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Kingda Ka: The ultimate roller-coaster

Kingda Ka
Kingda Ka is the world's tallest and fastest roller-coaster

LONDON, England (CNN) -- For those who love nothing more than to feel their eyeballs popping out of their sockets, stomachs turning upside-down and hair standing on end, nothing quite beats a roller-coaster ride.

And of all the roller-coaster rides in the world, none is quite as hair-raising, eyeball-popping and stomach-churning as Kingda Ka in the U.S.

The main attraction at the Six Flags Great Adventure theme park in Jackson, New Jersey, Kingda Ka opened in May 2005, and is both the tallest and the fastest roller-coaster on the planet, a mantle it assumed from the previous record holder, the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point Amusement Park, Ohio.

Although the ride lasts a mere 50.6 seconds from start to finish, they are likely to be among the most terrifying -- and exhilarating -- 50.6 seconds of your life.

Along its 950 meter (3118 ft) length those brave enough to attempt Kingda Ka are first accelerated to a speed of 206 kms/hour (128 mph) before being launched 139 meters (456 ft) vertically into the air, plummeting 127 meters (418 feet) earthwards again in a 280 degree spiral, whooshing up and down over a 39 meter (129 foot) hill and eventually gliding to a halt at the coaster's end terminus.

While the statistics themselves are undeniably impressive, it is the awe-struck comments of those who have actually ridden the ride that give a real indication of Kingda Ka's unique, pulse-pounding qualities.

"It's by far the most exhilarating thing I've ever experienced," enthuses Justin Garvanovic, founder of the European Coaster Club and one of the first members of the public to ride Kingda Ka. "It makes you feel like you're six again. You just want to shout and scream and yell.

"I actually don't possess the vocabulary to adequately describe it."

His sentiments are echoed by Sam Marks, founder of the U.S.-based Coaster Zombies, who has to date ridden Kingda Ka 15 times.

"It can be pretty frightening," he admits. "If you're sitting in the front seat it's like sky-diving because you're going so fast the skin on your face starts to flap and ripple.

"At 120 miles per hour you sort of lose touch with reality. It's like you're floating or flying. I've never experienced anything like it. The whole thing is absolutely brilliant."

It's all a far cry from the early, more sedate days of roller-coastering.

The practice is generally considered to have originated with the 'ice-slides' of 17th century Russia -- fairground amusements which, as the name suggests, involved people riding up and down on sleds over slides made of ice.

Precisely when the first wheel-and-track roller-coaster appeared is a matter of considerable debate.

Some argue that the prototype was a ride built in 1784 for the Orienbaum Gardens in St. Petersburg, others that the first true roller-coasters were in fact a pair of French rides called "Les Promenades Aeriennes" (The Aerial Walks) and "Les Montagnes Russes" (The Russian Mountains), both constructed in 1817.

Either way, by the late 19th century, roller-coasters were well established as a popular form of entertainment on both sides of the Atlantic, and by 1920 the U.S. alone boasted an estimated 2,000 separate rides.

Speed
According to one fan, Kingda Ka goes so fast "the skin on your face starts to flap and ripple."

Thanks to the work of pioneering designers such as La Marcus Thompson, John Miller, John Pierce and, in modern times, John Wardley and Werner Stengel, the size, sophistication and technical complexity of coasters - not to mention their attendant thrill-factor - has steadily increased, culminating in the heart-stopping adrenaline-fest that is Kingda-Ka.

Designed and built by Swiss amusement ride specialists Intamin A.G. -- who were also responsible for the Top Thrill Dragster -- Kingda Ka has not been without its technical problems.

Less than a month after opening it was forced to shut down after a piece of its launch track became dislodged.

Despite that it remains, for the moment at least, the world's ultimate roller-coaster.

"The ultimate roller-coaster will probably never be built," says Justin Garvanovic. "But Kingda Ka probably gets as close as anyone has yet managed."

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