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Roller Coaster Designer Job Description

Roller coaster designers, or design engineers, are employed by ride manufacturers or suppliers to collaborate with clients and engineers in other specialties to develop concepts and computer models of new rides. No single engineer designs an entire roller coaster alone -- it requires the expertise of electrical and electronic, civil, structural and mechanical engineers to develop every element from the concrete foundation to force prevention methods, such as restricting height to minimize riders' exposure to wind and gravitational forces.

Preparing for the Job

Roller coaster designer engineers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in an engineering discipline. They should be knowledgeable in science, mathematics and computer modeling. Some employers prefer candidates with experience in heavy machine design or in the theme park industry. For example, Adam House, a design engineer for Great Coasters International, earned a mechanical engineering degree and started working for the company in assembly, shipping and parts inventory before moving to the engineering office.

A Team Effort

Each member of the design team creates the aspect of the ride related to their specialization. Civil engineering designers determine the grade and type of concrete for foundations. Structural designers create the tracks and supporting aspects of the construction, like the ride's stability in extreme weather conditions. Mechanical designers focus on the systems and mechanisms of the ride from the drops and loops to the nuts, bolts and seats. Electrical and electronics designers make the computer program that times the ride’s departure and controls its speed.

Inception to Completion

All designer engineers follow guidelines established by studies of jet pilots, crash-test dummies and NASA astronauts to create rides that stay within the maximum force that people can withstand. They determine how high the ride goes, what the radius should be, and where to intertwine parts of the track so passengers won’t know what’s around the bend. They usually visit the ride’s intended location to finalize scale models and blueprints, and may supervise construction to make adjustments when needed. Most designers also help conduct trial runs for the ride and resolve last-minute issues.

Compensation and the Future

The College Foundation of North Carolina interviewed engineer Glenn Birket, who noted that roller coaster designer engineers earn salaries comparable to other occupations with that degree and amount of experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that civil engineers made a median annual salary of $79,340, as of May 2012. It notes that mechanical engineers earned a median annual income of $80,580, while electrical and electronics engineers earned a median wage of $89,630 per year, as of May 2012. According to the BLS, employment of mechanical and electrical and electronics engineers is expected to increase slower than average, while employment of civil engineers is projected to grow 20 percent, between 2012 and 2022.



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