A hovercraft is an amphibious vehicle that rides on a cushion of air. Because it has no wheels, you can fly over almost any surface: land, water, pavement, snow, ice, mud, etc. You can drive a hovercraft at speed over a range of terrain and have races. These are a great project for building at school, or can be experienced for the day from any activity specialist.
Most hovercrafters choose to fly on water or ice, since there is usually plenty of room for manoeuvring. Since there is very little friction between the hovercraft and the surface you are riding over, it doesn’t need a lot of horsepower to make it move which means better gas mileage than an ATV or a boat. When flying on water, a hovercraft provides a very smooth ride since it’s flying over the surface of the water, and not on it. Most hovercrafts are for personal use, ranging in size from 10 to 26 ft in length; commercial and military versions vary in size from 60 to 280 ft.
Personal sized hovercrafts are primarily used for either cruising or racing, sometimes both. Most hovercraft built for cruising can reach speeds of 40 -55 mph. Depending on what class the racer is in, racing hovercraft can fly from 30 to 85 mph. Flying at 30 mph in an entry level hovercraft you built yourself is unbelievable; because the hull of the craft is only 6 inches over the surface of the water, it feels as though you are flying much faster. Learning to turn is an experience in itself. Because there is no real contact with the surface, the body of the hovercraft will turn, but travels in the same direction until the thrust force from the propeller causes it to move in the direction you want it to. In other words, making a turn in a hovercraft means you slide sideways a lot, adding to the fun.
Many people choose to build their first hovercraft themselves, partly for the experience and to save money. A typical entry level craft capable of carrying one adult can cost around $1,600 to build if you were to buy everything. Chances are you can buy a used engine or find bargains on parts and other materials to cut costs. There are several companies on the internet that sell plans, parts and materials. If you should choose to buy a hovercraft instead, there are commercially built crafts available. These cost more, but are ready to run. Used homebuilt and commercially built crafts for sale can also be found on ebay and hovercraft related websites.
In the U.S. most states require that you obtain a boating license before flying on public waterways. Since hovercrafts need to be registered as boats, taking a boating class to learn how to enjoy the water safely is wise. Learning to fly a hovercraft is not difficult, but is best done with the help of someone who already has a craft and can help you get used to the intricacies of flying and maintenance of your craft.
The website for the Hover Club of America is: www.hoverclubofamerica.org. It has links to other hovercraft sites, manufacturers and hovercrafters. The site also has detailed safety guidelines for cruising and racing as well as competition rules and regulations.