Made On Earth — Gliding on Air

Craft & Design

gliging on air

“Nostalgia on steroids” is how Tom Luczycki describes the process he used to build the Air Car. Recalling the personal hovercraft ads he saw as a child in magazines like Boy’s Life, Luczycki set out to build an exhibit to delight children and remind adults of the one device they always wanted to build.

The original model used industrial air casters and a lightweight camp chair to float the rider. The second iteration replaced the camp chair with some additional framework and an aluminum race car seat that added several pounds of mass, but tons more cool.

Then came directional jets. The first version was just a single jet; the rider held a length of hose and operated a ball-valve, which allowed them to get moving pretty quick, but — here’s the kicker — steering and orientation were impossible.

Luczycki’s team wanted the air car to simulate the difficulties of maneuvering in space — weightlessness in 2D — so a more complex system was needed. They came up with an arrangement where the rider manipulates the car via a joystick and a lever switch.

Luczycki first got the maker bug when he worked on the maintenance crew at a paper mill in upstate New York. “When trying to meet a production quota at the end of the month, you saw the most insane, Goldbergian cobb-jobs to keep a machine running for just a few more days,” he recalls. Once the deadline passed, he’d get to see the job done right. He learned that both methods are important, and need to be used together in the right proportions.

After studying engineering, Luczycki switched to fine arts and worked in an art foundry, first as a metal finisher, then as a large-scale sand molder.

Eventually, he landed his dream job as a designer and fabricator at the Detroit Science Center, where he built projects like the Air Car and the Tilt-O-Rama, a ride that elicits two kinds of reactions: the shock and horror of the passengers and the delight of their friends at seeing them in shock and horror.

“The best is when we would put in a teacher who was visiting the center on a field trip,” he says.

“The students went nuts.”

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