A day in the life

Aug. 1, 2008
David Collins,Amusement Ride EngineerTEAM IXNewbury Park, California What kind of background do you have? I've worked in the amusement ride industry for

David Collins,
Amusement Ride Engineer
Newbury Park, California

What kind of background do you have?

I've worked in the amusement ride industry for 25 years. Prior to going into this field, I spent 28 years working in the aerospace and high-tech commercial world. Although I was trained as an electrical engineer, I found that I needed to be a mechatronic engineer to design and build amusement rides. I'm still honing those mechatronic skills. Along my career path, I was elevated to Senior Member level status at the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).

How did you go from rockets to roller coasters?

Earlier in my career, I worked at Caltech/JPL (California Institute of Technology, Jet Propulsion Laboratory) as a designer of the flight sequencer/controller for the Ranger spacecraft and Vega launch vehicle. That work was the first step in getting spacecraft near the moon, setting up the subsequent lunar landing. So, I can truly say I am a “rocket scientist.” One day while I was working on an advanced commercial laser system, I got a call from Walt Disney Imagineering. They were looking for someone who understood commercial lasers. What kid wouldn't want to play in that sandbox?

My transition into the world of amusement rides was a total immersion. I was part of the team that opened the ride for the Horizons Pavilion at Epcot. I also helped design and test the Hydrolators — elevators that create the sensation of descending to the ocean floor — for the Living Seas Pavilion. Later, as director of engineering at Showscan Films, I was instrumental in bringing large motion simulators into the amusement experience. That effort resulted in being a named inventor on three motion simulator patents. Over the years since becoming an Imagineer, I've built my own consulting business doing ride and amusement park projects all over the world.

What's a typical day for you?

My workday begins early enough to communicate with my clients in Europe and on the East Coast. A typical day might include meeting with amusement ride manufacturers, providing solutions to codes and standards compliance, developing functional specifications for a new ride, creating training classes for ride inspectors, or doing a forensic assessment of an amusement ride accident. A lot of my work is overseas, so a day could be in Turkey, Tunisia, Korea, Japan, Italy, Canada, or even in my home office. I travel more than 100,000 miles a year and I don't ever plan to retire. I'm having way too much fun doing what I love to do.

Tell us about a recent accomplishment.

Right now, I'm working on several amusement industry projects. The most challenging and personally significant is developing products based on a patent I filed on Specialized Restraint Systems for Amusement Rides. Guest safety is a passion of mine. Hopefully this new restraint system will help make amusement riders more secure.

What keeps you busy outside of amusement parks?

My wife and I love to experience diverse cultures. Over the years I've traveled to all seven continents, including Antarctica. I've lived in Korea, Scotland, and Turkey and my wife has traveled with me through Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Kenya, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Germany, England, Scotland, Japan, and China. I love to cook — French Provincial as well as traditional foods of the countries I've visited. Another passion is classical music. I also enjoy my family of five children, 10 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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