For most of us, summer means one thing: fun. And plenty of people seek out that fun on roller coasters and in amusements parks around the world. In fact, these venues are more popular than ever. According to the Themed Entertainment Association, attendance at these entertainment meccas continues to grow, with almost 400 million people visiting the top 10 theme park groups every year.

Of course, none of that would happen without the awe-inspiring attractions. With that in mind, we chatted with a man responsible for making many of those thrill rides possible. Bill Kitchen, 62, founder of U.S. Thrill Rides, talks to us about the unlikely way he got his start, teaching a president to skydive and what inspired him to dream up his latest thrill ride, the Polercoaster (also known as The Skyscraper in Orlando, Florida), which will be the tallest roller coaster in the world.

Q: Being a roller coaster designer is a very unusual profession. How do you describe what you do?
Well, the papers down here in Florida refer to me as an “inventioneer” and I guess that’s what I am, since I dream up fun and unforgettable experiences for people, then put together a team to make them a reality.

Bill Kitchen, Roller Coaster Designer
Curious fact: Bill Kitchen taught President George H.W. Bush how to skydive.

Q: How did you get into the business of designing thrill rides?
When I turned 40, I went through a midlife crisis. Until then, I lived a very low-risk lifestyle, working in the broadcasting business and never doing anything adventurous. To shake things up, on my birthday, I did my very first skydive. The moment I leaped from the plane with that chute on my back, I was hooked. There was something about falling through the sky that filled me with adrenaline. After that, I started skydiving as often as I could, then branched out into other thrill-seeking experiences, like hot-air ballooning, acrobatic aircraft flying and more.

Q: It’s one thing to engage in those types of activities on a personal level, but how did you “go pro,” so to speak, and start designing thrill rides?
The more I brought this extreme excitement into my life, the more I began to examine rides, specifically coasters, and imagine ways they could be improved. I couldn’t help but envision the possibilities of creating more exciting and terrifying experiences, but also, ones that were more efficient and safer. At a certain point, I had so many ideas swimming in my head I decided to put together a team of engineers to draw up plans. Eventually, that led to my very first creation, The SkyCoaster. Next came the IFLY, which went on to become the world’s best-selling ride.

Q: Tell us about those rides.
The SkyCoaster, also known as the Ripcord or Xtreme SkyFlyer at certain parks, is a safe alternative to bungee jumping. Riders in groups of 1 to 3 are winched to the top of a launch tower, then dropped toward the ground, swinging from a cable tether back and forth until coming to a rest. People love the experience and it can be found in over 120 parks around the world, from Six Flags to Paramount, MGM Grand and more.

As for the IFLY, it’s a recreational wind tunnel that gives people the sensation of flight without planes or parachutes, through the force of wind moving upward at approximately 120 mph, which is the terminal velocity of a falling human body. It feels like skydiving.

Q: Speaking of the skydiving and wind tunnel experience, is it true you once taught a U.S. President how to skydive?
Yes, I taught President Bush Senior. That was lots of fun and a great honor to watch a President learning from something I designed.

Q: What ride are you most proud of?
Up until now, I’ve been most proud of IFLY. But I have the highest hopes and expectation for our latest creation, the Polercoaster.

Q: How did you dream up the idea for the Polercoaster, or what Orlando is calling “The Skyscraper”?
First, we always want to create a new experience that’s going be unlike anything we’ve done before. But there’s also the practical challenge of coming up with something that requires a small amount of land space, since current coasters spread out over acres. That creates a challenge in places like the Vegas Strip or Atlantic City, where there are lots of people but limited land. So that’s how we came up with the idea of a coaster that is built around a pole, rising up over 500 feet in the air.

Q: Sounds scary! What will the experience be like for the people riding it?
I imagine there will be lots of screaming, for one! The unique design is going to make for more incredible, heart-pounding, inside and outside loops, dives, spirals and inversions in a vertical area than riders have ever before experienced. And not only will it take them higher than ever before on a coaster, but it’s going to move from one thrill right into the next so there’s no downtime. So like I said, lots of screaming.

Q: And when you hear people screaming on your rides, how does it make you feel?
It makes me smile.

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