Roller coaster design is a dream job for creative people who love a thrill and are interested in engineering, physics and entertainment. The job can be hard to get. According to Salary.com, about 100 roller coaster design companies operate in the United States. However, this number is growing as the number of amusement parks (and roller coasters) increases nationwide.
Roller coaster designers often have backgrounds in physics, design, engineering or architecture. No school in the United States specifically trains roller coaster designers. Those students interested in this field should take courses related to the design of roller coasters, such as advanced math, physics, engineering and drafting. Because of the scarcity of roller coaster design jobs, excellent grades in related fields are often crucial to be considered for these positions.
Roller coaster designers often oversee the entire process of building a coaster, usually from its inception. Once commissioned by an amusement park to build a custom ride, the designer--often along with a team--will determine whether the coaster will be suspended, looping, or straight; whether the design will incorporate water, tunnels, or straight drops; and how tall and long the ride will be. The design team will also take the characteristics of the park into consideration, including the landscape, surrounding view, capacity and popularity of the park.
Roller coaster designers are sometimes charged with designing not only the coaster, but the stations and controls that manipulate the ride as well. It is the responsibility of the roller coaster design team to ensure the ride is safe, and to determine the ride's speed and weight limits.
If you're getting a degree and you're interested in roller coaster design, you may want to consider majoring in physics or engineering (structural, architectural, mechanical or electrical). Courses in drafting may also be helpful.
Few jobs are available in roller coaster design, and design firms tend to have a low turnover rate. Working at an amusement park operating roller coasters may give you an edge when applying for a job as a roller coaster designer. An internship at a design firm would likely provide excellent--and highly relevant--experience.
Facts and Figures
Roller coaster engineers can expect to make £29,250 to £52,000 U.S. a year. With about 100 roller coaster design firms in the US, there are fewer that 1,000 positions as a roller coaster designer available. Entry-level positions in roller coaster design, either assisting designers or drafting, offer about £19,500 a year.
Aside from designers, there are many other positions in the roller coaster design field. Coasters are often conceptualised and built by a team made up of many types of design professionals. A roller coaster design team often includes an electrical engineer, a mechanical engineer, a drafting engineer and one or more structural designers. Drafters, which are often considered entry-level positions, are also a necessary component of the team.