドドンパ?), an S&S Worldwide roller coaster located at the Fuji-Q Highland Amusement Park in Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan, is distinguished as the second roller coaster ever to utilize the power of compressed air to launch its trains. This steel roller coaster made its debut on 21 December 2001, immediately making headlines when it broke two records. First, it attained the title of fastest roller coaster in the world, previously shared by Superman: The Escape and Tower of Terror. Then, it claimed the record for fastest acceleration, previously held by another S&S Worldwide creation, Hypersonic XLC. Today, it is ranked as the fourth fastest roller coaster; however, over the past decade, it has proved unbeatable when it comes to acceleration. Steel fabrication was provided by Intermountain Lift, Inc. 
With all of its credentials, Dodonpa is frequently ranked in the top 10 best/most extreme/scariest roller coasters in the world by Time Magazine, Travel + Leisure, AYNILists, About.com, and Travel Around the World.
Speed and Acceleration
This 55 second ride takes the rider across 1,189 metres (3,901 ft) of steel tracks, and peaks at a maximum height of 42 metres. Reaching top speeds of 107 mph, Dodonpa retained the title of world's fastest roller coaster for nearly a year and a half before Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster took it in May 2003. Previous to Dodonpa, only two other roller coasters had broken the 100 mph barrier; today, that number has risen to six (including Dodonpa).
As for its main attraction, Dodonpa's accelerates from 0 mph to its maximum speed, 172 km/h, in 1.8 seconds, reaching up to 2.7 G's. That means it accelerates 2.7 times faster than the acceleration due to gravity, or 2.7 times faster than free fall. Even astronauts only experience 3 G's at liftoff, though for a substantially longer time than 1.8 seconds.
Despite its record-breaking reputation, this thrill ride does not rely on speed and acceleration alone to stimulate riders. Dodonpa's team of designers and engineers made sure to include just as much psychological torture as physical thrill.
The name of the ride stems from the deep, ominous drumming sound that flows from the speakers as passengers wait in line to board the train. This repetitive percussive music is created by taiko drums, an old traditional Japanese drum that was used to demonstrate power and influence in pre-modern Japanese villages. These drums were supposedly used in warfare to rally troops and scare off the enemy with their thundering sound, and it serves a similar purpose today. The drums add to the tension and excitement as riders wait to board the ride. Often, riders will chant along with the drum sound, which plays three consecutive beats represented by the sounds Do-don-pa.
Finally, passengers board the ride, and the train moves them from the loading station to the launch pad, where it waits, allowing time for the compressed air to build up. When it is ready, a voice in Japanese runs through a checklist and begins the countdown to launch. Riders are given three seconds to mentally prepare themselves before the train is launched at its record-breaking acceleration. To keep riders on their toes, designers added a false start feature, so occasionally riders will experience a "failed" launch, signaled by loud ringing alarms, followed by a surprise "accidental" launch. Less than 2 seconds later, they're flying by a blurry Mount Fuji at 172 km/h before banking into a wide-radius curve, turning riders sideways so that they see the park grounds to their right and the sky to their left. This is immediately followed by a 90° vertical 17-story climb, and a hairpin turn at the peak that shoots riders straight down the backside for a 90° vertical 17-story free fall.
The ride uses 4 trains with 4 cars each and 2 seats side by side in each car, giving a total of 8 seats per train. Each train is meant to represent a different member of the family: father, mother, sister, and baby. Painted with a set of terrified eyes at the front and a mouth that stretches open into a giant scream so that teeth line the entire vehicle like bumpers, these trains look forever regretful to be riding the cold steel tracks of Dodonpa
The first roller coaster to use compressed air to launch its trains was Hypersonic XLC at Kings Dominion in Doswell, Virginia. Like Dodonpa, it was manufactured by S&S Worldwide and featured a similar 90° 16-story hump. It had a maximum height of 50 m (165 ft) and a maximum drop of 41 m (133 ft). It also included some distinct differences from its successor, Dodonpa. Hypersonic XLC's maximum speed was only 130 km/h (80 mph) which it reached in 1.8 seconds from rest. This means riders experienced significantly less G's. Also, the track was only 480 m (1,560 ft) long, about half as long as Dodonpa's track. Hypersonic XLC closed and was dismantled in 2007.
Typical roller coasters use a lift hill, to drag a train up an incline, and then allow the force of gravity and a steep drop accelerate the train. The idea behind Dodonpa, and Hypersonic XLC, was to leave the train at the bottom of the hill and give it enough initial acceleration to climb the hill on its own, through the use of compressed air. The engineer behind this concept was Stan Checketts, founder of S&S Worldwide. Checketts founded S&S Worldwide in 1994 with the simple concept of using an ample resource (air) to power thrill rides. This innovative concept led to the patented pneumatic launch that made Dodonpa famous and cemented S&S Worldwide's legacy in the roller coaster industry.
At first, they focused on tower rides, putting their own unique twist on the initial concept. Traditional tower rides raise riders to the top and release them into free fall, but S&S Worldwide took their tower rides a step further by adding upwards acceleration, as well. Their tower rides are well known for launching riders up at 4 G's, then dropping them back to the ground at 1 G. It occurred to Checketts that the same pneumatic technology could be laid on its side to launch a roller coaster on a horizontal plane, parallel to the ground, rather than straight up. Thus, the prototype for the world's first pneumatic launched roller coaster was created, and representatives from theme parks across the country flocked to Logan, Utah, S&S Worldwide's base, to witness the unveiling of Thrust Air 2000. The ride was a success; Checketts had discovered a highly-energy efficient, environmentally friendly way to have a smooth ride with an unheard of acceleration. Numerous theme parks fought to be the first to feature the novel roller coaster; in the end, Kings Dominion obtained the rights, and after slight modifications to the prototype, they opened Hypersonic XLC.
Dodonpa, was built shortly after, quickly overshadowing its predecessor with its high speeds and incredible launch acceleration which nearly doubled Hypersonic XLC's. It has been tested at speeds of up to 193 km/h, its rubber tires prevent it from performing reliably at these speeds, so engineers capped the speed at 172 km/h.
Despite the high speeds and huge acceleration, Dodonpa has reported only one injury and no fatalities in its 10 years running. The injury occurred on 15 May 2007, and the victim, a 37-year-old man sustained only a minor injury when a plastic cover at the front of the train came loose and hit his right knee. The park operator stated that the cover likely came off due to cracks created over time by vibrations in the train. And further inspection of the other trains showed no similar damage. Thankfully, the man was not badly hurt because the plastic cover disconnected near the end of the ride when the train had slowed down significantly.
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Superman: Escape from Krypton
Tower of Terror (tied)
|World's Fastest Roller Coaster
December 2001–May 2003
Top Thrill Dragster