World Hovercraft Organization > HoverWorld Insider > April 2005

Hovercraft Events / News / Information

The Official Newsletter of the World Hovercraft Organization

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April 2005 - In this issue:
- Sport and Recreation: Event news and updates
- Education: Learning takes flight in school hovercraft programs
- Commercial Applications: Hovercraft eliminates aviation threat
- Rescue Operations: Hovercraft rescue pioneers
- Hovercraft Industry: 2005 State of the Industry report

Hovercraft in Sport and Recreation

From the Hoverclub of America:

Hoosier Hovercraft ChampionshipTHIS WEEKEND!

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 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 2004 Hoosier Championship.

US National Hoverally - June 2005

Racing hovercrafts picture
Hoverally 2004: Gary Lutke close on the transom of Bill Zang in F-1 class. Photo courtesy Hoverclub of America.
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.

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 dinner.

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 Overview.

For full details about this year's US National Hoverally, see Hoverally 2005

For additional events sanctioned by the Hoverclub of America, see Events

From the World Hovercraft Federation:

World Hovercraft Championship 2006 and 2008

Michele Scanavino representing Italy as WHC 2002 in Terre Haute, Indiana USA opens with a Fly-Past of All Nations.
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.

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

Hovercraft in Education

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:

Wantirna College hovercraft picture
Wantirna College DiscoverHover One hovercraft
Wantirna 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!"

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 about education."

Cary Grove High School hover craft photo
Cary-Grove High School hovercraft project
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!"

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."

Armstrong Atlantic State University hovercraft picture
Armstrong Atlantic State University hovercraft team
Dr. Cameron Coates, Assistant Professor of Engineering Studies at Armstrong Atlantic 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."

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 countries.

* 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 schools.

* 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:


Featured Schools
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 program.

Comments from Students
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."

Comments from Educators
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.

The Hovercraft Engine
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 email 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 your craft!

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

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, 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.

Hovercraft in Commercial Applications

Hovercraft eliminates aviation threat at Batten International Airport

The problem

Aircraft bird strike photo

A 747 flies through a formation of Canadian geese.
Photo courtesy Bird Strike Association, Inc.

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.

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.

The history

Calbraith Rodgers, the first person to fly across the continental USA, was ironically also the first to die as a result of a bird strike.

More recently:

  • In 1991 the pilot of a Learjet was killed over Cincinnati, Ohio when a loon crashed through his windshield.
    Aircraft bird strike picture

    Damage sustained from aircraft collision with a single turkey vulture.
    Photo courtesy Bird Strike Association, Inc.

  • 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.

The culprit

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.

Goose control hover crafts picture
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 runway.

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 for birds."

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 working!"

"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!"

Canadian geese control hover craft photo
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."

Discarded solutions

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 all.

Each issue of HoverWorld Insider will feature an article about commercial hovercraft in use. If you have an interesting story to share, please email and we will contact you for details.

Hovercraft 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 their rescue 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 a year!"

Ice water rescue hovercraft picture
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 Lake.
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.

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 case."

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 fashion."

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 and we will contact you for details.

The Hovercraft Industry

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.

Sir Christopher Cockerell hover craft picture
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:

AKS-Invest, Russia
ASV All Surface Vehicles, Australia
Hov Pod Hovercraft, England
Hummingbird Hovercraft, Canada
Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. USA
Norra Stavsudda-Handel, Sweden
Sevtec Surface Effect Vehicles, USA
Viper Hovercraft/Nell Fabrication, Australia

Industry growth

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.

History hovercraft picture
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 programs.

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 DiscoverHover international school hovercraft program and its accompanying curriculum guides. Member schools are now incorporating DiscoverHover into their standard curriculum.

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 wintermonth."

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.

Technological advancements

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.

Public awareness

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 chat rooms.

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 word-of-mouth."

Worldwide use

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

The challenges

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 drink was."

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 now possible.

The opportunities

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.

Cruising hovercrafts picture
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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