Hovercraft Events / News / Information
The Official Newsletter of the World Hovercraft Organization
April 2005 - In this issue :
- Sport and Recreation: Event news
- Education: Learning takes flight in school
- Commercial Applications: Hovercraft eliminates
- Rescue Operations: Hovercraft rescue pioneers
- Hovercraft Industry: 2005 State of the Industry
in Sport and Recreation
From the Hoverclub of America:
Hoosier Hovercraft Championship – THIS
The Hoosier Hovercraft Championship is set for this weekend, Friday
29 April through Sunday 1 May at Lazy "L" Lake in West
Terre Haute, Indiana USA. This is the perfect opportunity to see
what hovercraft racing and cruising is all about and to enjoy the
camaraderie of the hovercraft world.
In addition to all the Hoosier Championship activities, Chris Fitzgerald
of Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. invites all hovercrafters to join him
Sunday 1 May for a long, impromptu cruise up the Wabash River. If
you would like to cruise along, just email Chris at email@example.com
or catch up with him Saturday at Lazy "L" Lake.
For complete information about this weekend's Hoosier Hovercraft
Championship, including the schedule of events and driving directions,
see the Hoverclub
of America web site.
For a review and photos of last year's Hoosier Championship, see
US National Hoverally - June 2005
The largest hovercraft event in North America, the Hoverclub of America's
30th Annual National Hoverally will be larger than ever this year!
To be held 24-26 June 2005 in Chillicothe, Ohio, the event will include
the 2005 National Hovercraft Championship, cruising, and model competitions.
|Hoverally 2004: Gary Lutke close on the
transom of Bill Zang in F-1 class. Photo courtesy Hoverclub
Breaking new ground, Hoverally 2005 will award generous prize money
in programs for racers, cruisers and spectators as well:
* A $1,000 cash award will be presented to the first place winner
in each racing formula.
* A $500 grand prize will be given to the winner of the first ever
"Budweiser Scavenger Hunt."
* Five raffle prizes of $100 will be awarded at the Friday 25 June
In addition, the Hoverally will be preceded by a special symposium,
"Hovercraft as a Teaching Tool" on Friday 25 June. The
symposium is designed to present educators with full instructions
on how to establish hovercraft programs as a part of their school
curriculum. For more information about "Hovercraft as a Teaching
Tool," and to make reservations to attend, see Symposium
For full details about this year's US National Hoverally, see Hoverally
For additional events sanctioned by the Hoverclub of America, see
From the World Hovercraft Federation:
World Hovercraft Championship 2006 and 2008
The World Hovercraft Federation has announced that France will host
the 2006 World Hovercraft Championship. The event will take place
in Latronquiere at Lac du Tolerme, Lot, France from 21-26 August 2006.
| Michele Scanavino representing Italy
as WHC 2002 in Terre Haute, Indiana USA opens with a Fly-Past
of All Nations.
The debut of the WHC 2006 web site, with full details, will be
announced soon on the World
Hovercraft Federation web site and in upcoming issues of HoverWorld Insider.
Three nations have submitted bids for the 2008 World Hovercraft
Championship: Australia, the United States, and Mauritius. These
countries will give presentations at the World Hovercraft Federation
meeting in France in August 2006, with the final selection to be
announced shortly thereafter.
Each issue of HoverWorld Insider will publish upcoming events and
news about hovercraft in sport and recreation. Please email your
announcements and updates to Insider@WorldHovercraft.org.
Learning Takes Flight: The DiscoverHover International
School Hovercraft Program
In 450 BC, Confucius said, Tell me, and I will forget. Show
me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.
Since the World Hovercraft Organization's DiscoverHover program
was launched in late 2003, thousands of students across the world
have been awarded an educational experience that transcends mere
telling and showing. With the DiscoverHover program, they are now
actively and eagerly involved in their own education.
The DiscoverHover web site
provides hovercraft plans and instructions, Curriculum Guides and
comprehensive resources at no charge to schools and universities,
youth organizations, instructors, and students age 7 to 21 anywhere
in the world.
The value of the DiscoverHover program is best exemplified in the
praise it receives from participating instructors and students:
College in Victoria, Australia was the first Australian
School to build the DiscoverHover One hovercraft. Secondary
instructor Robert Forbes says the project was so successful
that the school is, "beginning construction on our second
hovercraft using the DiscoverHover One plans – because
they work!" He continues, "The project has been a
great experience, with very positive feedback from parents,
students and staff. One long-serving staff member says this
is the best project he has seen at the school in his 22 years.
And the 14 students in the Technology Club have seen their ranks
swell to more than 40 students." Tom Burridge, year 11
student at Wantirna College and Team Leader for the school's
second hovercraft, echoes this enthusiasm: "This experience
has been very valuable to my education. To be honest, school
hadn't really interested me until the start of year 10, but
building the DiscoverHover One gave my interest for school a
real boost. The DiscoverHover project has been by far the highlight
of my time at secondary school. I have never had so much fun!"
|Wantirna College DiscoverHover One hovercraft
In Ellicott City, Maryland USA, Technology Education instructor
Robert Hodge and his 6th, 7th and 8th
grade students at Ellicott
Mills Middle School are building their first DiscoverHover
One. Hodge writes, "I've been teaching for 30 years and
I cannot remember this level of excitement in any other project
I've done with students. It brings to life the math and science
they're learning in their other classes, and it excites them
Mike Naughton, Industrial Technology Department Chair at Cary-Grove
High School in Cary, Illinois USA reports, "One of
the most valuable aspects of the project is the excitement of
the students. Our enrollment went up this year, and I think
this has played a part in that." His student, Jake Rands,
a junior at Cary-Grove, says, "It's the most fun I've ever
had in school!"
|Cary-Grove High School hovercraft project
Naughton's former student Ryan Marsel, now in his first year
at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach,
Florida USA, reflects, "Building the hovercraft last
year at Cary-Grove was an unforgettable experience. It gave
me opportunities that many students couldn't dream of, and
helped me to enroll in the number one Aerospace Engineering
school in the world."
Dr. Cameron Coates, Assistant Professor of Engineering Studies
State University in Savannah, Georgia USA believes the most
valuable aspect of the program is that it gives students, "experience
with the practical aspects … money, budgeting, choosing
the right component – the things you don't get in school."
|Armstrong Atlantic State University
Such enthusiasm is contagious. It breathes new life into the World
Hovercraft Organization's commitment to give schools and student
organizations worldwide the profound educational adventure of building
a hovercraft, learning to fly it, and racing it in worldwide competitions.
With the DiscoverHover program, however, what you now see is not
all you get! Our commitment includes an expansion of the following
areas in the days ahead:
* International DiscoverHover events
Plans are underway to give students the opportunity to showcase
their hovercraft at national and international competitive
events. US cities who are interested in hosting events (in
addition to Terre Haute, Indiana, the home of the World Hovercraft
Organization) are Orlando, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Globally, we are in discussions with several nations, including
Thailand, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates, all of whom
are eager to bring hovercraft endurance racing events to their
* Sponsorship funds
Shipping hovercraft overseas is quite expensive and would
prohibit most schools from participating in international
events. To help diminish this obstacle, DiscoverHover has
launched an extensive sponsorship effort which, when complete,
will offset a significant portion of this expense for member
* New communication channels for members
The most valuable source of advice for schools building the
DiscoverHover One hovercraft comes from other member schools,
so we are developing new channels for DiscoverHover participants
to interact with one another. Currently, the ideal place for
member interaction is the DiscoverHover Forum, where posts
will open a discussion with the entire worldwide DiscoverHover
membership as well as with program officials.
* Additional DiscoverHover web site materials
Watch for new Curriculum Guides, a vastly expanded Vocabulary
List, and more, beginning in June 2005.
While you await our announcements about these additions to the
program, we encourage you to check out the following recent additions
to the web site:
As more and more schools join DiscoverHover, we will profile
their projects in detail, complete with photo galleries, in
the Featured Schools section of the web site. This is the
perfect place for new member schools to learn how other schools
have succeeded with, and benefited from, the DiscoverHover
Perhaps the most revealing indication of the impact of DiscoverHover
is the reaction of students. When DiscoverHover began receiving
comments from its students, Chris Fitzgerald, Chairman of
the World Hovercraft Organization, exclaimed, "These
students are just like me! I had no time for school –
my mind was too full of building airships, tunnels, pyramids,
rockets … It was only when school began to show me how
I could achieve these quests that I started to learn. We have
founded a truly great educational tool."
This section is an informative resource not only for instructors
currently involved in DiscoverHover projects, but also for
those who are considering the program for their schools.
Complete DiscoverHover One engine specifications have now
been added to the web site, along with contact information
for suppliers and helpful hints for obtaining the engine(s)
as a donation.
As the DiscoverHover International School Hovercraft Program continues
to mature, we invite you to partner with the World Hovercraft Organization
in developing this truly unique educational opportunity:
If you are a DiscoverHover member
and would like to be considered as a Featured School, please
for application instructions. Submission of your materials
can become a class project as you write about your experiences
building a hovercraft. Be sure to take photos as you build
If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of DiscoverHover
events, or if you would like to contribute materials or donations
to member schools, please email Office@WorldHovercraft.org
If you are an educator and would like to provide curricula
or other material for the DiscoverHover web site, please email
Register Now: Hovercraft as
a Teaching Tool
In conjunction with the 2005 US National Rally, The Hoverclub of
America will host a symposium dedicated to the integration of hovercraft
into today's high school and college curriculum. Hovercraft
as a Teaching Tool will take place on 24 June 2005 at the Chillicothe
Campus of Ohio State University in Chillicothe, Ohio.
A broad range of speakers – to include DiscoverHover Chairman
Chris Fitzgerald - will present topics including school hovercraft
programs, hovercraft designs and applications, construction requirements,
and the outcomes of specific school hovercraft projects.
The US National Rally draws top racers and designers from throughout
America and abroad. Come spend the weekend, tour the pits, talk
to the people in the hovercraft industry, and watch hovercraft championship
racing Saturday and Sunday 25-26 June. This is the best opportunity
available in the US to learn what hovercrafting is all about!
The cost of attendance is only $18 for adults and $12 for students,
which includes a casual lunch on Friday and a complimentary pit
pass. Door prizes will be awarded and hovercraft will be available
onsite for up-close inspection.
Advance registration for Hovercraft as a Teaching Tool is highly
encouraged as seating will be limited. To pre-register, email the
following information to L. Bondurant at LPB3@mindspring.com,
or FAX it to 770-642-8814:
||- Your name
- City and State
- Email address
- Number of adult participants
- Number of student participants
Prepayment is not necessary, but be sure to pre-register soon and
check in for the seminar on 24 June before 11:30 a.m. to assure
the availability of seating and lunch.
in Commercial Applications
Hovercraft eliminates aviation threat at Batten International
Orville and Wilbur Wright mastered in 1903 what birds have been
doing naturally for more than 100 million years. Since then, the
skies have become too congested for comfort. Today, as the Christian
Science Monitor wrote with wry humor in 1999, the feathers are flying
in a flurry of bird-aircraft face-offs.
A 747 flies through a formation of Canadian
Photo courtesy Bird Strike Association,
The problem, however, is no laughing matter. From 1990 to 2004,
more than 56,000 bird-aircraft strikes were reported to the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration; the agency estimates this to be
only 20% of the number that actually occurred.
According to the FAA and the Bird
Strike Association, Inc., a trade association representing the
Bird-Aircraft Strike Hazard (BASH) management industry, bird and
wildlife strikes to aircraft worldwide cost military and commercial
aviation more than $1 billion a year, and more than 400 people have
been killed in the last 20 years in bird-aircraft collisions.
Calbraith Rodgers, the first person to fly across the continental
USA, was ironically also the first to die as a result of a bird
- In 1991 the pilot of a Learjet was killed over Cincinnati,
Ohio when a loon crashed through his windshield.
Damage sustained from aircraft collision
with a single turkey vulture.
Photo courtesy Bird Strike Association,
- In 1995, a U.S. Air Force AWACS plane struck three dozen geese
at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska, killing all 24 passengers.
That same year, a small jet carrying then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich
ran off a runway in northern Michigan after hitting four geese;
a bird-plane incident during takeoff in Australia cost Qantas
Airlines $8 million; and an Air France Concorde sustained more
than $7 million in damages when it struck Canadian geese while
landing at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Canadian geese are a large contributor to this worldwide aviation
hazard. Their numbers have exploded at an alarming rate; an estimated
4.3 million Canadian geese now live in the United States and Canada,
and the once migratory bird has become a year-round resident hazard
at airports. Compounding the problem, Canadian geese are protected
under the Migratory Bird Act, which prohibits most mitigation efforts
that would harm the geese.
Aviation Today reported in 1999 that although an individual goose
can weigh more than 12 pounds, no aircraft turbine engine is designed
to withstand the impact of birds weighing more than eight pounds.
A flock of geese can cause catastrophic engine failure. Aviation
officials calculate that a 12-pound Canadian goose, struck by a
150 mph aircraft at liftoff, generates the force of a 1,000 Lb (454
Kg) weight dropped from a height of ten feet (3M).
The hovercraft solution
John H. Batten International Airport in Racine, Wisconsin USA is
only one of thousands of airports worldwide who have tried one unsuccessful
solution after another on the Canadian goose dilemma. Airports are
often located near wetlands, where federally protected birds proliferate.
But unlike other airports, many of whom spend hundreds of thousands
of dollars per year on bird mitigation efforts, Batten Airport has
the distinction of discovering a solution that works - a hovercraft
– for a one-time cost of around $10,000.
|Batten Airport Assistant Manager Mike Loew
pilots the airport's hovercraft.
Hovercraft are frequently the ideal solution where geographic and
climatic conditions prohibit the use of other vehicles. Such is
the case at Batten Airport, the largest private-owned airport in
the United States. The airport is located adjacent to Quarry Lake
Park, with an 18-acre, 90-foot deep lake right at the end of the
Airport Manager David Mann explains that because of its depth,
Quarry Lake is one of the last bodies of water in the area to freeze,
"More than 5,000 geese at a time flock to Quarry Lake when
all the other ponds and lakes are frozen. And all these geese come
and go right through the approach of the runways. It's a very serious
problem. The area is protected from wind and rain by cliffs, and
with all those warm bodies churning up the water, it further prevents
it from freezing solid," says Mann, "It's like a bus shelter
The airport's hovercraft is a pre-owned 52-horsepower Neoteric
Hovercraft Questrek™ and its sole use at Batten is to
evict the resident geese. "It's the safest thing we could come
up with," says Mann, "This is the only way we can safely
get out there with those geese. And the beautiful part is, it's
"What we did with the hovercraft," he explains, "is
just go out and run them off. There are two country clubs adjacent
to the quarry, and as soon as the hovercraft persuaded the geese
to leave, they would move to the country clubs who would use their
dogs to chase them off, so they'd come back to the quarry - where
we'd be waiting on them with the hovercraft."
After several days of chasing the geese back and forth, Mann says
it allowed Quarry Lake to freeze and the geese finally decided to
move to a better location. The hovercraft worked so well that after
a few days they didn't even need to start it up: "After five
days or so, we would just park the hovercraft on the edge of the
lake and the geese would fly over, see it sitting there, and leave."
Mike Loew, Assistant Airport Manager and pilot of the hovercraft,
reported in February after the hovercraft's first season of use,
"I've been on water, ice and land with no problems. The geese
don't like the hovercraft at all. We hardly have any geese left!"
|Mike Loew, Batten Airport Assistant Manger/Hovercraft
Pilot: "We hardly have any geese left!
The hovercraft has been a welcome solution to a long-standing threat
to aircraft at Batten Airport, who has a history of bird strikes.
Just prior to the purchase of the hovercraft, an approaching jet
was "right at the critical point, around 200 feet, where you
either see the runway or you don't," says Mann, "and the
pilot decided to pull up. He put the power up and went right through
a flock." After the collision with the geese, the pilot was
forced to fly to another airport without knowing whether or not
the aircraft had been damaged.
"We've had other situations where aircraft on approach have
been forced to abort because of a flock of geese in the way,"
Mann continues, "And a few years back a goose crashed through
the windshield of a single engine plane. It landed in the cockpit
and cut up the pilot pretty badly."
The geese pose not only a safety threat, but a financial threat
as well. Mann says that Batten Airport has suffered thousands of
dollars of damage to aircraft de-icing systems "due to beaks
and such impacts."
Aviation officials worldwide are intensely focused on the hazards
posed by geese and other birds, and have investigated a wide variety
of mitigation methods. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration
has conducted ongoing experiments to find what might make airports
unattractive to birds, including the use of model airplanes, recorded
sounds of birds in distress, fireworks, blank gunshots, flashing
lights, cars equipped with loudspeakers and chemical repellents.
Airports have also used border collies to frighten geese away.
In 2004, O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois began
using propane cannons, paintball guns, and a laser-beam gun to scare
away bird flocks, as well as a series of hazing machines. The devices
spray a grape-scented chemical cocktail called methyl anthranilate.
According to Richard Dolbeer, national coordinator of airport wildlife
services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, "The grape
flavoring acts as a repellent, like a bird tear gas. Methyl anthranilate
is actually a non-toxic food flavoring that is used in grape Kool-Aid
and grape bubble gum, but birds find it very aggravating."
Batten Airport investigated many of these methods before discovering
that the hovercraft was a better solution. "Grape Kool-Aid
actually works well in small ponds," Mann says, "but I'm
afraid we don't want to fill Quarry Lake with Kool-Aid." The
airport also tried both a remote control airplane and a remote control
helicopter, "but we couldn't fly either of them as far away
from us as the lake is big. Once they get so far out, they're very
hard to fly."
Another proposal considered was to string wires across the lake
to discourage the geese from landing. That idea was discarded because
there was no way to prevent people from climbing on the wires and
possibly injuring themselves.
Officials also considered shooting loud noises into the quarry
to spook the birds away, but that idea was rejected because Mann
didn't want to disturb the residents around Quarry Lake Park. The
hovercraft, he says, generates enough noise to disturb the geese,
but not enough to disturb the residents.
The hovercraft is working so well, Mann believes, due to "the
combination of the noise and the ability to just get us out there
with the geese at their level. We couldn't do this in any other
vehicle." Since Quarry Lake is fully or partially frozen so
much of the year, a boat was not a viable option.
Shooting the geese was out of the question. In addition to a public
outcry against the idea, since geese are protected under the Migratory
Bird Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would not permit the
airport to shoot the birds.
Assisted by the Department of Natural Resources and the Department
of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, Batten Airport and Muskegon
County officials worked several years to find a solution that was
both affordable and agreeable to the public.
"The hovercraft idea came from the Department of Agriculture,"
Mann explains. The Department of Natural Resources actually offered
to help fund the hovercraft's purchase, but applying for a federal
grant was a lengthy process. Mann felt "The matter was serious
enough that I went to the airport board of directors for the money.
We were getting strikes and I couldn't wait a year, maybe two, to
get rid of the hazard caused by all these geese coming and going
right through the approach of the runway."
Safer skies, cleaner water and a healthier bottom line
Canadian geese can also pose a health threat wherever they gather,
and the situation at Batten Airport is not an exception. Quarry
Lake is a mecca for scuba divers and one of the finest outdoor swimming
and beach facilities in the Midwest. But the Canadian geese have
tainted its reputation.
In addition to endangering aircraft, the birds have polluted the
water and the beach with droppings. It is estimated that one goose
produces 1-2 pounds of droppings a day. With a plague of 5,000 geese
on the lake, it's no wonder that the once clear water became murky,
making the lake unusable to divers and undesirable to swimmers.
The Racine County Sheriff Department's Dive Team was forced to move
its regular practices to another location, and the Department of
Natural Resources instituted a water quality study for possible
negative health effects.
Mann says the hovercraft has offered a solution for not only the
aircraft hazard, but for the health hazards as well. "It will
make the fishing a little better, the swimming a little better,
and I know it will make the skies safer."
Safer skies, cleaner water, and a healthier bottom line –
because now it won't be necessary for Batten International Airport
to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to keep the
geese away. One little pre-owned hovercraft is taking care of it
Each issue of HoverWorld Insider will feature an article about
commercial hovercraft in use. If you have an interesting story to
share, please email Insider@WorldHovercraft.org
and we will contact you for details.
in Rescue Operations
North Muskegon Fire Department: hovercraft rescue pioneers
First responders worldwide now recognize the advantages hovercraft
offer over traditional lifeboats and other rescue vehicles. Because
it hovers above the surface, the hovercraft performs rapid, safe
rescues on thin or broken ice, swift water, flood waters and snow,
giving rescuers access to areas a boat or helicopter can't reach.
North Muskegon Fire Department was the first fire department in
Michigan to recognize these advantages, pioneering in 1986 the first
official use of rescue hovercraft in the state. Nearly fifteen years
later, Fire Chief Steve Lague reports that the craft is still in
service, transporting about 230 people a year during rescue operations."
In keeping with their pioneer spirit, the department purchased
hovercraft as a kit and Chief Lague and his firefighters assembled
it at the fire station. "We tried to involve everyone, to give
them a sense of ownership," he says, "and we've never
had it in the shop. We've broken a couple of blades, minor things,
but we've done all the repairs ourselves. This has been a perfect
unit for us, flawless. And the operating cost is only about $100
Both Chief Lague and Captain David Ogren, one of the department's
eight trained hovercraft pilots, credit their former Fire Chief,
Jay Kersman, for the hovercraft's purchase. "Jay Kersman had
the foresight to understand the value of the craft and what it would
mean to North Muskegon," says Ogren. In 1986 the department
didn't have the funding in their general operating budget to make
the purchase, so they organized a letter campaign to the city and
held fundraisers to pay for the craft.
|March 2005: Capt. David Ogren and firefighter
Brent Arnson return to shore after performing a hovercraft rescue
operation when a quad runner fell through the ice on Muskegon
Lague recalls, "The City Council originally thought it was
just some kind of new-fangled gadget, a toy. Now they know it's
a valuable tool." Ogren adds, "A hovercraft looks at first
as if it might be a risky piece of equipment and something that
would require an excessive amount of training. But that isn't the
The North Muskegon rescue environment
North Muskegon is located on a peninsula between Muskegon Lake,
Bear Lake and Lake Michigan, an area in which winters can be especially
brutal. The lake, twelve miles long and 2 miles wide, is a busy
shipping channel connected to Lake Michigan, and a popular recreation
area as well.
In winter, several factors can suddenly create treacherous conditions
on Muskegon Lake. The city's main power plant is located at one
end of the lake, near where Muskegon River empties into its waters.
When the lake is frozen - attracting ice fisherman, quad runners,
ice boats and snowmobiles - the river current carries hot water
discharged from the power plant into the lake, which can quickly
undermine the ice from the bottom.
"People can get into trouble before they know it," says
Lague, "One day we took about 35 people off the ice because
conditions deteriorated so rapidly they couldn't get into shore."
Lague reports that 75% of the department's hovercraft rescues are
ice fisherman going to and from their shanties; the others are primarily
iceboats and snowmobiles. "Ice fisherman go out to have a good
time, then all of a sudden it's afternoon, the sun's been shining,
and wham! They go right through the ice. Or they take their quad
runners for more supplies and they falls through the ice."
There is no doubt in Lague's mind that his hovercraft is saving
lives. "I know of at least five victims that would have been
fatalities without the hovercraft. They were in the water, hypothermia
was setting in and they were within a minute of going under,"
he says. "Before the hovercraft we had to rely on ropes, pushing
out on ladders or whatever we could find. But that hovercraft just
flies right over deteriorated ice."
He adds that "swimming through or breaking your own ice to
get to someone is exhausting, time consuming and it isn't safe.
Cutting a hole in the ice with a chain saw to reach someone is not
real world rescue. When an area of ice the size of a city block
deteriorates, a hovercraft is the only way out there."
Hovercraft allow rapid response
Lague says the rapid response the hovercraft provides is critical.
" We can take a 9-1-1 emergency call, dress, launch the hovercraft
and get out to a victim on the other side of the lake in less than
10 minutes. Before the hovercraft, it took 45 minutes to an hour.
When someone falls into this cold water, we have only about 15 minutes
to get to them before hypothermia sets in and it's too late."
He adds, "We have a Coast Guard helicopter in Muskegon County,
but helicopters require warm up procedures, so we beat the Coast
Guard every single time, whether summer or winter. Helicopters are
a great asset, but hovercraft allow more rapid response."
Hovercraft keep rescuers safe
Chief Lague emphasizes that firefighter safety is his first and
foremost priority. "We put ourselves in harm's way and we have
to do it as safely as possible, to be part of the solution, not
the problem. In all the years we've had the craft, no one has ever
been hurt – we're batting 100% on our safety program."
Captain Ogren describes rescue operations in his pre-hovercraft
days: "Someone's life is at risk, you're trying to overcome
obstacles to get to them, facing the adrenaline rush of responding
to the call as well as the physical exertion, and it's very, very
difficult. Without a hovercraft you have to go out on foot across
unsafe ice using a ladder to equalize your weight, and after five
or ten minutes of breaking through the ice and pulling out, breaking
through and pulling out, well, it's one of the most physically exhausting
functions I've had to perform."
"The hovercraft removes these obstacles 100%," says
Ogren, "It takes the risk out of the rescue mission for us."
A new chapter
North Muskegon Fire Department set a precedent back in 1986 and
today there are five rescue hovercraft in operation in their county.
"There's no doubt," says Captain Ogren, "that the
other departments started using hovercraft because they saw what
we were doing with ours."
Now it's time to look to the future. "We've just ordered a
new hovercraft, coming in May. We've used the original Neoteric
kit-built craft in many different situations over the years and
it has been credited with saving many lives," Chief Lague says,
"so this will be a new chapter."
Letter campaigns and fundraisers won't be necessary this time,
because North Muskegon has received a Firefighters Assistance Grant
from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to buy their new craft.
And they won't be assembling it at the firehouse. "We chose
to purchase another Neoteric craft, factory-built this time, first
and foremost because of its performance," says Ogren, "I
mean, you can't beat a piece of equipment that's been through the
mill and is still running after 15 years. It's a very stable craft,
easy to fly, very reliable."
Both Lague and Ogren say the new craft will expand their rescue
abilities. "Our current hovercraft carries only two passengers;
the new one will carry four," Ogren says, "and the attachment
for the stretcher mount is something that caught my eye because
patient packaging has always been an issue. How do you secure them,
how do you put them on a backboard and get them to shore? The new
craft takes that problem totally out of the picture."
They're also looking forward to the new craft's reverse thrust
system because it will give them the flexibility to get up into
the river flats and sand dunes with a much faster route of evacuation.
And, says Ogren, "It will let us go right to a hole in the
ice, straight to the victim, and be able to manage our speed and
hover in place so we can perform rescues in a much more controlled
Rather than going into the hovercraft hall of fame, North Muskegon's
pioneer hovercraft will be used as a training and educational tool.
Lague is creating an ice rescue program to present to other fire
and rescue departments and will use the kit-built hovercraft as
part of the course.
"Our hovercraft is not only a universal rescue tool, it's a
public relations tool as well," says Chief Lague, "It's
in every fire prevention parade and in all our public displays throughout
the year. The hovercraft in Muskegon County are proudly displayed."
Each issue of HoverWorld Insider will feature an article about
hovercraft in rescue operations. If you have an interesting story
to share, please email Insider@WorldHovercraft.org
and we will contact you for details.
2005: The State of the Hovercraft Industry
The hovercraft has come a long way from Sir Christopher Cockerell's
experiments with coffee cans, a kitchen scale and a hairdryer in
the early 1950's. Developments since then have taken the hovercraft
from the exclusive domain of inventors and governments and put it
into the hands of the public - from large corporations to backyard
builders to young schoolchildren.
|Diagram of Christopher Cockerell's 1954 experiment
that led to the hovercraft.
Once considered an impractical oddity, the hovercraft is used today
throughout the world for a myriad of purposes, including leisure
sport and racing; search and rescue; education; environmental projects;
tourism; ice fishing and hunting; agriculture; surveying; flood
control; water transportation and icebreaking.
We know where the hovercraft industry has been. But where is it
now, and where has it yet to go?
To learn the answers, HoverWorld Insider consulted hovercraft manufacturers
in various locations throughout the world. We salute the following
for their contributions to this review of the State of the Hovercraft
Industry in 2005:
The introduction of the flexible skirt in 1962 launched rapid development
of the hovercraft industry, and it soon divided into two categories:
heavy (large) hovercraft and light (small) hovercraft. The interest
generated by the 1964 world's first hovercraft race in Australia
is generally considered the initial stages of the light hovercraft
industry. Early hovercraft, however, often fell short of customer
expectations and a great many hovercraft manufacturers did not succeed.
|Third place winner in 1964 World's First Hovercraft
Race, Allen Ellis' 3-engine, 80 sq. ft., 320 pound craft.
The general consensus among manufacturers today is that although
new uses for hovercraft are continually being discovered, growth
in any one segment of the industry -- sport, rescue, or commercial
– has been gradual during the last 20 years. Overall, the
manufacturers who contributed to this article reported industry
growth rates ranging from 10% to 100%.
As Jacques Laframboise of the Canadian Air Cushion Technology Society
(CACTS) observes, "The excitement that heralded the arrival
of Sir Christopher Cockerell's first hovercraft in 1955 has now
been tempered by experience." Laframboise points out that the
small hovercraft industry is progressing, and excitement is still
prevalent in the sport hovercraft area, as well as in school hovercraft
Brent Dennis, also of CACTS, concurs, "The greatest growth
in the last 20 years has been in the racing and home building areas
supported by hoverclubs throughout the world."
Adel Mustafa of ASV All Surface Vehicles in Australia, who has
manufactured hovercraft for 20 years, agrees, "Hovercraft are
now becoming a major attraction sport, with World Hovercraft Championships
occurring every two years. The sport is lacking in sponsorship and
does not yet get television coverage, but I believe this will improve."
Chris Fitzgerald, President of Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. since
1975, is working toward this improvement. As founder of the World
Hovercraft Organization, his goal is to secure sponsorship and the
resultant media coverage for hovercraft racing worldwide. The organization
is currently in negotiations with a global shipping service that
may subsidize a significant portion of participants' costs in shipping
their hovercraft to racing events. Fitzgerald is also spurring greater
awareness of hovercraft with the World Hovercraft Organization's
school hovercraft program and its accompanying curriculum guides.
Member schools are now incorporating DiscoverHover into their standard
Environmental conditions in hovercraft manufacturers' home countries
affect the nature of their business. Both Russia and Sweden report
industry growth primarily in commercial hovercraft. Nizhny Rovgorod
of AKS-Invest has manufactured boats, small ships, hydrofoils and
hovercraft for 14 years, and reports, "Due to the natural conditions
in Russia we see the most growth in the commercial and rescue areas."
In Sweden, after more than 20 years in business, Magnus Ivanoff
of Norra Stavsudda-Handel says, "We have seen a major growth
in light 4-6 passenger commercial craft, mostly used as a taxi boat
In the commercial and rescue areas, manufacturers agree that industry
growth occurs as end-users create new applications. When a fire
department successfully uses hovercraft to save lives, other rescue
agencies become aware of the benefits of hovercraft for rescue work.
The same applies to commercial hovercraft, although the nature of
the commercial industry has changed over the years, moving from
heavy hovercraft for commuter passenger transport to smaller craft
for specialized industry use.
Jacques Laframboise points to ice breaking as an example of this
trend, "Ice breaking by air cushion is a novel application
developed in the past 30 years by the Canadian Coast Guard, a concept
unknown in 1969."
Another area of growth is the use of hovercraft in environmentally
sensitive areas – wetlands, swamps and intertidal zones –
because of the hovercraft's low impact on marine life and its ability
to travel across water-soaked land or through immersed reeds with
little environmental impact.
Industry leaders agree that the last few decades have not brought
technological breakthroughs to rival the advent of the flexible
skirt in the 1960s, which had a profound effect on the practicality
of hovercraft. Most agree that advancements worthy of mention are
greater reliability and ease of operation, and the availability
of better materials and engines at a lower cost.
One of the primary areas of concern over the years has been hovercraft
noise. ASV's Mustafa says, "This area has received a lot of
attention in recent times, and hovercraft are now about as noisy
as a boat, which is a big improvement."
Barry Palmer of Sevtec Surface Effect Vehicles in the USA recognizes
that "the corner has been turned about excessively noisy craft,
but not excessively inefficient craft in rougher waters."
Noise, dust and spray, and control are recognized as the few disadvantages
of hovercraft, and manufacturers agree that technological advancements
in these areas are needed as the industry expands.
The noise issue, however, may not be a priority in a relatively
young industry. Neoteric's Fitzgerald explains, "It wouldn't
have made much difference how much noise the Wright brothers' biplane
made; they had more important issues, like stability, lifting and
preventing it from crashing. Reliability is a more important factor.
If a hovercraft only functions a few hours and then breaks down,
noise is irrelevant."
As the industry expands, creating more revenue, research and development
will expand, allowing further technological improvements in noise,
dust and spray reduction, as well as improved control.
Hovercraft manufacturers cite a number of reasons that public awareness
of hovercraft has increased in recent years, but generally agree
that the primary factor has been the Internet.
"It's an incredible tool,' say Neoteric's Fitzgerald, "If
you'd asked me 15 years ago the best way to create awareness of
hovercraft, there would have been nothing further from my mind than
some kind of worldwide electronic system that would let people click
and have a look at your product." But he adds that the Internet
is not an end in itself, "You still have to get people into
the product, give them the experience of the flight."
Hovercraft enthusiasts are often isolated geographically from one
another, and the Internet provides a way for them to interact. With
the advent of the Internet, hovercraft professionals and enthusiasts
can now exchange news and information in online news groups and
Michael Nell of Nell Fabrication/Viper Hovercraft has been in business
15 years and agrees that "The Internet, plus movies and TV
documentaries" have been a great boon to the industry. Hovercraft
featured in James Bond films and on television in programs such
as Junkyard Wars and Monster Garage have a large following
and have certainly boosted public awareness.
Manufacturers agree that rc hovercraft and other toys have contributed
to public awareness. Mass produced and inexpensive, they have popularized
hovercraft, and this introduction of the technology to both children
and adults is likely to build the market. As Mike Glanville, Sales/Marketing
Manager for Hov Pod Hovercraft in England, points out, "It's
more fun to drive one for yourself than have your hamster drive
it for you!"
ASV's Mustafa adds that "Hovercraft manufacturers participation
in boat shows and car shows has also added to the public awareness
of the availability of the hovercraft at competitive prices compared
to jet skis and other boating vessels."
In addition, the fairly recent availability of well-designed hovercraft
in kit form has awakened interest in do-it-yourselfers who, without
the intrigue of the hands-on adventure of building their own vehicle,
may not have become a viable market.
Sevtec Surface Effect Vehicles dates back to the 1970s as Palmer
Aerosystems, and many manufacturers would agree with him that satisfied
customers are a significant factor in building a hovercraft manufacturing
concern: "a lot of the business appears to be encouraged via
In general, hovercraft manufacturers agree that recreational hovercraft
constitute the greatest worldwide use.
"In dollar value it would have to be military use,"
says Adel Mustafa, "however, the hovercraft now offers the
average person a level of freedom they couldn't have before. I believe
that in the next 5 to 10 years the recreational market will outgrow
all the other markets."
As noted by Fitzgerald, recreational customers are also easier
for a manufacturer to deal with than are rescue or commercial customers.
"Rescue and commercial customers involve committees, layers
of decision makers, government funding and such, so a purchase is
more complicated and restricted."
The Future: challenges and opportunities
One of the major challenges for any new innovation is the significant
investment required to introduce the product and to educate the
public as to exactly what it is and what it can do. Traditional
marketing channels have typically not been effective or affordable
for hovercraft manufacturers, who had to essentially create the
market for their product.
As one of the longest-surviving hovercraft manufacturers in the
world, Chris Fitzgerald feels that the challenge of educating the
public has not necessarily become much easier over the last 35 years.
In describing the marketing challenges of his early years in business
he says, "When you see a Coca-Cola ad on television, they're
trying to persuade you to buy one brand of soft drink over another.
Marketing hovercraft in the beginning was like trying to convince
people to buy a soft drink when they didn't even know what a soft
Even though more people today understand what a hovercraft is,
another challenge is the information overload of today's world.
As Fitzgerald observes, "Television, the Internet, advertising
… so much constantly competes for our attention that the cost
of capturing any of those mind-minutes or mind-hours has become
phenomenal. The return-on-investment and the prohibitive price of
traditional advertising takes it out of the realm of possibility
for most hovercraft manufacturers."
As a result, manufacturers are constantly seeking creative ways
to introduce the hovercraft to the mainstream public and potential
buyers. Many have relied on participation in boat and recreational
vehicle shows to do so. Adel Mustafa says, "While most of us
have invested heavily in Internet exposure, we're becoming more
and more involved with any type of show. The bottom line is, good
exposure costs money, so we have to make sure that what exposure
we get will have a pay back."
Matt Robson of Hummingbird Hovercraft in Canada cites regulatory
issues as a difficulty, "Lack of understanding by regulators,
difficulty in finding insurance … but this can be overcome
by bringing all of the various hovercraft stakeholders together
and tackling the issues via global promotion and lobbying."
Stavsudda-Handel's Magnus Ivanoff would certainly agree with this
point. He explains, "We have a law that bans hovercraft within
our national borders and to operate a hovercraft in Sweden, you
need special permission from the government. In order to be granted
this permission, you must have a valid use for your craft –
going fishing on a weekend is not enough." Ivanoff is hopeful
that the European Community will change this law in the future,
which will open up the market for leisure hovercraft in Sweden.
Another challenge for manufacturers is the cost of production.
Hovercraft, unlike automobiles and other vehicles, are not mass-produced
on an assembly line, but are custom-manufactured by skilled hands-on
workers. As the customer base expands, providing the revenue to
create the tooling necessary for at least batch-production, manufacturers
will be able to lower the cost of production and semi-skilled workers
will produce high-quality craft more easily and promptly than is
Given that the greatest area of industry growth, and the most prevalent
worldwide use of hovercraft, is in the recreational arena, it will
come as no surprise that most manufacturers predict that sport and
leisure hovercraft are the wave of the future.
The future of light hovercraft for recreation and racing should
be assured. Hovercraft racing has become an established and growing
regional, national and international sport. Light hovercraft make
unusually safe racing vehicles and are inexpensive compared to wheeled
racing vehicles. In addition, natural racecourses exist in nearly
every city of the world – a first-class hovercraft race needs
little more than some water and adjacent land, ice or snow.
|The 2002 World Hovercraft Championship attracted
participants from 18 nations.
As with all technologies, advances often spring from the activities
of hobbyists. The growing prevalence of hovercraft racing and cruising
clubs will further increase public awareness and provide a venue
for hobbyists to improve the technology. Advances in technology
will spring naturally from the involvement of more people.
Sevtec's Barry Palmer is particularly optimistic about growth in
the cruiser market. "I feel the easiest area to crack the general
market of competition with all craft is the recreational cruiser
market – craft that are real cruisers, as are cruising boats
in the 25 to 35 foot class." Palmer recognizes, however, the
challenges involved, pointing out that, "Given the sophistication
of the competing business, the boat manufacturer, it will take a
well funded program to break into the recreational cruiser market."
School hovercraft programs are seen as an efficient way to expose
large numbers of tomorrow's decision makers to the technology and,
as Chris Fitzgerald notes, such programs are "the most cost-effective
way to do it, much more cost-effective than traditional advertising."
As a result of increasing interest in recreational hovercraft,
and growing public awareness, the rescue market is expected to grow,
and new applications will be found for commercial hovercraft. Chris
Fitzgerald emphasizes this point: "When Henry Ford invented
the automobile, he was simply putting an engine on a cart. He wasn't
thinking, 'we'll have a special one to haul bricks, one with a concrete
mixer, one to carry people to hospitals, one to carry them to their
graves, one that people can drive around an oval track to see who
can go fastest' … if you make a basic, workable vehicle, people
will find new uses for it."
Manufacturers are confident that the market for hovercraft will
continue to expand. But the future of the hovercraft, unlike its
past, is now being shaped not only by inventors and engineers, but
also by those at the grass-roots level: small businesses, students,
hoverclub members, racers, and your neighbor building a hovercraft
in his garage.
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Copyright (C) 2003 World Hovercraft Organization