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Things You Should Know Before “Building a Hovercraft”

By: Daniel Drouillard
© 2006 Hovercraft Central All Rights Reserved

This publication is designed to provide authoritative information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is provided with the understanding that the author and the publisher are not engaged in rendering legal or other professional advice. If legal or other professional advice is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. Daniel Drouillard individually, or corporately, does not accept any responsibility for any liabilities resulting from the actions of any parties involved. By downloading this e-Book you have rights to redistribute it as long as it is given away for free! You may not, however, alter the contents of this document in any way or claim it as your work. Enjoy “Building a Hovercraft.”

Things You Should Know Before “Building a Hovercraft”
We have often heard of the difficulties involved with building a hovercraft, and that is why we have created this simple guide. The most challenging problems to most home builders include the issues of lift, thrust, and control. Let’s get right to it!

Lift calculations
Air Gap Size To calculate the amount of lift air flow you need, you must first know the size of the air gap under the craft (between the skirt and the ground). This size will be the total area of the gap. Since the air gap extends all the way around the bottom of the craft, the perimeter of the skirt must be included in the calculation. Also since the area of the gap is the length times the width, the gap size becomes a simple calculation. Area = (Length) x (Width) Or

the air gap also needs to be expressed in feet. The air gap size would be: Perimeter in Feet = 2 x (Length + Width) = 2 x (4 + 8) = 2 x 12 = 24 feet Since you already know how high the plywood is going to hover. convert the air gap height from inches to feet. you have to find out how much air is needed to fill the gap continuously. This will be the total lift air flow. For most smaller commercial and recreational hovercraft. Because the air supplied to the underside of the craft escapes through the air gap. you must keep the same units throughout. simply by dividing by twelve. Now combine the perimeter we just found with the air gap height: Air Gap Size in Square Feet = (Perimeter of 24 Feet) x (Height of Half an Inch) 12 Air Gap Size in Square Feet = 12/12 = 1 Square Foot Filling the Gap After you know the size of the air gap below the craft. this air will need to be constantly flowing to replace the escaping air. air discharge speed is around 60 feet per second. If the air discharge speed is not known.Air Gap Size = (Perimeter of Skirt) x (Height of Air Gap Under Skirt) To apply this calculation correctly. you can just include it in the formula the way it is. So now the calculation would be: Air Gap Size in Square Feet = (Perimeter in Feet) x (Height of Air Gap in Inches) 12 Now let’s try an example! Suppose you want to lift a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood a half an inch. Since there are 12 inches in a foot. A larger craft typically has a slower air discharge from under it. We will call this escaping air the air discharge. you can replace that unknown value with 60 feet per second without too many problems. . So if the perimeter of the skirt is measured in feet.

This gives us a constant of 300. think of it this way: there are parts of this formula that can be changed and there are parts of it that stay the same. we are calculating the air flow using square feet of air gap size. for most purposes. But we can reduce this further by dividing the 3600 feet per minute by 12 (the inch to foot conversion). We will also convert feet per second to feet per minute for air discharge speed. Lift Air Flow = (Air Gap Size) x (Air Discharge Speed) x (60 Seconds per Minute) Or From the last equation if we replace “(Air Gap Size)” with “(Perimeter) x (Height in Inches) /12” we get: Lift Air Flow = (Perimeter Feet) (Air Gap Inches) (Air Discharge Speed) (60 sec) 12 This might start getting a bit confusing. “12 inches to a foot” will never change. we can accept air discharge speed as “60 feet per second. Also note. we have an air discharge speed of about 3600 feet per minute. Now we can simply multiply the air gap in inches by the perimeter in feet and multiply that by 300: Lift Air Flow = (Perimeter in Feet) (Height of Air Gap in Inches) (300) The method shown in green above can be used to estimate the total lift air flow quickly and easily. To simplify.Note that the air discharge speed is rated in feet per second.” Also. however. For example. For this reason. Then we can easily multiply the varying values by that constant: Lift Air Flow = (Perimeter Feet) (Air Gap Inches) (60 Feet per Sec) (60 Sec) 12 Since “(60 feet per second) x (60 seconds per minute)” can be solved. Neither will “60 seconds to a minute. the formula can be simplified if we multiply and divide these known numbers first to provide a constant.” Therefore. that most fans are rated in cubic feet per minute (CFM) air flow. .

Also from Newton’s work. without it falling. It is used to show how a simpler formula can represent a more complicated function. but the air also pushes back on the propeller. we know that these forces are the result of accelerating a mass (weight). try finding an air supply of 1 ½ to 2 times the air flow needed so you never lose lift air! Thrust Calculations Sir Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli The last section was a matter of lift versus weight and this section will be a matter of thrust versus drag. This can be represented as: Force = (Mass) x (Acceleration) Thrust is typically measured in pounds. One pound of thrust is equal to the force needed to suspend a one pound weight.2 Feet per Second2 Gravity’s Acceleration) . This is the principle that we will apply to achieve thrust. It states: for every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force. if the thrust was directed straight upward. It also shows where some of the equations you might see come from. So that a propeller pushes on the air. Sir Isaac Newton’s third law applies here. Expressed mathematically.Keep in mind that this is not meant to confuse anyone. Let’s use the new equation! We will continue using the example of the 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood: Lift Air Flow = (Perimeter in Feet) (Height of Air Gap in Inches) (300) From the previous calculation: Lift Air Flow = (Perimeter of 24 Feet) (Height of Half an Inch) (300) Lift Air Flow = (12 Square Feet) x (300) Lift Air Flow = 3600 Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM) That’s it! Now you can find the lift air flow for your hovercraft! If you’ve just started building one. this would be: Thrust in lbs = (Weight of Air Flow Pounds per Sec) (Velocity in Feet per Second) (32.

there is no need to include the velocity of travel for this purpose. When combined with the previous equation.075 pounds per cubic foot. . By my calculations this value is about twice that force. since the same size propeller turning faster (higher speed) will move that amount of air faster. Problems The biggest problem people have with finding the thrust for a given application is converting the propeller size and speed into air velocity. We can presume that the initial velocity is zero if you are getting started from a stop. This can also be confirmed by Bernoulli’s equation: F = (0. If you want to. without it falling. The only disadvantage is when this information is not available. In other words. It isn’t enough for the air flowing to equal gravity’s pull. the propeller speed will affect the air velocity. it must overcome the force of gravity. Also. Therefore. Also notice how the speed the vehicle travels affects the total thrust. If you don’t have a chart. you will have to calculate! But notice how the formula works: because a bigger propeller will collect more air. if you are producing a 60 mph wind.5) x (Density of Air) x (Area) x (Velocity2 – Velocity of Travel2) Notice how Bernoulli realized that the force transferred to the object depends on the area the force acts upon. you can use empirical data (from a chart) to find this value at a given propeller speed. the size of the propeller (area) will affect the air mass.2 Gravity’s Acceleration) Note: That “0.Notice that the only difference between the above two equations is the force of gravity. The weight of air (air density) at standard pressures is around 0. your vehicle cannot exceed 60 mph total speed. by including the force of gravity: F = (Density of Air) x (Area Acted Upon) x (Velocity of Air Flow Squared) (2) x (32. we can express this value in pounds of thrust. In order for the air flowing to support the weight.5 times density of air” from the previous equation has been replaced by “density of air over 2” in the above equation and “velocity of travel” is omitted because it is considered zero.

it will not work! It also does not involve the area immediately surrounding the propeller for the same reasons. To convert mph to feet per second. the air density.466666 = 205.075) (Area of 0. Since you can solve for “(2) x (32. Now use the area and velocity we just found in the above equation: Thrust (lbs) = (0. we want feet and pounds. You want to know how much thrust the leaf blower will provide. per Sec. If you try to use this formula for supersonic flight.5 value from Bernoulli’s equation.” To convert to square feet. and behind. Now you have: Thrust in Pounds = (0. this is as simple as it gets. the propeller. The output area (at the blower nozzle) is 6 square inches. Another problem is that the formula can only be simplified so much. We don’t want miles and tons. multiply by 1. and the 0.5447) 64.2) 64.4666666: 140 mph x 1. Since we want all units the same we must first convert “square inches” to “square feet” and “mph” to “feet per second. To simplify. The formula still is useful and can be applied to the area in front of. Let’s apply this formula! Suppose you want to use a leaf blower to propel the example sheet of plywood.4 .3333 Ft.041666666 square feet.You should understand that Bernoulli’s equation does not address the issue of air compression.4 Regrettably.333324 feet per second.075) x (Area Acted Upon) x (Velocity of Air Flow Squared) 64. The leaf blower has an air flow output speed of 140 mph.4 as the denominator. For example.0416 Feet2) (Velocity of 205. the only values that do not change are: the force of gravity. divide by 144: 6 square inches/144 = 0.2)” this gives a replacement of 64.4 Thrust (lbs) = (131. we can reduce these values to a single constant.

Vectoring thrust means that you change the thrusting direction instead of redirecting the craft to adjust for a single direction thrust. The other way is to point the propeller in a different direction. you use remember to be safe and have fun! . These controls can be placed at the discharge end of the propeller (slip stream). You could mount the engine and propeller on a pivoting frame. Vector – Part Two The best method of control for thrust is to vector it.Thrust (lbs) = 2. Another placement of control surfaces could be at the intake (free stream) end of the propeller. or equations. Tilting these surfaces left redirects more of the thrust to the left. You can even adjust the attitude of the craft by redirecting thrust vertically. Holding the engine and propeller still against their own forces is the only difficulty. Using control surfaces behind the propeller is one way to vector thrust. This works oppositely and is not as efficient. Tilting right moves the net thrust to the right. no calculations are in this section! We will only discuss methods of directing thrust (since lift is always in the same direction). Whichever methods. The most common way to direct thrust is to use control surfaces.0426 pounds of thrust See if you can make a leaf blower hover a 2 pound weight! Control Methods Vector – Part One Relax. and simply move it in the opposite direction (like an outboard motor on a boat).