Hovercraft geeks are clumping together, as people with a common interest do, and forming their own clubs and meets all over America. They call these meetings ‘Hover-Ins’, where they swap stories, ideas and of course, they cruise their machines. The article states that about half the hovercraft used by hobbyists are in fact built themselves using plans or kits, so there is plenty of room for customization and that famous ‘tweeking” of engines and design features. These mini- ACVs (Air Cushioned Craft) rage from the very small and obvious DIY jobs to the quite large 6 man carriers that would do justice to a professional manufacturer – some folks take this pastime very seriously.
Hovercraft fever: Whatever floats your boat
Phil Whitney and a few friends had just glided over a mass of lily pads, up a boat ramp and across a parking lot at Lake Osborne in South Florida when a freckle-nosed boy ran up to them. “Can I see you fly?” he asked.
Whitney chuckled knowingly, and then a minute later took off, his Hovercraft one of four angling gracefully over the lake as the boy watched wide-eyed from the lot and an idling Jet Skier stared jealously from the water.
It’s just another day in what might be called Hovercraft Nation, one of the most dedicated — and far-fetched — riding subcultures in the United States. Dogs stand at attention, children come running and adults peer with the star-struck gaze usually reserved for Brad Pitt. It’s not everyone who skims over land and water on a cushion of air in what looks like a cross between a Formula One race car and an inner tube.
A rare breed
Hovercraft, product of so many childhood imaginations, have never become part of the popular consciousness. But among their ardent fans they are fiercely alive, having survived rising insurance rates, the demise of the largest manufacturers and that perpetual bugaboo, the Jet Ski.
Hoverers may spend 70 hours a week tinkering, then, deciding they need a break, they may travel hundreds of miles to hear a tip about lift-thrust ratio. “I wouldn’t say it’s a cult,” said Louis Bondurant, 50, who last month towed his twin-engine craft from Marietta, Ga., to camp for a weekend with other hoverers at Lake Osborne, near Palm Beach. “OK, well, maybe it’s a cult.”
The annual Hover Rally, usually held in June in the Midwest, and the World Hovercraft Championships, held every two years and scheduled in Berlin this August, are the sport’s largest events. But for the Hovercraft faithful, the real events are the smaller gatherings known as Hover-Ins that take place a dozen or so times a year in remote destinations around the country. Announced mainly on private e-mail lists and Web sites, they draw people such as Richard Rothman, who had come from West Babylon, N.Y., to the Lake Osborne Hover-In because he had heard that someone might have a lead on a new part. And Eric Jones, who worked the crowd, pulling out photos of his craft from his pocket the way someone else might show off pictures of a grandchild. And Stan Sykes of Youngstown, Ohio, his wife and newborn by his side, who was planning to add an infant seat to his craft. “You have to start early,” he said.
Alan Bedsworth spent most of the Hover-In flying the lake, perfectly at ease leaning into turns or opening up his engines. Asked how long he had been hovering, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know — maybe seven years?” He is 11.
On land and sea
Some Hovercraft 101: The machines can exceed 60 mph and are pretty much amphibious. They can travel over anything that’s reasonably smooth. While they don’t really look like flying machines, fly they do, using a cushion of air generated by a fan on the back that is vented rearward for thrust and underneath the craft for lift. The air underneath is trapped by a rubber skirt that billows out from the bottom, keeping the craft aloft on an invisible cushion.
Steering is the tricky part. Without a wheel or ski to communicate with the surface, the driver has to start turns earlier and to swing wider since the craft can slide.
Because Hovercraft can go where so many vehicles cannot, they have seen mainly specialized industrial and commercial uses since they were invented in the 1950s. But over the last two decades they have become an unofficial toy of the eccentric — make that male eccentrics, since the crowd at most hover events runs heavily toward men and talk of “hover widows” left behind for the weekend is common.
There are more than 700 active members of the Hoverclub of America, and the number is growing. No major manufacturer currently exists in the United States, but many mom and pop shops, including Air Commander in Delray Beach, Fla., and Neoteric in Terre Haute, Ind., peddle their machines with the help of the Web. Models start at about $10,000 and can exceed $30,000 for, say, a twin-engine, six-person enclosed craft with heat and stereo. Still, as many as half of the Hovercraft in this country are built from plans or kits.
A Hover-In staple is cruising, long runs over different surfaces with no real destination in mind. “The fun of being on a Hovercraft cruise is wandering into places no one else can go and saying, `Now how do we get out of this?”‘ said Whitney, who owns an auto repair shop in Bowling Green, Ky.
I guess it’s like every other object of desire in the marketplace – you can either buy something that’s ready to fly (the most expensive option), put one together from a kit with everything included, make you own just with plans or design you own. For my money, somewhere between the extremes is always the best option. For example, the game has been rolling for so long now that many design features have become standard because they are so efficient, so why try and re-invent the wheel. I know, I know – hovercraft don’t have wheels, it was just an expression, for God’s sake …. http://leisurehovercraft.soup.io/