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Vertical looping water slide, long thought impossible, in test phase

Looping water slide: Riders rocket at 50 mph at 6 Gs while encased inside a bullet-like capsule

A New Jersey water park that briefly opened the world’s first looping water slide in the 1980s plans to unveil a modern heir to the legendary ride long shrouded in myth and hyperbole.

Set to debut in summer 2016, the first-of-its-kind Sky Caliber vertical looping water slide at Action Park in Vernon, N.J., will rocket riders 50 mph through a 30-foot-tall loop at 6 Gs while encased inside a bullet-like capsule.

Action Park, about 90 minutes northwest of New York City, opened the Cannonball Loop vertical looping water slide for a week or so in 1985 but closed the attraction because of safety concerns.

Grainy VHS video footage posted online shows people emerging from the tight, circular loop during test runs on the short-lived slide. In the three decades since, Cannonball Loop has become the stuff of fantastic legends and notorious myths.

Vancouver, Canada-based WhiteWater West already produces an AquaLoop water slide featuring an inclined loop, which is really a 45- to 70-degree banked turn rather than an upside-down loop.

Since 2008, AquaLoops have been installed in Germany, China, Australia, Abu Dhabi and water parks across the United States.

The Cannonball Loop and the AquaLoop were instrumental in the development of the Sky Caliber slide designed by Vancouver, Canada-based Sky Turtle Technologies.

Adrian Duke, the chief executive of Sky Turtle, said his company learned from Cannonball Loop’s mistakes and implemented some key changes to make the once-impossible attraction viable.

Because AquaLoop’s manufacturer had locked up the patents on looping slides up to 70 degrees, Sky Turtle developed a 90-degree vertical loop concept, Duke said.

The result: A 90-foot-tall prototype slide built in partnership with Avalanche Waterslides in Carthage, Mo. More than 100 test runs have been conducted so far with a total of 500 needed before the companies and the water park seek state approval. Fabrication and installation of the slide is expected to take three months.

The central challenge facing any vertical looping water slide design is friction - caused by skin, bathing suits or riders who slow themselves down with their hands or feet. Without enough speed, you won’t make it through the loop.

Sky Turtle solved the friction problem by eliminating the human variable. Riders are enclosed inside an aluminum alloy-framed capsule that maintains constant contact with the flume via replaceable foam runners.

With a drag racing-style five-point harness, the first capsule prototype looked like a soap box derby car and felt like being strapped into a coffin.

The latest version of the capsule looks like a futuristic cross between a one-man submarine and a badminton cock shuttle. With a roller coaster-style lap-bar restraint, the new M40-URV capsule features a more open design with perforated safety screens that allow for better air and water flow.

Riders will climb inside the capsules while waiting in line at the top of the slide tower. With 10 capsules in rotation, Sky Turtle expects to be able to simultaneously load, unload and drop riders at a rate of 180 per hour.

The basic Sky Caliber slide starts at $1.4 million, but Sky Turtle is already dreaming up variations that add corkscrew twists, multiple inversions, Go-Pro camera mounts and a spiraling capsule that mimics the rotation of a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun.

The company hopes to set a world record with a 200-foot-tall slide that would surpass the 2012 Verruckt at Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kan.

Expect to hear a lot more about Sky Turtle looping water slides in the near future. The Travel Channel’s “Extreme Water Slides” reality show has already been out to the Missouri prototype site to film a segment for an upcoming episode and a handful of parks are already in discussions to open Sky Caliber looping slides in 2016 and beyond.

Action Park officials have not yet decided if the new slide will be called Cannonball Loop.

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