Hovercraft News / Information / Events
The Official Newsletter of the World Hovercraft Organization
In this issue:
- Sport and Recreation: Upcoming Hovercraft Events / Event Reviews
- Hovercraft History: World’s First Hovercraft Racing Champion
- Rescue: Hovercraft in the USA Flood Disaster
- Commercial: Feasibility of Hovercraft Ferry Services
- Education: A New Chapter in School Hovercraft Programs
- Manufacturer Profile: MAD Hovercraft
- Hovercraft Manufacturer News
Hovercraft in Sport and Recreation
Upcoming Events: World
World Hovercraft Championship 2008: Sweden, 20-24 August
Team Sweden, in association with the World Hovercraft Federation, is hosting
the event of the year, World Hovercraft Championship 2008, at Flottsbro, Stockholm,
Sweden. Not only does WHC2008 offer the most advanced hovercraft racing in the
world, Flottsbro is one of Stockholm’s most popular recreational areas, offering
full service camping or rental cottages, a beautiful natural beach, hiking trails,
playgrounds and a host of year-round outdoor activities.
90-100 drivers from more than 13 nations are expected to participate. Most of
the pre-registered drivers are from England, France, Germany and Sweden, but
Canada, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Slovakia, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and
the USA are represented as well. The organizers recognize that transport costs
have affected the number of participants and have received cancellations from
Japan whose drivers found the cost of shipping and travel to Europe prohibitive.
For those who are unable to attend, WHC2008 will be unusually accessible
electronically. Each craft will carry a wireless transmitter to record each lap
in real-time and publish results online immediately after each race on the
Hoverclub of Sweden’s web site.
And for those attending, there will be full 3G Internet access throughout the
racing and camping areas.
The event is shaping up to be one of the most environmentally “green” World
Hovercraft Championships ever. Racing will be held in a beautiful nature area,
with water so clean that it is classified as drinking water – the city of
Stockholm gets its drinking water just five miles from the racecourse. The
organizers have arranged for recycling and say “It is very important for us to
keep nature clean; after the race is over there will not be an existing trace
of the weekend.”
As event plans develop, stay updated at
For photo galleries of past World Hovercraft Championships, visit the
WHC2006, Lac du Tolerme, France
WHC2004, Berlin, Germany
WHC2002, Terre Haute, Indiana USA
Upcoming Events: Australia
Australian National Rally: New South Wales, 26-28 September
The Australian Hovercraft Federation has announced that the 2008 Australian National
Rally will be held at Lake Cargelligo in Central Western New South Wales. This small
town on the shores of a large inland water storage systems appears like an oasis on the
flat western plains and is an ideal spot for hovercraft, power boats, yachting, fishing,
water skiing and swimming, and is a haven for birds. Arrive on Friday for an informal
bring-you-own barbeque that evening at Lake Cargelligo Caravan Park. The Saturday and
Sunday schedule of events is yet to be announced; stay updated at the
Australian Hovercraft Federation web site …
and check out YouTube to see
Australian hovercrafters in action.
Upcoming Events: USA
Pendleton Memorial Hover-In:
Wisconsin, 15-17 August
Don’t miss one of the best Hover-In locations in the USA Midwest at the 4th
Annual Pendleton Memorial Hover-In. Muscoda, Wisconsin is located on the Wisconsin
River, known for its incredible sandbars and abundant wildlife. This is the perfect
event for those new to hovercrafting or for teaching students how to pilot a hovercraft
for the first time.
Lowell Grand River Hover-In:
Michigan, 22-24 August
Come enjoy a relaxing weekend of cruising and fellowship at what is becoming one
of the largest and most anticipated hover-ins in the Midwest. Lowell is located
between Grand Rapids and Lyons, MI. On Saturday morning, you’ll cruise upstream
24 miles to the Dam at Lyons, then stop at Ionia for a buffet lunch. After lunch,
you’ll cruise back to Lowell, then head downstream to the dam in Grand Rapids and
back, for a total of 106 miles. A timed slalom skills competition with prizes
will be held on Sunday.
Connecticut, 23-24 August
The largest annual hover gathering in the Northeast USA, held at Windsor,
Connecticut, is your chance to cruise up and down the Connecticut River from
Hartford to Springfield, including side trips on the secluded Farmington River.
Big Spring Hover-In:
Tennessee, 11-12 October
The 30th annual Big Spring Hover-In takes place at the Rural Retreat
Campground in Big Spring, Tennessee and offers relaxed cruising, good
company - and great fun on the mud flats across the river.
Maumee River Cruise:
Ohio, 11-12 October
Join your fellow Great Lakes Area hovercraft enthusiasts in Waterville,
Ohio for a weekend of scenic autumn cruising, including hovering to historic
Fort Meigs, lunch in the old downtown of Perrysburg, the Grand Rapids Apple
Butter Festival and a 60-mile round trip cruise on Sunday.
Gun Lake Ice Hover-In:
Michigan USA, 27 December
This annual event truly celebrates the hovercraft as an all-weather, all-terrain
vehicle! Come join the Great Lakes Area Hovercraft group for a fun day of ice
hovering on beautiful frozen Gun Lake, followed by dinner and a tour of Don
Bender’s impressive Hovercraft Design shop in Middleville, Michigan.
Check out the extensive
of past Hoverclub of America events.
Event Review: US National Hoverally
|Hoverclub of America Hoverally 2008|
This year it’s more expensive than ever to haul a trailer full of
hovercraft across the country, but it takes more than high gas prices
to keep hovercraft enthusiasts away from the largest hoverally in
North America. Now in its fifth year on the Scioto River in
Chillicothe, Ohio, the Hoverclub of America’s Hoverally ’08 in June
was a smashing success with racing, prize money, scavenger hunts,
fireworks, a free concert by country singer Jonalee White, and guest
speaker Guy Beckley from the US Navy hovercraft program.
Check out the photos and media coverage of this popular event:
Students get hands-on at Hoverally events
First lady of Hoverally
Hoverally has appeal for non-race fans
Event Review: Suwannee River Cruise is an “adrenaline pumper”
|“Troubled waters ahead? No problem – just follow me” says Dave Reyburn.|
The USA, with its abundant rivers and waterways, is considered by many
overseas enthusiasts to be the ideal country for scenic, relaxed hovercraft
cruising. This year, flood conditions in the USA have made hovercraft
cruising more challenging than relaxed, as Hoverclub of America members
Dave Reyburn, Alan Lindsay and Louis Bondurant discovered on the first
day of the Third Annual Suwannee River Cruise in Florida 29 February –
2 March. Five inches of rain had fallen the week before the event, and
when the hovercrafters arrived, half the parking lot of the visitor’s
center was submerged in water and the river level was 10 feet higher
than it had been the year before.
|Ready for more action, Dave Reyburn heads back upstream.|
Undaunted by a little water – after all, they had hovercraft! – the
cruisers charged ahead on Friday with their pre-event plans to shoot the
rapids at Big Shoals, the largest whitewater rapids in Florida and one
of the state’s greatest natural wonders. When water levels are high on
the Suwannee River, Big Shoals rapids earns a Class III Whitewater
classification, attracting thrill-seeking canoe and kayak enthusiasts –
and now hovercrafters.
Even though pullouts were scarce because of the high water, the
cruisers hovered without incident to Big Shoals, where they encountered
“a very swift current and a rather daunting +3 foot standing wave” and
the excitement began when Louis Bondurant nosed into the face of a wave
and stalled his lift engine.
|The Suwannee River cruisers were also challenged by
floating islands of debris created by the high waters. K. Moyers photo.|
Taking on a fair amount of water, Dave Reyburn made it through the
worst section unscathed, then headed back upstream for a second assault
on the shoals. His last radio transmission, to Alan Lindsay cautiously
observing upstream, was “No problem – just follow me,” after which his
fellow cruisers lost sight of Dave’s hovercraft – other than a few fan
blades flying through the air! But yes, he made it, and is ready to go
for it again next year.
Pre-event excitement behind them, the Hoverclub members were joined
by other enthusiasts from the South and Midwest for the 110-mile
roundtrip cruise on Saturday to the mouth of the Suwannee River at the
Gulf of Mexico. The media were attracted to the launch, covered by
reporters and photographers from Airboat Magazine, the Weather Channel,
the Gilcrest County Chamber of Commerce and local newspapers, including
the Gainesville Sun who ran the story as a
front page feature.
As Louis Bondurant told the Gainesville Sun, hovercrafting is “a serious adrenaline-pumper”, exemplified by the fact that even before leaving this year’s challenging Suwannee River Cruise, participants were expressing their enthusiasm to “do it again before 2010”!
Read the complete review and photo gallery
of the 2008 Suwannee River Cruise.
Allen Hawkins: World’s First Hovercraft Racing Champion
|Allen Hawkins, winner of the World’s First Hovercraft Race; photo circa 1964.|
* HoverWorld Insider expresses sincere
gratitude to Allen Hawkins’ daughter, Judi Power Thomson
for providing photos and information about her father,
deceased in 2004.*
In the 19th century, U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes
made a call from Washington to Pennsylvania on Alexander Graham Bell’s
newly patented telephone and said, “An amazing invention – but
who would ever want to use one?” In the 20th century,
Albert Einstein declared, “If at first the idea is not absurd,
then there is no hope for it.”
In this spirit, on 14 March 1964 – only five years after the first
hovercraft flew in Great Britain - early hovercraft pioneers brought
their ten absurdly amazing contraptions to Canberra, Australia to compete
in the World’s First Hovercraft Race, organized by the Canberra branch of
the Royal Aeronautical Society and British Petroleum Australia. The event
took place on what started as a cold, windy Sunday – that ended up hot
and sunny - on the city’s new man-made Lake Burley Griffin, only
partially filled. It attracted 10,000 -20,000 spectators – more than one
in seven of the entire population of Canberra.
The news media struggled with what to call those hovering machines.
One reporter referred to them as “strange craft that combine some of
the qualities of a lawn mower, speedboat, helicopter and egg beater.”
Other media reported on the world’s first “hoverboat race” and the
world’s first “hover vehicle race.”
By any name, only 18 of them existed in Australia in 1964, and it
was the first time in the world that more than two of them came to the
same place at the same time to compete. Only five of the ten entrants
completed the circuit; three had to be towed ashore, one capsized
twice, and one sank out of sight altogether. Most of the contestants
had never before operated their craft on water, and two started
construction of their craft only a week before the race.
This absurdly amazing historic day in 1964 marked the genesis of
the sport of hovercraft racing.
Allen Hawkins: “Riding a Thundercloud” to victory
The most victorious of these enthusiastic experimenters, Allen
Hawkins of New South Wales, Australia, described the sensation of
racing on water for the first time as “A real shock. It was like
riding a thundercloud,” he said. “I didn’t have much control and
the wind blew me about. On land you only have to steer, but on
water you have to steer and balance. I also had to overcome the
problem of waves splashing through the fan.”
Hawkins overcame these problems and successfully rode a
thundercloud to secure his place in history as the winner of the
World’s First Hovercraft Race.
|Allen Hawkins overcame steering and balance problems to win the World’s First Hovercraft Race.||
|Hawkins (far left) is congratulated on his win by the representative for sponsor British Petroleum (far right).|
Hawkins’ hovercraft, with its distinctive beetle-like shape and a
conventional rudder, was a plenum chamber Dobson AirDart from the USA,
assembled in Australia from an imported kit by Hawkins and a syndicate
of five others from Air-Carts, a subsidiary of Pacific Film
Laboratories Pty. Ltd. Hawkins, a self-taught engineer, served as the
syndicate’s chief engineer and pilot.
His hovercraft, considered the most sophisticated design in the
race, cost less than £500 and took six weeks to build. It weighed
just 170 pounds and used one 9-horsepower lawn mower engine for both
lift and propulsion, yet reached an estimated speed of 25 miles per
hour in the race to win the top prize of £50 ($100USD) in the 1.5 mile
Along with first prize, contestants could win contests in
maneuverability, ingenuity, and overall fastest hovercraft. Each craft
was timed individually and the formula score calculated from installed
horsepower, hoverheight and time. Hawkins won the formula prize after
finishing the course in the second-fastest time of 4 minutes 30
Hawkins and N.B. Cottee, joint managing director of Pacific Film
Laboratories, hoped that hovercraft racing would quickly become as
popular as go-kart racing and aspired after the event to mass produce
and market models of their racing craft for approximately £1,000.
“If we start the project, we will become the first company in
Australia to produce hovercraft commercially,” he said.
|Example of Allen Hawkins’ later hovercraft designs|
Although the dream never became reality, Allen Hawkins retained
an interest in hovercraft throughout his long life. He passed away
in 2005 at the age of 87, but his pioneering spirit, enthusiasm,
ingenuity and his legacy as the World’s First Hovercraft Racing
Champion will live on.
Riding a wave of enthusiasm
The pioneering spirit and excitement of the World’s First Hovercraft
Race is recalled by Chris Fitzgerald, President of Neoteric Hovercraft,
Inc., who was the youngest competitor in the race:
“I can still recall the enthusiasm … We original participants were
filled with a spirit of self-reliance, intrigue with newness, a
frontier mentality, a naiveté of technological difficulties, a dream
to experience the sensation of hovering, and the possibility of fame
and fortune. Despite craft that wouldn’t start, only five that managed
to stagger across the finish line, and fame and fortune that has yet
to arrive, we were undaunted by difficulties.”
That undaunted spirit originated by Allen Hawkins and his fellow
competitors is still widely evident among hovercraft enthusiasts
nearly half a century after the first race, and remains the force
behind the evolution of the hovercraft. Until the1964 event,
hovercraft were quite crude, but what happened after the World’s
First Hovercraft Race was far more amazing than absurd. The event
was a remarkable success, considering that Australia was remote
from the technical developments occurring at the time in Europe
and that the participants were largely isolated from one another
with little technical support.
Thanks to that historical event in 1964, hovercraft have come
a long way since those days. Hovercraft racing is now an established
sport; light hovercraft are spectacular and unusually safe
recreational racing vehicles and are inexpensive in comparison to
wheeled racing vehicles. But even more importantly, the contraption
that was once considered an absurdly amazing oddity is now used in
most nations of the world for myriad vital purposes. Hovercraft save
lives, transport troops and tanks, patrol borders, ferry passengers,
enforce laws, control wildlife, assist in agriculture, provide
leisure recreation activities and play an important role in the
education of students across the globe.
Thanks to Allen Hawkins and his fellow competitors, today the
history of the hovercraft is being written not only by inventors,
engineers and racers. It is being written by neighbors building a
hovercraft in their garage, by the local fire department performing
rescues and by students building hovercraft in school programs
Photo Gallery: The World’s First Racing Hovercraft
Hovercraft in Rescue Operations
|The winning hovercraft: The winner of the World's First Hovercraft
Race was this American-designed plenum chamber Dobson Air Dart,
built from a kit and piloted by Allen Hawkins. The front view
(right) of Hawkins' winning hovercraft shows its Westbend 9 hp
combined lift and thrust engine. Hawkins is shown seated in
his craft (left).|
|Second place: Bill Selge and K. M. McLeod's hovercraft, an
annular peripheral jet design with a 4.2-inch hoverheight had
two 2 hp Victa lawn mower lift engines and another for thrust.
The craft won second place in both the formula and maneuverability
trials and was highly commended for ingenuity.||
|Third place: Alan Ellis’ 80 sq. ft. 320 lb. craft placed third in the
formula (efficiency) race and won the second race, a maneuverability
trial in the form of a slalom. Ellis, an electrical engineer, was a member
of the Canberra Aero Club, where he was nicknamed “Lame” because he
was a Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer.|
|Fastest hovercraft: After capsizing twice in trial runs, Arthur Powell and Roy Raymond’s annular peripheral craft, with a vector generator motor from an old World War flying boat, went on to win the speed competition. Powell and Raymond dragged it out of the water and flipped a coin to see who would pilot it in the formula race. Raymond won the coin toss, but when the vector drive shaft broke he was disqualified from the race. After the race, they dismantled their craft and destroyed the frame. Although they had built their last hovercraft, Raymond returned to his favorite pastime - building and flying light aircraft – and as of 2002 he was Australia’s oldest licensed pilot.||
|Sinking hovercraft: While being towed, Frank Greenham’s hovercraft suddenly sank into Lake Burley Griffin, securing his position in history as the world’s first hovercraft racer to sink his craft. Divers plunged into the lake at the end of the day to search for the craft, but came up empty handed. It was fished out of the lake four days later by the Water Police with the aid of grapnels.|
|Most unusual hovercraft: Brian Kensington’s three-pod hovercraft
was the most unusual design in the World’s First Hovercraft Race.
It sported three sub-cushions for stability and was the only hovercraft
in the 1964 race with a flexible skirt. It used an outboard engine
for thrust. To help Kensington finish construction on the craft in time
for the race, Australian Air Cushion Vehicles provided him with a fan
design to copy; his craft utilized three fans of this design.||
|Most ingenious hovercraft: This annular peripheral jet hovercraft,
entered by Cpl. J. Kenneth Murray and LAC L. Gillies, technicians
from the Royal Australian Air Force, was awarded the prize for
ingenuity in hovercraft design. The 3-engined craft had a thrust
propeller constructed from a modified helicopter tail rotor.|
|Longest hovercraft: The lengthy 3-engined hovercraft entered
by Dan Reece had two 98cc Villiers engines for lift and a 3 ½ hp
lawn mower propulsion engine. Reece, the only British competitor
in the race, returned to England to win Europe’s first amateur
hovercraft race in 1965, which was held at Apethorpe Hall,
Northants and marked the origin of the Hoverclub of Great Britain.
In 1966, Lord Brassey, the owner of Apethorpe Hall, formed Hover Air Ltd.
with Reece as his designer. Before the company closed, it produced
more than 100 Hoverhawk hovercraft, sold worldwide. In this photo
Reece (third from left) is seen talking with race officials.||
|Heaviest hovercraft: Designed and constructed by Chris Fitzgerald, Rob Wilson
and others on the Australian Air Cushion Vehicles team, this annular jet craft, at
1,150 pounds, was the heaviest craft in the race and required a crane for loading
and unloading. It was propelled by a hydraulic retractable Johnson outboard
engine and steered by a retractable hydrodynamic fin on the bow. Transmission
failure forced the team to withdraw from the competition. After the race, the craft
served research purposes until it was cannibalized and burned in 1972.
Fitzgerald and Wilson vigorously pursued their interest in hovercraft, founded
Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. and moved the company’s manufacturing facility
to the USA in 1975. Fitzgerald serves as president of Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. USA
and Wilson is president of Neoteric Engineering Affiliates, Pty. Ltd. Australia as
well as technical director of Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. USA.|
Hovercraft perform vital rescue role in USA flood disaster
In May and June 2008, the worst flooding in decades inundated vast sections of the
Midwest USA, forcing tens of thousands of people from their homes, causing perhaps 24
deaths, and generating damage in the billions of dollars. As reported on 20 June in
the International Herald Tribune, the devastation of the flood disaster will have
global repercussions. Five million acres of prime farmland was ruined, and “Since the
USA is the world’s biggest grain and food exporter … rising domestic inflation [due
to flooding] is sure to aggravate global food prices in coming months.”
From the first rising waters, and continuing yet today, hovercraft are being
utilized in the flood disaster to do what they do best: perform rescues in conditions
that limit the use of other vehicles …
Monumental rainfall in central Indiana caused widespread flash
flooding in the first week of June, and by 8 June President Bush had declared a major
disaster in 29 Indiana counties. Brown County, Indiana and surrounding areas saw some
of the worst flooding in decades as bridges and roads were washed out. Officer Steven
Stafford of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department in Bedford, Indiana – who is in
the process of evaluating
Neoteric’s experimental rotary powered hovercraft
– was pressed into action to rescue flood victims.
|A Scat hovercraft was deployed in Brown County, Indiana where
water levels varied widely, making passenger-loaded boats
difficult to operate.|
“The currents were unreal!” exclaimed Stafford. “We were called to assist an ambulance
that couldn’t reach a patient. Helmsburg was completely flooded and a dam had given way
upstream and was expected to make it worse. We brought out two patients to the ambulance
and then evacuated another 13 people to a bus that took them to shelters.”
Quickly rising waters created a dangerous situation for rescuers and victims alike.
“It was something out of the movies. They had plenty of help in Columbus, Indiana [home
to the huge Cummins Engine Company] where we rescued just three people. We hovered through
streets that had swift currents flowing in from all directions, with only about 5 inches
of the tops of full size trucks lining the streets,” said Stafford.
“Trying to avoid boat traffic coming from side streets made it difficult for an
overloaded hovercraft to accelerate through the hump,” Stafford explained. A hovercraft
takes off like an airplane and requires a long ‘runway’ free of traffic to generate enough
speed to climb out of the ‘hump’ in the water generated by the lift air. If this process
is interrupted, the hovercraft must start the takeoff process all over again.
The many roads closed throughout the county caused great difficulties for the rescuers,
explained Stafford. “We were stranded in Columbus for hours before an area had receded and
allowed us to leave.”
The unique capabilities of Stafford’s hovercraft drew attention from both victims and
rescuers. “I had several different departments inquire about the craft and they were
serious about looking into buying one,” says Stafford.
|The Snohomish County Fire District utilizes a Neoteric Rescue Hovertrek™|
Outside the Midwest, flood conditions in other parts of the USA have put hovercraft
into service as canoe and raft enthusiasts take to the waters before they recede to normal
levels. On 23 June, three people were rescued in Darrington, Washington after their raft
hit a downed tree and capsized on the Sauk River, still very high and swift with lots of
whitewater. The victims were able to make their way out of the water and onto the bank
in a heavily wooded area without roads.
The rescue hovercraft of the Snohomish County Fire District was the only vehicle capable
of reaching the victims. Real-life rescues in process are rarely accessible by the media and
it isn’t often that they are captured on film, so don’t miss this
impressive and unusual video
this hovercraft rescue from start to finish, filmed by KIRO television.
|A Hovertechnics rescue hovercraft outperformed a helicopter in flood rescue operations.|
In the state of Montana, another rafting accident on Sunday, 25 May, utilized a
Hovertechnics rescue hovercraft.
It proved to be invaluable in search and rescue efforts to locate three men whose raft hit a
rock and flipped on the swollen Dearborn River. One of the men was fatally injured.
The Dearborn River, which cuts through rugged mountain terrain, was flowing at more than
5,050 cubic feet per second, up from a standard flow of only 250 cubic feet per second. The
hovercraft was launched Sunday night on the rapids-ridden water. “The water was high with a
lot of debris. There were a lot of strong eddies and currents out there … the runoff and the
swift water and the terrain made it difficult,” recalls rescue volunteer Twila York.
A helicopter joined the search and located one survivor, but its rotor clipped a tree
soon after, forcing it to land. Responders in the hovercraft, however, pushed on and
rescued the survivor from a rock.
|The Whitefish, Montana Fire Department’s Neoteric Rescue Hovertrek™|
The Dearborn River was too powerful for traditional boats, and a hovercraft was the one
rescue vehicle able to navigate its waters. “It’s invaluable,” said Lewis and Clark Search
and Rescue member Mike Allen. “That hovercraft is probably the only vehicle we could get
on the river at this point in time.”
In Whitefish, Montana, also on 25 May, an overturned canoe gave the
Whitefish Fire Department a reason to fire up their two-year-old Neoteric hovercraft for
the first time in the line of duty. The hovercraft was purchased by area residents and
donated to the Whitefish Fire Department.
A member of a canoeing party on Whitefish Lake had stood up, capsizing the canoe and
tossing its three occupants into the cold water.
Water temperature was approximately 40 degrees, so a speedy response time from rescuers
was necessary. "They were probably in the water for only 17 minutes from the time we got
the call until we pulled them out," stated Captain Dave Baker of the Whitefish Fire
Department. The victims were wearing cotton clothing but no life jackets. “Cotton absorbs
water and gets heavy and cold,” said Baker. “There was starting to be some numbness in
One of four pilots trained to operate the craft, Baker said the high-tech hovercraft
performed well in its maiden rescue.
Hovercraft in Commercial Applications
The Economic Feasibility of Hovercraft Ferry Services
For 50 years commercial and military operations have utilized hovercraft to travel over
surfaces that prove difficult for other vehicles. In terms of economic feasibility, the
hovercraft as a means of transport is similar to other machines that operate on steel rail,
air and sea. Hovercraft ferry services have existed in the states of Victoria and Queensland
and in the northern territory of Australia, and in Sweden, Japan, Hong Kong, China, England,
France, Canada and other countries, but only a few remain. The oldest remaining service
today is in the United Kingdom across to the Isle of Wight.
History indicates that public ferry operations of any type require public subsidies. When
subsidies dry up, so does the ferry service! To survive, a ferry service must have some form
of subsidy along with one other key ingredient: The service must offer a huge advantage to
|The first commercial hovercraft ferry, a Vickers VA3, established in 1962 in the UK.|
The first commercial hovercraft venture was launched in 1962, a hovercraft passenger
service between Moreton, Wirral and Rhyl, North Wales. Although shortlived - a storm ripped
the craft from its moorings at Rhyl and smashed it against a sea wall - the venture aroused
interest and other commercial operations soon followed.
In the late 1960s, Hoverlloyd (originally Lloyd, a Swedish shipping company) established
a hovercraft ferry across the English Channel from Ramsgate to Calais, an SRN4 that in calm
weather could carry 30 compact cars and 254 passengers. Sharing facilities with Hoverlloyd,
Seaspeed, which was owned by British Rail, launched a service between Dover and Calais.
Crossing times were as low as 40 minutes in good weather. On traditional ferries, crossing
times were normally 100 minutes. Hovercraft service limits were always due to the weather
when crossing the English Channel; when seas reached more than 6-8 feet, service was
High fuel and maintenance costs made the economics of these hovercraft ferries
increasingly uncertain. After a long rundown, the Ramsgate service closed in 1982 and the
Dover service followed in 1993. Today, the only commercial hovercraft service in Britain is
the original operation between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight and is operated by
Hovertravel, the world’s longest existing commercial hovercraft operator.
In recent years, numerous cities have explored the feasibility of commercial hovercraft
ferry services. A few have succeeded for a short time, but eventually they fail. HoverWorld
Insider investigates three recent commercial hovercraft operations and explores the factors
predictive of their success or failure …
King Cove, Alaska USA: A lifesaver in extreme conditions
Like most of Alaska, the remote village of King Cove is dependent on air travel to
maintain a connection with Anchorage. Situated 650 miles from Anchorage on the western
tip of the Alaska Peninsula where the Aleutian Islands chain begins, King Cove relies on
the airport at Cold Bay. Even though the villages are only 20 air miles apart, King Cove
doesn’t have an airport that can handle medevacs and the weather often makes it too
dangerous to fly. Clark Corbridge, Aleutians East Borough Assistant Administrator said,
“I have been in the airplane when – literally – the pilot and I were the only occupants
not screaming. That’s how rough the air can get. “
King Cove urgently needed a year-round means of water transport that could cross the
13 km wide Cold Bay, a stretch of water without natural harbors, which is open to
storm-force winds and is ice-covered in winter. Their traditional ferry operates in summer,
and then bi-weekly; it can take several days to make a round trip. In medical evacuations,
this had not proven adequate.
A hovercraft was recognized as a solution and, with the help of U.S. federal funding
(subsidy), in February 2007 King Cove established a hovercraft transportation link to its
nearest all-weather airport in Cold Bay.
|The Suna-X hovercraft handles extreme applications in King Cove, Alaska USA.|
With the assistance of the Canadian Coast Guard, the King Cove planning committee
found a new design that met their needs: the Hoverwork BHT130, named the Suna-X. Because
of the Jones Foreign Bottoms Act, an antiquated U.S. regulation, any vessel used in
coastwise trade must be built in the USA. King Cove found and commissioned
Industries of Seattle, Washington USA to manufacture their hovercraft, under license to
Hoverwork on the Isle of Wight, UK,
a subsidiary of Hovertravel, also on the Isle.
The Suna-X is the largest passenger hovercraft to be built in the United States.
Measuring 98 feet long and 50 feet wide, the Suna-X can carry 50 passengers and 22 tons
of freight, including cars, trucks and an ambulance. In good conditions, the craft
crosses Cold Bay in 20 minutes.
On 13 March 2008, Mayor Stanley Mack was reported by the Aleutians East Borough
newspaper as saying that the Suna-X hovercraft is “a lifesaving machine” and “it is
doing what it is supposed to do.” In its first six months, the craft transported 1,090
passengers, 110 vehicles and 110,000 pounds of freight. Since its launch last year,
27 successful medevacs to the Cold Bay airport have been counted.
The Aleutians East Borough’s initial criteria required the hovercraft to have 95%
reliability; provide year-round service; and operate in winds up to 30 knots and seas
up to five feet. It is reported that the Suna-X has met these requirements. Based on
historical wind data, it is reported to be operable 99% of the time, 365 days per year
and can function in maximum winds of 45 miles per hour and wave heights of 10 feet 6
The hovercraft’s annual operational costs were projected to be $870,000. The
Aleutians East Borough committed to cover half with a $460,000 annual subsidy. Based
on current fees, the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) calculates that
revenues for only 200 days per year from just 15 passengers and 2 vehicles per trip,
along with freight and mail, will approach $1,000,000 annually, covering estimated
operating costs and actually producing a profit. Due to the low environment impact
of hovercraft, the NWRA is a supporter of this successful hovercraft service and
has offered to assist King Cove in securing additional operating funding.
Christian Island, Ontario, Canada: Hovering in Comfort
For the residents of Christian Island, Ontario, a hovercraft presents a unique
approach to an old problem. Located on Georgia Bay, notorious for its icy covering
during winter, the Chippewa community of Christian Island experiences limited and
dangerous travel during winter months. Chief Rodney Monague of Beausoleil First
Nation on Christian Island explains that when existing traditional ferry services
are forced to shut down in winter, those people without snowmobiles are faced with
additional expense. Scoots (enclosed airboats that ‘scoot across water and ice)
remain the only alternative transportation.
|A Vanguard hovercraft safely and economically ferries passengers across Georgia Bay in Ontario, Canada.|
Scoots have been used in the past to reach the mainland when Georgia Bay is iced
over. But scoots are not large enough to accommodate a reasonable number of
passengers and they’re unable to adequately assist in emergency situations. The
ride is too rough, and patients don’t like it. Snowmobiles work well for personal
travel, but are dangerous when the ice thins out.
After reviewing many options, the elders of the Beausoleil First Nation tribe
decided that a hovercraft could solve their winter ferry problems. The new craft,
a Vanguard 18 manufactured by
in Kenora, Ontario, went into service in May 2008.
Accommodating 18 passengers, the Vanguard 18 is advertised as one of the
toughest and most economical passenger hovercraft on the market. Constructed of
aluminum, it measures 11.05 meters in length with an off cushion height of 3.10
meters. A 350 hp diesel engine, cruising speed of 35 knots and spacious interior
ensure the hovercraft can be used in case of emergencies. Its economical fuel
consumption also allows for reasonable passenger fares.
The residents of Christian Island are confident that the hovercraft’s unique
ability to fly above the surface of the ice on a cushion of air will provide a
smoother ride. “The scoots are very hard on our elders, so the hovercraft will
be easier, more convenient and comfortable for them,” explains Monague.
Rochester, New York USA – Toronto, Canada: A different story
While the hovercraft employed at King Cove and at Christian Island fit for the
needs of their communities - and subsidies are available - that is not the case
with a proposed hovercraft ferry service between Toronto, Canada and Rochester,
New York USA. In March 2008 the two cities put out a call for a privately funded
ferry service across Lake Ontario. Two companies submitted proposals: Hovercraft
Transit Services for a 400-passenger hovercraft; and SEVSTARS for an 8-passenger
wing-in-ground effect (WIG) vessel.
The idea of using a ferry between these two cities is not a new one. In the
summer of 2004, a ferry named Breeze ran between Toronto and Rochester, but was
docked due to debt after only 80 days in service. The craft was promptly
purchased by the City of Rochester and put back into service, but the city
quickly lost $10,000,000 and the service was discontinued.
The difficulties with this proposed hovercraft ferry service rest primarily
on cost, on regulations dictated by the craft’s movement between Canada and the
United States, and on the absence of subsidies. The proposal put forth by Hover
Transit Services requires the acquisition of a hovercraft once used to cross
the English Channel. US regulations force the craft to be based in Canada since
it was built in England. The size and weight of American automobiles creates an
additional problem. The extra weight adversely impacts the economical
advantages of a hovercraft by increasing energy costs and reducing craft
Hover Transit Services maintains that the refurbished character of the
proposed hovercraft will allow for a cost-effective start up. Toronto officials
are not excited about the noise and tactical issues facing implementation of
hovercraft transport. Meanwhile, the existence of other viable subsidized
transportation options makes the hovercraft questionable.
Travel by hovercraft seems to be viable in situations where other vehicles
will not work. Compounded by a history of failed past attempts, this is not the
case with travel between Rochester and Toronto. On 13 June 2008 Rochester Mayor
Bob Duffy and the Toronto Port Authority jointly announced that they will not
continue to actively pursue a privately owned and operated ferry service
between their two cities.
Industry experts agree that there exist two fundamental requirements for a
hovercraft ferry operation to succeed:
First, it is imperative that the route to be traveled by the hovercraft is
one in which no other technology would work. This was the case in King Cove,
Alaska where no option but a hovercraft could provide quick and safe travel
to the only all-weather airport in the area. This was also the case at
Christian Island in Ontario, Canada, where scoots, snowmobiles and aircraft
had all been tried and proven unworkable. In contrast, travel between
Rochester, New York and Toronto, Canada can be achieved by other methods.
Second, for public transport systems to be successful, some form of
subsidy is necessary and cooperative government support is essential. The
King Cove project was supported by federal funding, and is receiving offers
of funding from diverse groups such as the National Wildlife Refuge
Association and the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. The
Rochester/Toronto project, however, sought a privately funded venture.
In addition, experts advise that experienced hovercraft ferry management
experience is essential, and recommend that a hovercraft maintenance
operation be established at one end of the ferry route, with spare parts
and a complete engine, fan/propeller and skirt repair shop – a significant
Hovercraft in Education
Mooroolbark College: A New Chapter in DiscoverHover School Hovercraft Programs
Susan Hockfield, President of the USA’s Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, as quoted in a US edition of Newsweek Magazine, believes that
“Keeping [a nation’s] innovation system strong will be key to … remaining
competitive. To do that, we must invest in talent and research. First,
that means investing in education – especially core science, math and
In the same article, Esther Dyson, Editor of Release 1.0, stated
“It’s time to emphasize creativity in technology and science. We don’t
revere scientists and engineers anymore. We revere movie stars. The
goal is to change our culture by celebrating people who are creative
technically. One model to accomplish this is organizing competitions,
like the X Prize for private spaceflight, or the international FIRST
competition, sponsored by US inventor Dean Kamen, where high schoolers
compete to make the best robots. When I say creative, you think about
artists and dancers and musicians, but you can be very creative in
designing things that work. There is an art to technology …”
Rob Forbes, an instructor at Mooroolbark College in Victoria,
Australia, exemplifies this culture-changing spirit as he employs the
DiscoverHover School Hovercraft Program.
With it, he inspires his students’ interest in science, math and
engineering through creatively building something useful and by
celebrating their accomplishments through competitions.
When Forbes learned about DiscoverHover at a technology conference
in 2004, he quickly became the pioneer of school hovercraft programs
in Australia. Then an instructor at Wantirna College, he and his
students built Australia’s first DiscoverHover One hovercraft, and
his program served as an exemplary model of school hovercraft programs
Now a veteran in his quest to introduce school officials and
students to the value of hovercraft in education, Forbes’ recent
transfer to Mooroolbark College inspired the staff, faculty and
students to establish a DiscoverHover program of their own.
Launching the program at a new school was a bit easier than
establishing the first program in Australia. He praises his
Mooroolbark students for their self-motivation, which has allowed
him to become more of a facilitator, enabling the students to
develop their skills at their own pace.
“The students have also established some very positive links
with their local community in seeking sponsorship for the
hovercraft program at the school,” states Forbes. “They have
found the plywood and foam construction relatively easy to
follow after some basic instruction,” states Forbes.
interview with DiscoverHover,
Forbes said, "The rewards I've received as an educator cannot be put
into words. When you have a student who believes he or she can't do math
sit down and persist in transferring measurements and angles from plans
to timber, calculating cuts so they can get the most out of the timber
they have available, and to make the hovercraft fit together properly –
that learning speaks for itself!"
In a recent correspondence, Forbes has shared with HoverWorld
Insider an article about the recent launch of the
Mooroolbark student hovercraft at a show with two other college’s craft.
We share it now with you, in celebration of the accomplishments of the
students at Mooroolbark College …
|Press and well-wishers surround Mooroolbark College’s first DiscoverHover hovercraft.|
Mooroolbark College Hovercraft Launch
|Sophie McDonald served as driver during Mooroolbark College’s hovercraft presentation.|
|Sophie McDonald performs her speed runs.|
The official launch of the Mooroolbark College hovercraft on 16 May
2008 was an action packed event with three shchools hovercraft and three
Victorian Hoverclub craft on display. Mooroolbark’s Green Machine
was the first out on the oval [Australian for football field] and although not yet warmed
up it was extremely fast and provided plenty of entertainment for the
large crowd. The local police officers were in the center of the oval with
radar gun at the ready to check speed-readings from the craft.
The driving ranks from the student team at Mooroolbark College had been
decimated by 50% due to a basketball game the day before. But there were no
shortage of volunteers from other students; the fact that they had never
sat in a hovercraft before didn’t seem to bother them. Sophie McDonald was
our driver for the day and soon got down to business.
And it was quite clear from the first run she meant business. It was go
hard or go home. After she had done her runs she hitched a ride in one of
the club craft, and caught up with the media and police to check her speed
readouts. Great job Sophie!
DiscoverHover Sister Schools announcement
International School Hovercraft Program has
added a new feature to its web site. The DiscoverHover Sister Schools program
is now profiling individual schools who are interested in partnering with
other DiscoverHover schools. The first featured school is SMA 1 Padang Senior
High School in West Sumatra, Indonesia. SMA 1 Padang is located in a historic
building near Padang Beach on the Indian Ocean in a land of scenic beauty with
a distinct culture. New to the DiscoverHover program, the students of this
school are eager to establish a Sister School relationship with a school in
another country. To learn more about SMA 1 Padang, to visit its web site and
to contact the instructor, visit
DiscoverHover Sister Schools.
If your school is interested in establishing a sister school relationship
and you would like to have it profiled on the DiscoverHover web site, send an
email about your school to PR@WorldHovercraft.org.
Hovercraft Manufacturer Profile
MAD Hovercraft - A Family Business
in Slovenia, Europe, is a family-operated business catering to adrenaline
seekers with hovercraft that have a clever amphibious design – that of a 3D frog.
With 2 hovercraft models available in different options, the company’s mission is
to provide a low-cost, reliable hovercraft with racing ability that will appeal
to racers and off road adventurers. For those who want something more, MAD
hovercraft has created BUFO hovercraft – an organically designed high performance
hovercraft, with 2 or 3-4 passenger models in
unique gel coat colors and patterns.
|Ales Muha, founder and owner of MAD Hovercraft, with a model of the BUFO Hovercraft.|
Company founder Ales Muha began building and designing hovercraft in 2000.
Unable to afford a hovercraft at retail price, Muha began to build his own in the
family workshop and soon found a market with his friends and acquaintances. In
2005 he founded MAD Hovercraft, which stands for “Muha Ales Design.” Now age 30,
Ales and his wife Tanja operate a business they truly enjoy.
|Muha’s basic model, the MAD Hovercraft.|
In cooperation with Bojan Mavsar, a Slovenian Master of Arts, MAD Hovercraft
designs prototypes and assembles the final products for their customers. The
company does not have the capability to manufacture the entire hovercraft; they
outsource much of the fiberglassing and welding to three outside companies.
Mavsar is involved in gel coat painting and design, but Muha is the true
innovator of the company.
“Mostly we manufacture by ourselves, especially models, molding and prototypes,”
states Muha. Once a prototype has been tested and the design approved, the hull
components are manufactured by a fiberglass boat building company. Using MAD
Hovercraft engineering specification plans, outside companies produce other
sections of the hovercraft. The BUFO took 6 months to go from idea to product
and cost approximately 30,000 Euros to reach production stage.
Examples of their models
appear on the MAD Hovercraft web site.
The company’s 2 passenger MAD Hovercraft uses a small Rotax 503, 45 or 52 HP
aircraft engine for quick hump time and speed capability. By balancing the craft’s
speed with reliability, Muha strives to offer an economical racing and recreational
option. The MAD Hovercraft retails from 8,900 Euros to 10,000 Euros depending on
the customer’s specifications. It is also offered as a kit (complete hull, skirt,
impeller and fan guard) for homebuilders. Kit prices begin at 2,900 Euros.
The recently released 2-4 passenger BUFO Hovercraft is a high performance,
organically designed hovercraft for both leisure use and racing. Despite its size,
Muha states the speed of the BUFO craft is not compromised in the least. To give
credence to this claim, last year one of Italy’s leading formula 2 racers, Renato
Presotto, took a BUFO Hovercraft to victory in timed laps with six similar machines
at a small hovercraft meeting in Azzano, Italy.
|BUFO Hovercraft, an upscale model of MAD Hovercraft.|
|Mad Hovercraft’s entry in WHC2008. The unique design reflects Muha’s fascination with the amphibious nature of the hovercraft.|
In November 2007, Muha learned about an issue with his engines; Rotax, the
engine manufacturer, decided to discontinue 447 and 503 engines BUFO uses in their
hovercraft, although they will be available through the end of 2008. Hirth has
agreed to replace the discontinued Rotax designs. Problems with engine availability
are not the only issues facing Muha. MAD has sold nearly 35 kits and fully assembled
craft in different countries, including Hungary, Italy, Poland, Austria, Russia,
Serbia, Croatia, Check Republic, Sweden, and Argentina. He explains that his
greatest difficulties are dealing with the regulations in Europe and the high cost
of transporting overseas. “For example, it is impossible to officially register a
hovercraft in our country, impossible to insure a hovercraft, and impossible to get
CE certifications as a manufacturer.” says Muha.
Muha’s solution to these problems is to withdraw from hovercraft manufacture,
and focus instead on hovercraft rental. He plans to limit manufacture to several
hovercraft per year, some for his needs and some for special customers. “Slovenia
is more profitable for hovercraft renting than manufacturing, so I am staying in
the hovercraft business - not in manufacture, but as a member of our new Hovercraft
Club that works under our sponsorship.” He continues, “I hope to find right people
interested in continuing of my work and to find business opportunities in
manufacturing MAD and BUFO hovercraft for the global market.”
Muha is adamant that hovercraft will continue to be a large part of his life.
He and his friends have established the new
Hovercraft Club of Slovenia,
for which Muha serves as chairman, and are working to popularize hovercraft, still
little known in Slovenia, as a recreational vehicle. In addition, he is preparing a
new BUFO craft for this August’s World Hovercraft Championship 2008 in Sweden,
which will be piloted by Renato Presotto.
Hovercraft Manufacturer News
Aeromobile, Inc., USA
Dr. William Bertelsen, one of the pioneers of air cushion technology and founder of
Aeromobile, Inc., has launched an interesting new blog,
Dr. Bertelsen’s Thoughts on Transportation.
“For over 50 years I have seen ways to make transportation of all kinds better,
and have invented technologies to improve the way we travel by air, by land and by
water. Unfortunately, many of the same limitations that plagued mobility then still
remain, and are by and large much worse,” says Bertelsen. With his blog, he hopes
“to make people aware that there are solutions to gridlock, traffic fatalities,
limited aviation options, and the frustration and inconvenience faced with every
mode of ‘modern’ transportation. These frustrations have been around so long that
people think there are no alternatives. But, there are, and I want to make you
aware of them.”
Dr. Bertelsen’s new blog affords us an opportunity to see into the mind of this
Flying Fish Hovercraft, UK
On 23 July 2008, pilots from Flying Fish Hovercraft crossed the English Channel to
mark the 40th anniversary of the first commercial hovercraft service from England
to France. Their craft were somewhat smaller than the SRN4 Princess Margaret, which
made the first crossing in 1968. The two 10-foot long, two-passenger hovercraft set
off from England at 7 a.m. and arrived on the coast of France 57 minutes later,
confirming that today’s light hovercraft are quite capable of crossing the Channel
from England to France.
Griffon Hovercraft, Ltd., UK
Griffon Hovercraft of Southhampton, England has introduced a new craft at the top of
their line. The Griffon 8100TD offers a solution to those needing a higher payload
than that of the Griffon 8000TD. The longer and wider 8100TD also sports a larger
engine, an Iveco Vector 20 with 1000bhp, and can carry up to 98 additional
passengers. The Swedish government has placed the first batch of orders for this new
The Avon Fire and Rescue Service has purchased a Griffon 380TD for rescue use
along the shoreline of Weston-super-Mare in Avon, UK. The mudflats in this area
necessitate a hovercraft for rescue operations, a valuable addition to the
Coastguard and Life Boat services operating in the area. The 6-passenger craft,
the smallest in the Griffon range, will perform a variety of rescue services,
including rescuing people who become trapped in the mud and providing support
during inland flooding.
Chief Fire Officer, Kevin Pearson, says, “Not only will it mean we can reach
trapped casualties in just a few minutes, but it will also ensure the safety of
our firefighters, who until now have had to walk out onto the mud and risk
becoming stuck themselves.”
Hov Pod, UK
In February 2008, Hov Pod began training dealers for their brand new Hov Pod SPX
hovercraft. All training modules were passed. The Hov Pod model features a quieter
build than previous models. A new material increases the sound buffer beyond the
ability of Hov Pod’s older fiberglass machines.
As experienced by numerous hovercraft manufacturers (watch for an upcoming
feature story in HoverWorld Insider) Hov Pod was recently victimized by a scam
artist. An individual attempting to start an F1 racing venture plagiarized
material from the Hov Pod web site and then attempted to involved Hov Pod customers
and others. The unfortunate incident is described in detail on the
web site, where Hov Pod explains, “We wish it to be known that we have no connection
with F1 Hoverpod Racing. We consider the use of the Hov Pod videos and images on
the F1 Hoverpod Racing website as unlawful and misleading. We understand that F1
Hoverpod Racing has tried to copy our product design. If any individual wishes to
contact us for further discussions regarding purchase of the Hov Pod … please
contact us through our website.”
Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc., USA
The Neoteric Hovertrek™ owned by
a recreational center in Germany, is
involved in the movie “The Palermo Shooting” by Hollywood director Wim Wenders. The
hovercraft was used to transport actress Milla Jovovich on the set. Screened at the
Cannes Film Festival last month, the movie is scheduled for release in Germany and
Sicily later this year. Club Montée’s hovercraft is a major attraction for their
center; see the
Neoteric hovercraft were also featured in the May issues of two major off-road
vehicle magazines in Russia, as a cover story in
and also in
At the Wheel.
The Spring 2008 issue of
The Lay of the Land,
a publication of The Center for Land Use Interpretation in Los Angeles, California USA, featured both Neoteric Hovercraft,
Inc., Indiana USA and
Hovertechnics of Michigan USA.
Wild Winds Hover Tours, USA
As the only hovercraft tour operation in Northeast Pennsylvania USA, Wild Winds Hover
Tours provides a wide range of hovercraft adventures in their 6-passenter Neoteric
Hovertrek™. These activities include training; charter trips and tours; charity events
and parties; 20-minute Introductory Hover Flights; and Corporate Team Building
adventures in which groups can learn to pilot a hovercraft and then test their skills.
Attention Hovercraft Manufacturers:
To have your company news published in HoverWorld Insider, simply email it to Insider@worldhovercraft.org.
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