Got the need for speed? Over the past couple of decades extreme roller coasters have evolved into the ultimate excitement machines. They blast off quicker than a Formula 1 car, spiral through the air upside-down, loop-the-loop, complete multiple inversions - and the ride lasts just a couple of minutes.
Japan's Do-Dodonpa at Fuji-Q Highland air-launched coaster blasts passengers from zero to 180 km/h in 1.56 seconds. That's about as fast as an F/A-18 Hornet catapulted off the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, but the Do-Dodonpa might have pushed the human skeleton beyond its limits.
The ride, which opened in 2001, was closed last month after several passengers reported neck and backbone fractures caused by those extreme take-offs.
A spokesperson said the ride had been investigated and no issues were found, but pointed out that passengers were supposed to maintain contact with the head and backrests and that some injured parties "may have leaned forward" during the ride.
It might seem like an extreme experience - where you can break your bones simply by not leaning the right way - but Do-Dodonpa is just one of the many extreme roller coasters around the world that are pushing thrill rides to the limit.
Here are some of the world's most extreme roller coaster rides.
Kingda Ka, Six Flags Great Adventure, New Jersey, USA
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New Jersey's Six Flags has a hot-forged reputation for thrills, and Kingda Ka, named after a mythical Bengal tiger, doesn't disappoint. At the end of the first straight, just five seconds after launch and travelling at over 200 km/h, the carriage bolts skywards to climb a 139 metre tower, crests the hump, turns nose down and spirals as it heads back to earth. The entire ride lasts 50 seconds. Half of that is brake time, but you probably won't want for more. Kingda Ka is an accelerator coaster model, launched by a winch system powered by hydraulic turbines capable of unleashing up to 15.5 MW, 25 times more powerful than a Ferrari 812 Superfast, the most powerful Ferrari ever built.
Gravity Max, Discovery World, Taichung, Taiwan
Maximum speed 90 km/h? Max height 35 metres? Meh – so yesterday you might think, but Gravity Max is a wolf in sheep's clothing. The ride begins with a sedate uphill section followed by a short horizontal straight track and there the carriage halts. Before you is a sheer drop with no track, and then you begin to tilt. And tilt, until you're suspended vertically on the world's only tilting roller coaster. Finally your track pivots to lock into another section and you're released to hurtle downwards, corkscrewing through a series of curves including a 360-degree loop helix rotation until finally you can unclench those abs and breathe again.
Takabisha, Fuji-Q Highland, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan
Want to view the world upside-down? For twists and turns, the spaghetti-like Takabisha track, also at Fuji-Q Highland, delivers a stomach-churning ride like no other. It begins with a slow roll through pitch black tunnels with a drop and a twist before emerging into daylight for a series of warm-up loops and an inversion. In the second half of the ride, the carriage climbs to a modest 43 metres, teeters for a moment at the apex and then drops at an angle of 121 degrees, the steepest drop of any roller coaster. In free-fall, you're not only facing down but backwards. Connoisseurs will appreciate that a drop angle greater than 90 degrees is the unique feature of the Gerstlauer Euro-Fighter roller coaster. The rest of us will merely scream.
Formula Rossa, Ferrari World Abu Dhabi
Hold on tight because when you strap yourself into the Formula Rossa carriage, the hiss of hydraulics signals the start of the world's fastest roller coaster ride. The 2.2 kilometre trip aboard this track-gobbling monster lasts barely one minute but your adrenal glands will be working overtime. The acceleration is mind-blowing. This is a "launched" roller coaster, propelled to take-off by the same system of catapults used to launch fighter jets on aircraft carriers. Top speed is 240 km/h and the Ferrari Rossa gets you there in just under five seconds. After the initial climb the carriage banks to near-vertical, centrifugal forces keeping it glued to the track as passengers experience life at 4.8Gs, close to blackout force.
Sky Scream, Holiday Park, Hassloch, Germany
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The creation of a truly dark mind, Sky Scream offers a few refinements that set it apart. Leave the terminal and you climb the first loop but then halfway the carriage stops – and then slides backwards, back through the terminal and up another hill before accelerating in a charge, looping upside-down through a helix and finally back to the terminal, backwards once again. Rather than speed, Sky Scream opts for lingering terror, scrubbing speed to leave you hanging in your harness and turning twists on the ups as well as the down wars sections. This is a Sky Rocket II model and it incorporates elements of the super vortex ride that originally stood on the site.
Yukon Striker, Canada's Wonderland, Ontario, Canada
The world's highest and fastest dive coaster, the Yukon Striker hoists you up to 75 metres, slows and then teasingly suspends you vertically over a 75 metre drop for a few seconds before rushing down at 130 km/h into an underwater tunnel. On the far side it rises before making an Immelmann loop, a 180 degree change of direction with an inversion for good measure. That's followed by a loop, another Immelmann turn and a 360-degree twist through the helix. The 3½ minute ride has four upside-downs, carriages are floorless for added terror and riders will experience zero gravity, for a whole lot less than Richard Branson will charge for a ride aboard Virgin Galactic.
The Smiler, Alton Towers, Staffordshire, UK
Photo: Getty Images
With a total of 14 inversions, this 2½ minute ride flips you topsy turvy more times than any other coaster. After the initial ascent the action is fast and furious, with corkscrews and inversions following in quick succession. A highlight is the batwing inversion, a heart-shaped section of track that flips riders into two quick inversions. There's a Joker-like feel to the experience, with maniacal laughter echoing through the dark tunnel at the start of the ride.
One of the challenges facing designers of the Gerstlauer infinity coaster was the need to fit the 1.17km track into a tight space. That means plenty of tight loops and G-forces up to 4.5. Top speed is just 85 km/h yet the pretzel-like track makes it feel much faster.