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Build a Hovercraft

Explore how moving air can power a vehicle. Create a hovercraft using a CD or a paper plate or a foam board and power it by balloons.

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Plan

  • This activity can be done inside, outside or at camp.
  • The hovercraft needs to run on a smooth surface.
  • Familiarize yourself with how a hovercraft works.
  • You need a computer if you are going to show the video of the hovercraft. This might help you to better understand what the goal of the challenge is.
  • You may need more time for the design and build phases.
  • This Adventure could be done in two meetings.

Do

  • Show the group a video of an actual hovercraft. Does anyone know how a hovercraft works?
  • Take time for brainstorming, guessing and discussing.
  • Give each group of two or three a box full of materials. There should be enough so that each person can try building several different types of hovercrafts.
  • If you get stuck while building, your Scouter can give you hints, but should not give away the answer to how to make your hovercraft!
  • Draw your proposed hovercraft design and explain how it works to your Scouter.
  • You can build your hovercraft individually or in groups of two.
  • It is best if each person will have a hovercraft to take home at the end of the project.
  • Test your designs and make changes to figure out which one works better.
  • How do the different shapes of the hovercraft influence the motion?
  • How can we hold the balloon up?
  • Cut out different shapes (such as squares and circles) from the foam board to see which one works best. Use cardstock or straw to create a cradle for the balloon.
  • After understanding the initial concept of the hovercraft and building one that works, design a hovercraft that moves in one direction. Add a horizontal direction to the force of the air by cutting an angled hole in the foam board. The angled hole supplies lift and forward thrust.
  • You can also test adding dimes on the hovercraft to see how it works if made heavier.
  • Once you have decided on your best design, you can race the hovercraft to compare different features.
  • Build a raceway using suspended fishing line to create a straight path for the hovercraft, like bumpers in a bowling alley. Heavy books can be used to hold strings up.
  • Use a spring clamp to hold the balloon and maintain air pressure and remove the clamp when ready to race.
  • Release the hovercrafts.
  • Which ones go faster?
  • Do the hovercrafts spin around?
  • How do you stabilize the direction of travel?
  • Adjust the design or re-do the design and then run the race again.

Review

  • What did you learn while making your hovercraft?
  • What was the hardest part of this activity?
  • Is there anything that you would do differently next time?
  • What worked well when making your hovercraft?
  • What did you learn about how hovercrafts work?

 

Some Background Information on Hovercrafts

  • Hovercrafts are supported off the ground by an air cushion.
  • Vents in the hovercraft direct air downwards, creating a pocket of air currents between the craft and the ground.
  • By shifting the direction of the vents, it is possible to steer the hovercraft.
  • A skirt on the bottom of the hovercraft traps the air cushion underneath the hovercraft.
  • By reducing friction between the bottom of the craft and the surface, the craft is able to glide freely.
  • Think about an air hockey table, and how freely the puck is able to move across it.

Materials

This is a great opportunity to use recycled materials. Old CDs and DVDs, soap lids, and other materials can otherwise be difficult to recycle. The below materials are suggestions, but you can get as creative as you'd like!

Each person will need:

  • An old CD or DVD
  • Straw
  • Packing foam (1-2” thick piece) or a flat sponge
  • Balloon
  • Duct Tape
  • Rubber bands
  • Skewers
  • Pencil

Keep it Simple

  • Some people might find it hard to design and build their own hovercraft. Have some instructions on hand for people who are having a hard time!

Take it Further

  • Scale up the model and ride on the hovercraft. Use a sturdy piece of plywood as the body of the hovercraft, a leaf blower as the source of pressured air and something like a shower curtain to create the skirts.