Even though hovercraft have been around for over half a century, they still have an air of the future about them. They’re used in everything from sports to oil exploration, yet they still leave a lot to be desired in terms of ride and stability. Hoverworks of Parry Sound, Ontario hopes to improve matters with its AirRider hovercraft, which uses a hybrid hull and skirt design that combines the best of conventional hovercraft technologies.
The AirRider hovercraft is intended to overcome some of the weaknesses of the two most common hovercraft designs. The air cushion of a hovercraft is produced by a flexible rubber or plastic skirt that hangs down from the hull. The skirt needs to be rigid enough to hold in the air, yet flexible enough to allow the craft to negotiate uneven terrain, waves and low obstacles. This makes the choice of skirts a bit of a compromise, with the two main alternatives exhibiting distinct strengths and weaknesses.
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The first is the loop skirt, which, as the name implies, encircles the hull of the craft. The compressor lift fan blows air under the hull where the loop captures it, forming a cushion and lifting the craft. It’s an efficient arrangement. The loop skirt is very good at creating and maintaining the air cushion, but on water it makes for a very bumpy ride with lots of spray and drag.
The alternative is a segmented skirt where the loop is broken up into pockets that line up to form the skirt. Each of these segments is either fed air individually or from the air cushion. These segments can collapse individually while maintaining the cushion, which makes for an easier ride with less spray and drag, but the rear segments tend to snag and tear, and the craft isn’t very stable.
According to Hoverworks, AirRider hovercrafts split the difference between the two skirts by means of a loop/segment hybrid design. The sides and stern are covered by a loop skirt and the bow has a segmented skirt. This cuts down on the spray and buffeting as the segmented bow yields to oncoming waves, while the loop provides more stability and less of a tendency to snag. Hoverworks says that the design also makes the AirRider much better than either conventional design at negotiating stony stream beds or river rapids.
Intended for commercial, industrial, search and rescue, and personal use, the AirRider line of hovercrafts come in three configurations carrying one to five passengers. The hull is also a hybrid. Like many larger inflatable boats, the AirRider is a semi-rigid Inflatable made up of a five-chambered Urethane/PVC hull with solid bulkheads. Floatation foam is installed under the hull to allow the AirRider to float with the motor off for long periods of time. In combination with a special valve, the flotation foam also allows any water inside the skirt to be quickly dispelled when starting up.
Weighing from 290 to 350 kilograms (640-770 lb), the AirRider hovercrafts are powered by a 40 bhp (29.8 kW) one-liter CH1000 Kohler Command Pro V-twin 4-stroke petrol engine. On the 5-passenger model, there’s an additional 0.6-litre 20 bhp (14.9) engine to power the lifting fan. The propeller is a composite with variable forward and reverse pitch, that can quickly shift from forward to reverse to full stop. Top speed is 31 to 36 mph (50 to 58 km/h) depending on the model.
The video below shows the AirRider hovercraft in action.