SAN ANTONIO, TX (CBS) -- Memorial Day weekend is less than two weeks away and this summer millions will head to the nation's amusement parks. One man is on a mission to re-design roller coasters.
For most people, riding a roller coaster doesn't involve a lot of thought, just a tight grip, nerves of steel and a lot of screams. But these massive structures don't build themselves; they're often born far from amusement parks deep in the imaginations of engineers like Larry Chickola.
As the chief engineer for the Six Flags amusement empire, he juggles the laws of physics, mathematical formulas and precise measurements to produce something decidedly un-scientific. He says, "My job is to make people happy ... and scream ... while they're having fun."
He's now regarded as a bit of a rock star in the roller coaster world, thanks to his knack for always dreaming up something new. Now-a-days, that includes going back to something very old.
Larry and his team did just that at Six Flags Over Texas, when they updated the 20-year old all-wood texas giant and turned it into the world's first hybrid coaster. He says, "We take the old structure which still was in good shape, but put a new track on it. The steel I-box track that's on the ride lets us put in some elements that are more exciting, steeper drops, overbanked turns."
Now Chickola intends to outdo himself taking the hybrid technology he perfected on the giant, and applying it to the 180 foot tall iron rattler at Six Flags Fiesta outside San Antonio like a zero-g barrel roll, making this the first hybrid coaster in the world to turn riders completely upside down.
To build it, Larry uses more than calculators and drafting tools, he also straps on climbing gear and harnesses. He says, "When we get up there, part of the work's going to be a repel over the side so we can get a look at some of the structure underneath us."
He insists on personally inspecting all of his new rides and sometimes there's only one way to do that.
To guarantee the ride's safety, its creator takes a few risks.
Now that the hard part is over, it's time to go to work. Chickola says, "Part of the construction process is doing some inspections, so we're gonna drop down on a tough-to-get-to part of the ride and take a look at some of the older wood, a little bit of the new construction and make sure everything looks good."
He goes on to say, "I love this because I get to do things like this, I get to build big things, that was the one thing that I really wanted to do. I wanted to build something that has a scale, you know, a really large scale and people love it and, they scream. That is one of the great parts of this job, is I get to be a kid, and kids love what I do, too."
Who says that mathematicians don't have any fun?