The Hovercraft

I had just stumbled across a site called www.hackaday.com, and I was fascinated. Most of the hacks were too nerdy for me to really be interested in, but one stuck out.

“Build a Hovercraft for under $100”

Yeah! As a kid I would always read the classifieds section of the Boy Scout magazine, and salivate over the plans to build a hovercraft. I wanted to build one and ride it around in school instead of walking.

My parents didn’t go for that idea.

I was pumped that I would finally get my day. My friend Andrew was at my hous. I told him that I was going to build a hovercraft, and he said that it was impossible.

We bet $100 on whether or not I could build it in a day. Perfect – that was my budget.

My friend Nick was over too. He was also excited about the hovercraft and he agreed to help me build it.

Off to Home Depot.

We bought a huge square of fiberboard. We were hoping to find a round piece, but couldn’t. No problem. My father is a carpenter and I used to get his hand-me-down tools, so I had plenty of saws.

Duct tape. Check.

PVC tarp for the skirt. Check.

Leaf blower. The leaf blower is what pumps the air into the skirt and lifts the thing off the ground. They suggest an electric one, but that wasn’t going to give me the range I wanted.

Knowing that I’d be getting $100 for winning the bet, I splurged and bought the biggest and baddest gas leaf blower they had available for around $85.

They suggested gluing the leaf blower to the hovercraft, but I got sidetracked in the plumbing department and spent an hour – literally – combining pipes and toilet fittings and such until I came up with an awesome mount for the leaf blower. It would be removable for easy transportation.

Then we went home and got to work. The construction was pretty easy, all things considered. We rounded out the corners, mounted the piping, and built the skirt.

The hardest part was doing all the duct taping that was required. The instructions called for completely covering the bottom with tape to make it more durable. It wasn’t that the labor was hard – the problem was that we were so close that it was hard to resist just flipping it over and trying it.

Finally we finished the construction and the moment of truth was upon us.

We cleared out a big area in the middle of the garage and fired up the leaf blower. Sure enough, the hovercraft created a little cushion of air to float on. Sawdust blew out from all directions.

I sat on it. and it supported my weight. It worked!

At first we were happy just taking turns pushing around my little driveway, but that didn’t last.

Soon we invested in brakes, which was a kid’s spiderman themed boxing glove that the driver would wear and drag on the ground to slow down.

We found that even a slight hill in a parking lot would provide enough acceleration to get some decent speed.

But that wasn’t good enough either.

Before long we were scoping out huge office park driveways that didn’t have speedbumps (surprisingly hard to find). We would tie a rope to a car and take turns pulling each other at 30mph.

Now that was fun. So fun, in fact, that when the Pick Up Convention came to Austin, a good portion of the attendees opted to skip going out in favor of hoverboarding.

Finally after a series of abuse, the skirt got too many holes and wouldn’t float very well. When I moved out of my house I gave the rig away to a father who wanted to fix it up for his son.

Maybe he’ll get to drive it in school. How bad could the carbon monoxide really be?

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