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Ground-effect vehicles (GEVs), also known as wing-in-ground-effect vehicles (WIGs) or ekranoplans, are craft designed to fly low over flat surfaces. Air is trapped between the wing and the ground, and the GEV rides on a cushion of air; that’s the ground effect. People sometimes confuse GEVs and hovercrafts. Hovercrafts propel air downward to achieve lift; GEVs don’t. Hovercrafts need no forward velocity to attain lift; GEVs do.

The ground effect is most pronounced very close to the ground. For safety reasons, the ground should be level, which is why flight over water is the most common use of GEVs. One advantage of GEVs over conventional planes is the lack of wingtip vortices that produce drag.

Pilots discovered the ground effect in the 1920s, when they found that their aircraft became more efficient as they neared the runway. It was another 40 years before working GEVs were built. Rostislav Alexeyev in the Soviet Union and German Alexander Lippisch, working in the United States, were leaders in GEV design.

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Last fall I stumbled onto John Ryland’s YouTube videos of GEVs (above). Cool! I had never heard of them. I searched and found more designs ( and As a science teacher, I was more interested in these simple homemade versions than actual working crafts.

Project Steps

Make the GEV Body

I tried simplifying the designs of others. I had good luck with a body made out of one piece of cardstock and a rear stabilizer made out of a second. Although I varied the dimensions, this is what I began with.

Fold along the dotted lines at a 90° angle to produce the final body shape.

Add the Stabilizer

Next, a rear stabilizer is needed, and not just for looks. Cut it out, fold on the dotted lines, and tape.

Now attach the stabilizer to the body.

Add Clips for Weight

Place your vehicle on smooth surface like a large table or floor. Place your hand at the back of the vehicle and give it a quick push. You’ll find that air will flow under the body and push the front up. Weight is needed in front. Mini binder clips work well.

Flying Your GEV

If the front still lifts too much, add more weight. And if the vehicle won’t lift off the ground, there’s too much weight. In addition to binder clips, try small paper clips; sliding them forward and backward slightly produces noticeable effects. When you’ve got it right, your GEV will glide surprisingly far on its cushion of air!


This project appeared in Make: Volume 73. Subscribe for more great articles and projects delivered right to your doorstep.