Ah, Las Vegas. Bright lights, casinos, fancy hotels, gorgeous year-round weather, top entertainment attractions, and fluid power. Fluid power? Yes, fluid power. Even if you haven't been to Las Vegas, you are sure to have heard of some of the massive construction projects that have been going on for the last several years — and there's no end in sight. In fact, by most accounts, Las Vegas is the fastest-growing city in the U.S.

But how does fluid power fit into all this? For one, hydraulics has a stronghold in most of the construction equipment that helps bring all these projects to fruition. Certainly much less visible are the contributions of hydraulics behind the scenes at many of these exciting new attractions.

A history of excitement

For example, the Treasure Island Hotel's Buccaneer Bay (covered in our December 1993 issue) uses powerful hydraulic drives to impart incredible realism to a make-believe naval battle. Hydraulics not only propels one ship through a Caribbean lagoon and makes another one sink, but generates the waves in the water as well.

One of the most well-known and longest running acts in Las Vegas is Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage Hotel (mentioned in our July 1992 issue). The climax of this act uses an intimidating fire-breathing dragon with 30 axes of electrohydraulic motion control. Electrohydraulic technology is also called on for motion of two other sophisticated dragons, each with 28 axes of motion, at the EFX show at the MGM Grand Hotel (covered in our July 1995 issue).

More recently, the Bellagio Hotel relies on hydraulics for critical segments of their Cirque du Soleil Show titled, simply, O (which is pronounced like the French word for water). This is a combination stage-water show, and hydraulics is used to raise four platforms up from under water -- 1½ million gallons of it. This is accomplished with three hydraulic cylinders for each platform through closed-loop proportional hydraulics to keep all motions synchronized with each other. This is no simple task, because the cylinders have strokes of well over 10 ft. Each set of cylinders is powered by a Vickers Integrated Motor Pump, from Eaton Corp.'s Industrial Hydraulics Div. These pump-motors are designed for quiet operation by using a liquid-cooled electric motor and pump encased in a sound-resistant enclosure. The quiet operation allows them to be located near the attraction without the risk of the audience hearing them operate.

Still another attraction — the High Roller coaster atop the Stratosphere hotel — uses hydraulics to transport coaster trains up its initial hill and another hill that returns the train to its loading-unloading area. The entire attraction towers more than 900 ft above ground, so although it is not the fastest or steepest roller coaster, it certainly is the highest.

Most roller coasters use an electric motor, gearbox, and chain drive to pull a roller coaster up an initial hill. From there, the train coasts through the rest of the ride. The High Roller, however, has a metal fin protruding from the bottom of each train car. A hydraulic motor rotates a pair of counter-rotating wheels that acts as pinch rollers. So when the fin passes between the wheels, they propel the coaster train forward.

Prime directive for hydraulics

In every production of Star Trek — from the TV series in the 1960s to the most recent motion picture — the crew of the Enterprise must follow the prime directive of not interfering with the development of any civilization they encounter. Likewise, an unspoken prime directive for Star Trek: The Experience, at the Las Vegas Hilton hotel, is that none of the backstage equipment can make visitors aware of its presence. For this reason, motion must be precisely executed and controlled to feel natural instead of mechanical. Just as important, visitors should not hear any noise from pumps, motors, or other components, which would remind them that they haven't really been whisked into the 24th century.

In Star Trek: The Experience, visitors stroll through the History of the Future Museum at their leisure, then enter a pre-show area where they are told about a ride they will be experiencing. As they enter what appears to be a loading area for the ride, they suddenly find themselves in the dark with wind blowing all around. Within seconds, the lights come back on, and they now appear to be in the transporter room of the Starship Enterprise.

Next, they travel to the the bridge of the Enterprise, where Commander Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation explains from the view screen that they have been transported to the 24th century. He reveals that hostile forces will prevent visitors from being transported back to Las Vegas, so they instead have to take a shuttle craft to return to 20th-century Las Vegas.

Visitors then enter a turbo lift, which seems to take them to a different level of the Enterprise, the ship's Grand Corridor — which was never shown in any of Star Trek movies or TV shows. Finally, visitors enter what looks like a shuttle craft, but it actually is a replica mounted on a 6-axis motion base. This is where they get a prolonged feeling of travelling through time and space as they elude simulated enemies and eventually return safely to the Las Vegas Hilton.