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Mark Rose's Roller Coaster Designs Push Limits of Science, Have Busch Gardens' Park Guests Screaming with Delight

Tuesday, June 02, 2015
Mark Rose standing on one of his roller coasters.

ON TOP OF HIS WORLD: Mark Rose, vice president of design and engineering for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, stands atop a peak for one of the many roller coasters that he has help bring to the popular Florida theme park. (Photos courtesy of Busch Gardens)

As vice president of design and engineering for Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Mark Rose has never desired to build the fastest, tallest, or longest roller coaster. Rather, the Rose-Hulman alumnus is most concerned with giving riders an exhilarating experience that has them coming back for more.

His latest thrilling adventure, the Falcon's Fury, is doing just that. North America's tallest freestanding drop tower provides a spellbinding ride that over the course of nearly one minute takes 32 riders 335 feet into the air before rotating all seats 90 degrees downward to have everyone staring in a face-down position. An instant later, there's a descent that returns to the ground within six seconds, reaching speeds up to 60 mph during the fall-giving people a sense of skydiving while living up to its bird of prey namesake.

If that wasn't enough, there's SheiKra, a dive coaster sending riders on a breathtaking three-minute, half-mile journey through a simultaneous loop and roll, a vertical drop into an underground tunnel, and a splash down finale. Or, how about Cheetah Hunt, a unique triple launch coaster that begins by putting people inches away from the world's fastest land animals before strapping in for a ride racing along the ground and offering twists and turns through a rocky gorge.

"The experience is the key to creating a great ride," says the 1972 civil engineering graduate. "There should be moments when you're scared out of your mind and times when you're screaming at the top of your lungs. Then, at the end, you can't wait to do it all over again."

Rose has been creating those experiences for 33 years in overseeing the conception, development, construction, and renovation of nearly every attraction across the 300-acre family adventure park, a popular Florida destination which features rides, a 12,000-animal zoo, and other amenities.

"I love everything about my job. There's nothing more satisfying than making others happy," he says.

And, as Rose explains, there are several aspects of science and engineering behind creating those unforgettable experiences. The mathematics behind new rides and the forces on the body are calculated by computers, and simulations help duplicate the riding experience before millions are invested on a new attraction. Calculations consider the number of guests on each ride, the number of riding experiences within each day, the space requirements for each ride, and the structural foundation required for the more than one million pounds of steel and thousands of bolts holding a ride together. Extensive testing had to prove that the Falcon's Fury could withstand possible hurricane-force conditions.

Mark Rose Falcons Fury

RIDE OF THEIR LIFE: Mark Rose's latest project, Falcon's Fury, is North America's tallest freestanding tower at 335 feet. It plunges riders straight down, at speed approaching 60 mph, in less than six seconds.

Then, always desiring to enhance the guest's park experience, Rose and his team of engineers have incorporated several innovative concepts revolutionizing an industry that is constantly pushing the limits. For instance, they worked with manufacturers to revolutionize zoo displays worldwide by creating specially designed crystal clear 2-inch laminated glass (similar to jewelry store showcases) to bring people closer to viewing gorillas and chimpanzees in the animal kingdom's naturalistic rainforest habitat.

"While computer modeling and simulations have taken over many aspects of the roller coaster industry, I still like to employ old-time methods of paper, scale models, and scratching in the dirt," Rose admits.

The dive coaster SheiKra was envisioned to replicate riding a barrel over Niagara Falls, and the idea for Cheetah Hunt came after Rose watched the sixth episode of Star Wars, where on the planet of the Ewoks, they steal two speeders and go racing through the forest, zooming under fallen trees, and remaining as close to the ground as possible.

These experiences can take three to seven years from original concept to full-scale design, testing, and construction before opening day. That's when Rose can be found riding, with members of his family, in the front car for the very first journey of each new ride since 1982, when he joined Busch Gardens as a project manager. Ironically, Rose has been in the last car whenever a ride was retired.

After all, he truly appreciates the roller coaster experience. Desiring to keep Busch Gardens Tampa Bay on top of the competitive industry, Rose once took his family on a 17-day vacation to ride every coaster in 17 theme parks. Another adventure had the family visiting 10 parks in 10 days throughout California.

Engineering has a rich history in the Rose family. His father, Willis, was a 1947 Rose-Hulman mechanical engineering alumnus. But the son didn't want to design cars or build bridges, and amusement parks had held a fascination since his first childhood trip. At 22, Mark Rose was hired as city engineer for his hometown of Connersville, Indiana, and he spent five years building parks and playgrounds, along with other community projects. He then was recruited to be public works director in Alexandria, Louisiana, which had a zoo. Later, he noticed a newspaper advertisement for a project manager position at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and thought it would be his ideal job.

It has been. Now, Rose oversees an operation with nearly 185 employees covering all aspects of engineering, park maintenance, and landscaping. He is the last employee to leave the park each evening.

"It's an interesting industry. Fifty percent of my job is looking into the future; 50 percent is building that future," he says. "It's our job to bring family and friends together, and help people escape the stresses of everyday life."

The experience is the key to creating a great ride. There should be moments when you're scared out of your mind and times when you're screaming at the top of your lungs. Then, at the end, you can't wait to do it all over again.

Mark Rose, Civil Engineering, 1972
Vice President of Design and Engineering
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

The Secrets to Designing A Great Roller Coaster

Mark Rose Cheetah Hunt

Fun-Filled Adventure: Busch Gardens' Cheetah Hunt is a unique triple launch coaster that simulates the speed of the world's fastest land animals, with several twists and turns through a rocky gorge.

Mark Rose offers his guiding principles to designing a thrilling roller coaster:

  • It has to look intimidating and a little scary before you even get on the ride.
  • It has to be a pleasant riding experience that people want to repeat. Guests can't be too beat up or jostled around--the transitions have to be perfect.
  • Every feature in the ride has to look like it's supposed to be right there, not an added attraction. "That's a tough geometry problem," he says.
  • Obey the "Grandma Rose Rule," having a place for grandma to sit and watch so she can feel integrated into the excitement of her grandchildren going on the ride.