My interest in hovercrafts was first incited by Junkyard Wars. I absolutely loved that show. From the constantly changing cast of characters to the equally unique challenge posed every week, I couldn't get enough of the weekly scrap heap showdown. I really wanted to make my own version of whatever the teams where creating any given week, but the hovercrafts really caught my attention. Something about the odd way hovercrafts slide across the ground like everything is covered in ice caused dreams of such a machine for me to pilot. I'm a little big to ride the radio controlled hovercraft that resulted from my obsession, but it's still a fun vehicle to drive around...
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Step 1: Design
The design is based around an 0.049 cubic inch un-throttled Cox engine that came off a control line airplane. It is very powerful for its size and can really move the craft along. Unfortunately, the downside is often difficult to start, especially if you feel the urge to run the craft in the cool air of fall. The glow plugs which cost about $10 and are difficult to find also burn out very easily. There is a fine line between enough juice to start the engine and a fried plug. It would help to have a larger, throttled engine for the greater control and less finicky starts. If you're interested in a Cox engine, eBay has many on sale, often in lots with plenty of extra parts included.
To help with the control issues of an un-throttled engine, I came up with the most unique part of the design: The radio controlled deflector which splits the air between thrust and lifting. It can deflect a maximum of 50 percent of the available thrust to the lift the craft or close off the lift duct completely. While it lets you control the ride height of the craft to some extent, it is most useful for panic stopping by completely cutting off air to the skirt, allowing the craft slid to a stop on the ground.
Steering consists of two balsa uprights which support the two rudders. The rudders are two inches wide and provide plenty of maneuverability, although more rudder surface would probably make it even more maneuverable. A cowling would likely make the rudders more effective too, but the hovercraft is very maneuverable as it is, so it isn't really worth the added frustration in starting the engine to add one.
Materials and Parts
The body is pink insulating foam from a local home center. This stuff works great for this purpose: it is easy to work with and quite stiff on its own. It comes in a variety of thicknesses and usually two foot by eight foot sections. The one inch thick foam is plenty strong for a craft this size. The rest of the structure is made of 1/8 inch thick balsa and, for the engine mount, 1/8 inch plywood from a local craft store.
The remote control system is a two channel set-up meant for cars, boats or other crafts that ride on the surface. It has a range of about 100 feet which is plenty for this hovercraft. The 2 oz fuel tank, fuel lines, fuel, control horns and pusher prop were all bought online at an RC specialty site.