What is Roller Coaster Airtime?

What's Up With that Butterflies-in-Your-Stomach Sensation?

Kings-Island-Diamondback.jpg
••• Diamondback at Kings Island is a great example of a coaster filled with airtime. © Arthur Levine.

Airtime is an expression that roller coaster fans, ride manufacturers, and parks use to describe the sensation that passengers feel when they rise out of their seats during a ride. For a true coaster fan, airtime is coaster nirvana; for roller coaster wimps, the experience can be unnerving.

G (short for gravitational)-forces help to explain the phenomenon. When we are not riding coasters and going about our daily lives, we experience the earth's normal gravitational force.

Defined as 1G, it is the force that keeps us tethered to the ground. Without 1G, we'd lift into the air like a helium ballon. That helps explain the phenomenon of airtime.

Because of their design and elements, coasters exert both positive and negative Gs. Coaster riders experience anything greater than 1G (and some coasters briefly deliver bursts of 4Gs and more), or positive Gs, as a heaviness or pressure on their bodies. Anything less than 1G, or negative Gs, results in airtime.

Typically, coasters send riders rising out of their seats when a train crests a hill at high speeds. The train starts falling down the other side of the hill, but the objects inside of the train, namely the passengers, want to keep hurtling skyward. The upward forces momentarily overtake the earth's gravitational force, and riders experience airtime.

While it is often referred to as "negative Gs," it should be noted that the actual airtime forces on a coaster usually fall in the range between 0G and 1G.

Coaster elements such as "bunny hills" (a series of relatively small hills that follow one after another in a straight path) help promote airtime moments.

There are two general types of airtime: "floater" and "ejector." Floater air refers to the more gentle type during which riders slowly rise out of their seats and float above them.

It has also been described as a "butterflies-in-your-stomach" sensation. The more menacing sounding ejector air describes the sudden, somewhat violent burst of air that sends coaster riders slamming upwards into their restraints. There are fans of both (I'm partial to floater air).

Also Known As: Negative Gs, floater air, ejector air

Examples: Steel hypercoasters (rides with lifts hills of about 200 to 250 feet and no inversions) are designed for speed and airtime. Two of the best, and ones that deliver glorious pops of floater air are:

Wooden coasters are sometimes known for their ejector air. Two that offer plenty of airtime are:

More Roller Coaster Resources