MAKE: Intern's Corner
Every other week, MAKE’s awesome interns tell about the projects they’re building in the Make: Labs, the trouble they’ve gotten into, and what they’ll make next.

By Steven Lemos, engineering intern

For a school project in my AutoCAD class, my group and I decided to design and build a hovercraft. At first we were planning a full-size, ride-on hovercraft, but after meeting and brainstorming it was clear we didn’t have enough time to build one. So we decided to build a smaller version, using R/C controls. This was made possible by a friend’s surplus supply of assorted R/C airplane parts, including motors, receivers, and controllers.

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The hovercraft took one month to design using Autodesk Inventor software, two months to build working mostly on weekends and some school nights — and 1 afternoon with the MAKE interns to wreck! Check out the video:

This was the first time we’d run it at full speed, and it flipped because we tried to turn it at too high a speed. We can’t really fix that without a redesign, the base is just too long and thin. But so what, we’ve just established its maximum speed!

Construction is mainly 1/16″ birch wood and some 1/8″ basswood supports, with carbon fiber stripping used to secure high-stress parts such as the motor mount. We’re using an O.S. Max .40 FP motor (a dinosaur of a R/C plane engine, but hey, it was free), attached to a 3-blade propeller with a total vehicle weight of 3.7lbs. The skirt is made out of ripstop nylon, mostly used for kites, and is secured using velcro.

It took some tinkering to get it to fly right. At first the skirt was droopy and the air distribution was not good; it would float on smooth surfaces but had a hard time with rough surfaces. The engine is also being pushed hard with the 3-blade prop and has a tendency to get hot if not cleaned after each use.

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For more information on R/C hovercrafts, please check out rc-hovercrafts.com; this is where I got a lot of my information and ideas on the project.

Your hovering intern,
Steven, signing off