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The Science Behind the Magic: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

The Disney Imagination Campus team
by The Disney Imagination Campus team

Howdy, partners! In honor of National Roller Coaster Day, we’re exploring how physics creates the thrilling dips, twists, and turns on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad! 

Today, we are going to focus on a few concepts related to inertia! Take a look at the science behind the magic to see how airtime and G-forces make Big Thunder Mountain Railroad the wildest ride in the wilderness!


What is it? Airtime occurs due to inertia, and on a roller coaster, it makes you feel as though you are being lifted out of your seat.

How do we use it? As you rapidly crest the hill, your body continues its upward acceleration until the force of gravity and the ride vehicle pulls you back down as it begins its descent. At the top of the hill, the upward vertical acceleration helps to counteract the downward forces, therefore you briefly feel lighter. 

Where do we use it? You experience airtime in action on this thrilling attraction as you come down the other side of the giant hill. Yeehaw!

Positive & Lateral G-Forces

What is it? Like airtime, positive and lateral G-forces are also due to inertia. On a roller coaster, positive g’s make you feel as though are being pushed down toward the bottom and back of your seat, and lateral g’s make you feel like you are being pushed from side to side.

How do we use it? While experiencing the attraction, your body is in motion headed downward toward the bottom of the hill until the track forces you and the ride vehicle to go upward. The downward vertical acceleration is added to the force of gravity making your body feel heavier. When you rapidly travel through a curve, your body wants to continue in a straight line of motion, but the ride vehicle turns to complete the curve, so your body is pushed from side-to-side by lateral forces.

Where do we use it? As you speed through the railroad track, you’ll feel positive g’s in the dip between two hills and lateral g’s in the tight turns and curves. Hold on tight, and get ready for a wild ride!

So, next time you experience any of our Disney Parks mountains, be sure to keep an eye out for physics in action! 

Ready to learn more? Check out the Properties of Motion Physics Lab at Walt Disney World Resort or the Disneyland Resort for a discovery behind the magic at some of our most popular attractions for a real-world application of physics, gravity, and much more. 

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