Hovercraft: How they work and how you can try one!

Written on

Hovercraft: How they work and how you can try one!

Here at Adventure Sports in Warwick we have some great driving experiences including 4x4's and quad bikes. But amongst all the driving vehicles the hovercraft has to be the most unique and most interesting.

Hovercraft are actually more like planes than boats or cars, although they are more at home moving across water than flying down the runway at Birmingham! Hovercrafts use the same ‘lift’ physics that an aeroplane uses to fly, although you’ll never really get that far off the ground to find out.

How they work

Fan and fins at rear of HovercraftThe hovercraft works by floating on a cushion of air created by an onboard fan. Many hovercraft use a single large rear fan - most of the air is used to propel the craft forwards but some is split off and channeled beneath the vehicles body shell (many racing hovercraft use a separate smaller fan to provide lift leaving the main fan to use all its energy to propel the craft forward). The air is trapped underneath the hovercraft by a flexible 'skirt' made from material (usually nylon fabric or rubber). The fan creates a higher air pressure within the skirt allowing the vehicle to lift off the ground. Hovercraft usually float about 6” off the ground but anything up to 9” is normal for a larger craft.

Two main controls and your body position are used to move and steer a typical single seater hovercraft:

Hand Throttle

A simple 'squeeze to go' throttle control is used to control the engine speed. The lever is mounted on the right hand side of the steering handlebar, just like a brake lever on a bike. When the handle is squeezed the engine speed picks up forcing air into the skirt to lift the hovercraft off the floor and then to push the craft forwards.

Handlebar and Throttle of Hovercraft

There are NO BRAKES! When you want to / need to stop you just ease off the throttle lever, the air pressure drops and the craft sinks back down to the ground.

Steering Handle Bar

A couple of fins are mounted just behind the large fan at the rear of the hovercraft. These allow air to be  'vectored' to the left or right - this channeled air pushes the rear of the craft in the opposite direction (you can blame Isaac Newton for this - he stated in his 3rd Law of Motion that "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction").

The fins are controlled using a handlebar just like a push bike. Turn the handlebar right, the fins turn right, air is vectored to the right, pushing the rear of the hovercraft to the left - this results in the craft moving around to the right. Sounds complicated, but all you need to think about is that you turn the handlebars in the direction you want to be heading towards.

Body Position

A vital technique to effectively control a hovercraft is moving your body weight. When the fan is revved up, filling the skirt with air, the pilot must first move their body weight forwards or backwards (you kneel up when piloting a hovercraft) to make sure the lift is even - not nose down / up.

Moving Body Position to steer a hovercarftMoving the handlebars will allow the craft to change the direction that the nose is pointing towards, but it will take a long for the craft to actually change direction (your riding on a cushion of air so there's very little friction with the ground).

To effectively change direction you need to move your body weight to the side. This causes the hovercraft to tilt and 'spill' air on the opposite side to where you lean. This spilt air pushes you around allowing the hovercraft to turn fairly rapidly.

 

The Hovercraft Experience

The real skill of piloting a hovercraft is predicting where you need to be and then steering (handlebars and body weight) well before you get there. This makes hovercraft a really fun and active ‘driving’ experience. 

Hovercraft are also very efficient, because the craft floats on air and is propelled by air it is incredibly light and doesn’t have to cope with the friction of water, tarmac, grass or mud like a boat or car would. Because of this, the engines are relatively small compared to their size but they can still travel very quickly across water, grass, mud or tarmac. Fun!Piloting Hovercraft at speed

Due to the unique way that a hovercraft works you get a really smooth ride and a completely different sensation of driving. A hovercraft will float over bumps and divots on the ground and slide quickly over mud and grass with ease. The feeling of floating and sliding is a very new and quickly addictive sensation. Our hovercraft passengers soon get hooked on the smooth motion and ‘floaty’ feeling.

Hovercrafts will happily skim over grass then mud and then water making them a really interesting vehicle to drive around the grounds here at Wedgnock. We will send you around our course after a tutoring session and you’ll soon get to grips with the controls and the capabilities of your craft.

If you want to try something different and get to grips with an air-propelled and air driven vehicle then book in on one our hovercraft activity sessions now!

Related blog articles