Coaster Stock 2010 Recap Pt. 2: Q&A with Bob Mampe of B&M

This is the continuation of my coverage of Coaster Stock 2010 at Carowinds. During lunch, we were treated to a Q&A session with Bob Mampe from Bolliger & Mabillard. I’ve paraphrased the questions and responses below. In hindsight, I should have video taped the session, but I think that I’ve been able to summarize the bulk of the Q&A session. The picnic area where the session was held was right next to Intimidator. It made a fitting background, but it was also hard to hear his responses occasionally as trains roared by.

Bob Mampe opened the Q&A session with a thank you to us, the roller coaster enthusiasts. He sharedBob Mampe from Bolliger & Mabillard that our passion is what has driven Bolliger & Mabillard for years. Decades ago, Mampe came to Walter Bolliger explaining that coaster enthusiasts wanted an outside loop. He sketched out an idea of how that would work and years later we were given a new type of roller coaster in the successful inverted roller coasters that are common today. Later, enthusiasts were saying that “B&M couldn’t do airtime”. The company went to the drawing board and gave us the critically acclaimed Apollo’s Chariot and the nine mega coasters (their name for this model) that followed. After thanking us, Mampe opened the floor up to questions.

It had been announced earlier in the day that Nighthawk, a Vekoma flying coaster was down for the day and wouldn’t be available for that night’s exclusive ride time as advertised. A disgruntled guest yelled out, “Why isn’t Nighthawk working?” Mampe joked, “Because it isn’t a B&M!” The audience erupted with laughter and applause. Then he said he honestly didn’t know. Here’s a summary of the Q&A that followed:

Will you ever do another launch coaster?
I couldn’t hear the full response, but the short answer was: “Yes. You could see that again.”

What projects are you currently working on?
Mampe said that he couldn’t give details, but their newest coasters are in Asia and Europe. We can deduce that he’s referring to X-Raptor at Gardaland and the Flying Coaster coming to China. Of course there could be more on the way too. I want to thank reader Gordy for sending me a note Bob Mampe and The Coaster Criticabout the flyer coming to China. That one had slipped past my radar.

Is there a limit to how high a B&M coaster could go and drop?
There is no limit for the longest drop that a B&M coaster could do. I would imagine by this, Mampe means that they don’t know of a limit. There must be some limit. Maybe they haven’t explored it, because there aren’t any parks asking for 500′ tall roller coasters.

Are theme parks moving away from looping roller coasters?
This was an interesting question. Mampe said that it basically depends on enthusiasts. By that, I’m assuming that he meant demand.

What kind of education background should I focus on to be a roller coaster designer?
To summarize his answer, Mampe said that you would need a mathematics background to be a coaster designer.

Will Bolliger & Mabillard ever do a [another] wooden roller coaster?
Mampe hesitated. Then stated that they had done one before, but they are not interested in doing wooden roller coasters. He didn’t seem to want to elaborate.

Intimidator's Helix

Below are the questions that I asked during the Q&A session:
What are your favorite projects?
He answered that he liked Intimidator. And also mentioned that he liked working on Raptor at Cedar Point and Hydra at Dorney.

How did B&M get to where they were engineering their rides to leave only 3/16th of an inch of space between the wheels and the tracks?
He shared that B&M has always focused on the precise execution of their designs. Via a proprietary method they are able to allow only millimeters of tolerance. He went on to share that the shorter (four across) vehicles and their precise engineering methods led to their smooth ride in the past. When he mentioned the need for shorter vehicles he was speaking in the past tense. This may be a reference to the fact that the new cars on Intimidator (with the winged seating placement) are actually longer vehicles than on older similar coasters like Nitro and Raging Bull.

Tell us about the consulting process that you have with the parks.
He said that theme parks typically come with something in mind, but it’s a collaborative process between the parks and B&M. They’ll create designs and ask the parks what they think. Later, Mampe shared that there’s “no one author on a roller Hydra's Jojo Roll - Dorney Parkcoaster” in explaining how Hydra’s Jojo roll (pictured right) and Hulk’s first loop came to be. They were elements that came about during the design process in a collaborative way.

Afterwards, Bob Mampe was nice enough to take questions one-on-one and even pose for pictures. I followed up with a few more questions.

Reader Question About Restraints
I asked him about the weird restraint issue that some of my readers had experienced on B&Ms. I explained that they had experienced the restraints lifting up a notch during their rides. Mampe replied that the restraints were being held down by their weight at first. Then, during the ride they may have lifted up a bit, but were still between clicks.

Grasping for X-Raptor Info
I had to do my job and ask him if he could give me any information on their new design in Gardaland’s X-Raptor. He said that he couldn’t comment about it.

Big Take-Away #1: There’s No One Author
Enthusiasts often wonder how roller coasters come to be and we try to guess what type of ride parks will add next. Mr. Mampe’s explanation of the design and consulting process re-emphasized the collaborative nature of designing a roller coaster. His example of the Jojo roll on Hydra reminded me of my interview with Louis Alfieri of Universal. Alfieri helped design Hollywood: Rip Ride Rocket. He shared that there were elements like the vertical lift, treble clef, and non-inverting loop that several people on a team collaborated on. Read the full interview.
Griffon's Splash Finale - Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Another collaboration that came to mind was in the creation of Griffon. On the Busch Gardens’ Roller Coaster Tour I learned that B&M told Busch Gardens that Griffon’s trains would be too heavy for the layout of the ride. B&M could change the layout OR do something they hadn’t done by removing the floors on a dive coaster train. They opted for the latter and ended up with a World’s first.

Big Take-Away #2: Roller Coaster Designers Listen to Enthusiasts
With some of the ridiculous and insane things that we enthusiasts say on the Web, at first, it was a little surprising to me that companies like B&M are actually listening to us. But as Bob Mampe explained, our passion fuels their innovation and can actually direct them like in the cases of the inverted roller coaster and B&M’s brand of hyper coasters. While at the end of the day, a new roller coaster ultimately comes down to what theme parks are looking for, it was still fascinating to hear that Bolliger & Mabillard has developed new rides based on the interest in the enthusiasts community.

Thanks again to Bob Mampe for participating in the Q&A session and for taking the time to take my questions afterwards.

Joel Meets Joel
During lunch, I met Joel from the long-running roller coaster image site, I’d emailed him a few times over the years, but it was cool to finally meet him in person. I talked with him about his recent travels and his take on some of the newer roller coasters. He’s got somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 roller coasters under his belt and his great theme park photography site has been around for 10 years!

What’s Your Take?
What do you think of the Bob Mampe Q&A session? Leave a comment below.