Roller Coaster Tycoon

The Sky Rocket, Kennywood's newest thrill ride, opens this summer. Get to know the architect of terror who helped build it.

Every job has its ups and downs. His just has a few more—plus some twists, turns, loop-de-loops and 10-story plummets.

Matt Hyatt, of Moon Township, is Kennywood’s project manager—or at least that’s what’s printed on his business card. During any given day, he could go from a sales presentation to a board meeting to “drop everything—the concrete truck is here.” Hyatt is in the business of building roller coasters, both in the office and out on the construction site.

The latest project on his résumé is what the park calls a “fully caffeinated, double-shot adrenaline espresso on rails.” The Sky Rocket, Kennywood’s newest coaster, opens this month.

The ride rockets from zero to 50 mph in under three seconds, takes a full-throttle 95-foot vertical climb and then plunges 90 degrees due south. And that’s just the beginning. The Sky Rocket is also the park’s first roller coaster with inversions (sending riders on upside-down barrel rolls and corkscrews) since the Steel Phantom.

Hyatt, 39, started his career at Kennywood 20 years ago as a carpenter apprentice working on the Steel Phantom. When it was completed in 1991, this 80-mph, four-loop roller coaster had the longest drop and fastest speed of any coaster in the world. Hyatt and his fellow workers enjoyed first dibs on taking it for a ride. Pre-public riding privileges are definitely a job perk—after the test dummies get their turn, of course.

Hyatt spends Kennywood’s off-season months listening to sales pitches from roller-coaster manufacturing companies, which all have their own vision for the park’s next big thrill. Premier Rides, of Millersville, Md., builders of the Sky Rocket, was one of three companies whose designs were considered for the project. Hyatt and his team weigh the gravity-defying options then present them to Kennywood’s top brass for a final decision.

From there, Hyatt is busy lining up subcontractors, bringing in steel erectors and overseeing carpenters. Often, he throws on a hard hat and boots to get his hands dirty on the work site. Despite 2,100 feet of track, the Sky Rocket’s construction took only about a year. Hyatt is also responsible for making sure your Kennywood experience is as magical as it was when you were 6 years old, paying attention to every detail—from the shine of the carousel ponies to the paint jobs of the paddleboats.

Stratospheric drops aside, Hyatt says that the best thing about his job is being part of one of Pittsburgh’s most cherished traditions.

“Everyone from Pittsburgh knows Kennywood, loves Kennywood,” Hyatt says. “It feels good to be able to look up into the sky and say, ‘Yeah, we built that.’”

Thrill-seekers won’t want to miss the Sky Rocket’s launch this month. Hyatt promises that riders will be head over heels. Literally.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Sports