On the first day of school, students in Dr. Herb Wood’s Introduction to Mechanical Engineering class were given the assignment to build a hovercraft that would be able to move and carry a person. Those were the only instructions that Dr. Wood gave them. Keeping in mind that engineers solve problems instead of inventing ideas or theories, the boys had to research established procedures, work as a team, find materials, and design their own hovercraft. The boys had the entire semester to work on this project.
The five senior students, Jack Kalhorn, Michael Libanati, Spencer Stingley, Micah Shenk-Evans, and Emmanuel Ogundipe went through a lengthy design phase. They started with a square piece of board, a shower curtain, and two leaf blowers. The square board did not work as well as they wanted, so they cut it into a circle. The first couple of shower curtains had problems. One was not heavy-duty enough and exploded when they tried to inflate it. Another was attached with the rough side down, which caused too much friction and the craft would not move. The final one was a medium-weight shower curtain, which they attached with the smoother side on the ground.
The students attached two leaf blowers to the top of the hovercraft. One was placed with the snout part of the blower going through a round hole in the board. When turned on, the blower inflated the shower curtain to cause it to be a hovercraft. The shower curtain was attached like a doughnut or an angel food cake-form to the bottom of the board. This allowed the craft to have ventilation holes which were necessary to keep it properly inflated.
The second blower sat on top of the board. Under this blower, the boys attached a “lazy susan” which could be pulled with strings to turn and act as the steering device for the craft. Finally, they left room in the middle for a chair for the person to sit on.
The seniors learned a lot through trial and error with this project. They needed to redesign their original design and to test it extensively. The two leaf blowers made the vehicle very loud when it was operating, but it was a successful project and the boys learned a lot and worked well together.