Sunday, December 4, 2016

3, 2, 1, Zero... Twirl!

Spacewhirl 1962

For all out fun that can take you past the edge of nausea, there really isn't anything that can beat a Teacup ride, plus it doesn't require anywhere near the footprint of a roller coaster.

Arrow took the teacup to upper stratospheric heights in 1962 at the Seattle Worlds Fair, where nearly every thing had a space theme, including the Spacewhirl.

Arrow would do teacup style rides for Disneyland, Freedomland, Knott's Berry Farm and Santa's Village, each with a different theme. Ed Morgan's son Dana, also an amusement ride legend, recalls being used as a child test dummy during the development phase. Karl Bacon said it was his favorite ride and that he loved to watch it spin around.

Mad Hatter, Sombreros and Snowballs

The design of the teacup ride goes back to at least the early 1920's, when Giacomo Mongrillo filed for a patent on an Amusement Apparatus which featured 12 small enclosed seats rotating around two axes simultaneously.  A close look shows that the rotating platform was powered by a crown and pinion gear and underneath the table was a series or rack and pinion gears (35) which would influence the rotation of the four spindles which carried the cups. All in all a recipe for rider dis-orientation on steroids.

US1520592 - 1924

Innovations continue to this day; In 2012 Disney Enterprises filed for a patent on an Amusement park ride with multiple vertical rotation axes combined with vertical translation motion - US 8678940B2.
By the way, Walt Disney's Teacups patent was for the ornamental design on the outside of the cabins and their shape, not the mechanism that made them move.

The original concept for theTea Cups had the Mad Hatter's dinner table in the center with decorations all around. Some of these ideas were incorporated later, such as the Japanese garden lanterns shown in Yesterland's image below;

Harold Streeter's 1962 article in the San Jose Mercury News described the experience of riding on the Space Whirl;

"Passengers in the space whirl cups stay on the ground, but by manipulating the wheel, the driver can create an astronaut takeoff sensation of being pressurized by several times their own weight and control their own spin while "in orbit."

When I first read this I thought it was a bit of a stretch, but after pondering on the physics of the ride, I realized it's not too far off. To understand this we have to go a few blocks down the street from Arrow's Mountain View site to the NASA Ames Research Center, for whom Arrow had also done work in the late 50's. Ames was the home of one of NASA's High G Training Facilities, with a 60 foot diameter centrifuge capable of generating 20 g's of force.

NASA's 20 G Twirler

In 1960, NASA was experiencing teething troubles with their Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket. The first flights were trial runs with chimpanzees. They went a little too high and fast, loading the monkeys to almost 15 g's during re-entry, but during the launch phase the force was a tamer 6 g's.

Could the Space Whirl ride live up to the claim of "creating the sensation of being launched into orbit"?  Arrow's 1961 Space Whirl ride data sheet claimed the rider could create up to 5 G's.  In later years a magnetic clutch/brake would help keep forces to a more reasonable level.

So the next time you decide to walk past the Mad Hatter's Tea Party because it's just a kiddie ride in Fantasyland - take a second look. Those may be future space rangers in training.

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