Shore Leave 41 Guest: Mark Sumner

Mark Sumner
Mark will be speaking about:

Mark has spent forty years designing large scale amusement rides. He retired as Executive Ride Project Engineer from Walt Disney Imagineering in 2018 where he spent over twenty-six years inventing, developing and building ride systems for some of Disney's biggest theme park attractions. He was the principle ride engineer for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ (Florida, California, Paris), Test Track (Florida), Grizzly River Run (California), Soarin' (California, Florida, Shanghai, Tokyo), Radiator Springs Racers (California), Roaring Rapids (Shanghai), Pirates of the Caribbean (Shanghai, Paris) and Guardians of the Galaxy (California). He has been a contributor to numerous other Disney attractions including Norway Pavilion (Florida), It's a Small World (California, Paris), Splash Mountain (California, Florida, Tokyo), Blizzard Beach water park (Florida), Kali River Rapids (Florida) and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (California). Mark was the first recipient of Walt Disney Imagineering's Spirit of Innovation Award.

Early in his engineering career he worked designing petrochemical plants, cryogenic heat exchangers, and nuclear fuel handling systems. In the mid-eighties he was Senior Mechanical Engineer for the development of the W. M. Keck Telescope and Observatory; a joint project between Caltech and the University of California to build the world's largest optical telescope. Mark spent four years at Caltech doing design work and two years in Hawai`i assembling and commissioning the telescope and observatory atop 14,000-foot Maunakea.

Mark has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from California State Polytechnic University and is a multi-state Licensed Professional Engineer. Although retired, he continues consulting in the fields of both amusement rides and large optical telescopes.

Mark will speak about two topics this year: "Engineering Iconic Rides for Disney Theme Parks" and "Building the World's Largest Telescope."

Engineering Iconic Rides for Disney Theme Parks

Shortly after Disneyland opened in 1955, Disney implemented a ticket book system where one would purchase a park admission and get a book containing an assortment of individual tickets that would allow them onto the various attractions. The tickets were designated "A" through "E"; an "A" ticket was for the smaller, simplest attractions with "B", "C" and "D" tickets assigned to increasingly more popular and more complex attractions. The most popular, newest and largest attractions required an "E" ticket to ride. Although the ticket system was phased out during the 1970’s, the term "E-ticket" has remained in the Disney lexicon. Today, the term is still used routinely at Walt Disney Imagineering to denote the highest levels of investment and complexity for new ride systems.

This presentation will take us on a backstage tour showing the diverse ways a new "E-ticket" attraction can go from being just one of thousands of ideas to one of the few that actually make it into a Disney theme park. The focus will be on the engineering behind the creation of ride systems that transport millions of guests every year on magical, immersive Disney journeys. Spanning three different decades, Mark will discuss the genesis and development of three iconic "E-ticket" Disney attractions: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror™ opened in 1994 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida (then called Disney-MGM Studios), Soarin’ Over California opened in 2001 at Disney California Adventure and Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Sunken Treasure debuted during the opening of Shanghai Disneyland in 2016. He will provide a firsthand look at how each of these attractions experienced an unexpected twist during their development that ultimately shaped these unique ride systems, each one the first of their kind.

Buckle up, keep your head, arms and legs inside the vehicle and discover the nuts-and-bolts behind transporting Disney guests into the physical realms of imagination and fantasy.

Building the World's Largest Telescope

In the mid-1980's, the California Association for Research in Astronomy (CARA) was formed as a joint effort between the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of California to take on an ambitious mission: design, build and operate the world’s largest optical telescope.

Large optical telescopes are defined by the size of their reflective primary mirrors, typically made of glass with a reflective surface. Prior to the start of this project, the largest optical telescope was the Hale telescope atop Palomar Mountain in California with a mirror diameter of just over 5 meters. It had held the largest telescope title for nearly forty years, and it was widely thought that this was the upper limit for ground-based telescopes.

But the CARA team thought differently. They believed they could build a telescope with a 10-meter diameter mirror with four times the area of the Hale telescope by utilizing new and emerging technologies. Securing funding from the Keck Foundation, this group of scientist and engineers set out to build the W. M. Keck Telescope and Observatory. Being just the sixth employee of what would later officially become CARA, Mark had a front row seat to the creation of this marvelous three-hundred-ton instrument that would extend scientific boundaries. This presentation will explore the cutting-edge technologies that made this project a success, look at innovative solutions to unique problems that came up during the design and construction phases, highlight the difficulties of working at the top of a 14,000 foot tall mountain and describe the all-hands-on-deck effort to achieve the "first light" image ahead of a crucial deadline, proving that this first "new technology telescope" would be a success.