Building a Hovercraft

The thread on hoverboards got me remembering my youth and reading copies of Boy’s Life magazine. There was always an ad in there along with the ads for joy buzzers and fake vomit where you could get plans to build your own functioning mini-hovercraft using a vacuum cleaner motor. Thinking my mother would get upset if I tore apart the appliances, I never sent in my $14.95 or however much it was, but I’m sure someone on the planet did. Does anyone remember this? Would it have worked? Did I miss out on being the only 10 year old on the block with a functioning hovercraft to take to school?

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Remember these are they same ads that promised x-ray glasses.

I never ordered such plans, but since I never saw such a contraption flying around my town, I must assume a) no one else ordered them, b) they did not work.

I would have to go with a combination of the two. It was most likely a set of plans that in theory would work, though not likely with a vacuum cleaner motor, unless it was a very small craft much too small for a person. It was likely more of a way to part a young person with their hard earned allowance.


Hi, I’m Olentzero. I… er, I…
hangs head, whispers very quietly

I ordered those very plans once. Right out of Boys’ Life.

I honestly thought it would be a one-man flying machine, speeding through the air on my way to school or wherever, suddenly having become the Coolest Kid in Town. Possibly the State of New Hampshire.

Nope! Basically what it turned out to be was a person-sized version of the hockey puck on an airhockey game. You had the vacuum cleaner motor, a seat, a large circular platform and a skirt of material hanging off it - heavy enough to prevent any air from the vacuum cleaner motor escaping. You could push it around a smooth floor and glide all over the place, so long as the cord didn’t come out of the socket in the wall.

It would have made a great science fair project, had I been older and in possession of the kind of coordination and patience it required to actually build the thing. Since I didn’t, it was for me just a ploy to separate me from my $14.95.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

      • Wrong! It did work, somewhat. A local kid and dad put one together when I was a young’un. It was a trianglular frame with three round “lift pads”, one on each corner. The vacuum cleaner motor went behind the seat. The reality was that it only worked on smooth floors, and it had to be plugged in with an extension cord. It didn’t go anywhere; it had to be pushed - but it was real easy to push. The edges of the lift pads were rubber, and it tended to leave black marks on the floor. It wouldn’t lift an adult’s weight. The plans said that it “demonstrated a scientific principle”; I think the one about a fool and his money, since there were legitimate hovercraft available back then that cost thousands of dollars. I think that they intended to make more from selling the concept than the actual finished product. - MC

When I was in high school (approx 10 years ago) The Industrial Science teacher, Mr. Lenda (sp?)), of a local public high school (Wooten HS in MD, suburbs of DC) actually built a hovercraft like you described. It was written up in local papers (Montgomery County Journal for one). Yes it did work but from what I understand it was a bitch to build and the novelty wore off real quick- it was noisy (vacuum cleaner motor) and slow.

You’re right, MC, it was three pads. For a moment there I thought the triangular structure had been the product of boyish fantasy instead of the real thing.

Okay. But suppose I got clever and used a lawn mower engine to run the vacuum motor; in fact I use three - one for each of the pads. It would be noisy as hell, but would it hold me up? Could I rig up a sail, and zip around town? Could I boost the power in some other way to get a cheap, homemade hovercraft?

How about high voltage fuel cells instead of lawn mower engines? And I’ll wire up four or five vacuum motors on each pad. Now we’re cooking. How high off the ground could I get? If stuck in traffic, could I just “up and over”? Cool, man.

It’s actually not all that hard to build a homemade hovercraft using a lawn mower engines and some wood and rubber sheeting. My brother used to have the blueprints to a one/two man hovercraft, we had it about 75% finished when we discovered that the wooden frame had been damaged during winter storage. (Something had chewed it up.) Wish I knew where the plans were, would be a fun project.

>>while contemplating the navel of the universe, I wondered, is it an innie or outie?<<

—The dragon observes

Hovercraft plans? A quick search found


Actually, let me replace the last URL above with

I saw an actual working personal hovercraft demonstrated once… it was built by a physics teacher at our old school. It was as described except more homemade. It was quite amazing to ride on, and would have been more so had the cord been longer.

Now I feel lazy, because I just wrote about this in another hovercraft thread, but as a kid, I built a hovercraft I saw on some tv science show. It was 4’ in diameter, just a plywood circle with a plastic skirt, and although on the show they used a leaf blower, mine was powered from a vacuum cleaner. The one I built would support an adult, and in fact could support more than one. I figure if one were enterprising enough, a gas powered leaf blower would make such a device portable, and if you are capable of designing some method of controlling it, you could have a fun toy on which to float around.

I also saw the ad for the Boys’ Life hovercraft, and although I desparately wanted to order it, my father had already learned the lesson about the fool and his money and wouldn’t let me order it. I was able to make the one I did build out of stuff in the garage.

I’m currently a boy scout in the Denver Area Council and a venturer in Venturing Emergency Rescue Team Crew 911. The hovercraft is still in the back of Boy’s Life. I saw it demonstrated somewhere in an Oregon science museum, two five or six year old volunteers would stand on a side of a strip of hardwood flooring and push an adult (the kid’s got to ride too) back and worth demonstrating the difference in friction between viscous gases and solids.

Yep, my physics teacher in high school built a hovercraft and used a gas leaf blower. We spent one class out in the school parking lot jetting (aka pushing each other) around. Loads of fun and a scraped knee or two.

The principal behind an hovercraft is that the air presure under the craft matchs the downard presure exerted by its weight. Since pressure is weight/area you could theoreticly float infinite weight on a simple vacuum cleaner engine if your craft has infinite area. As always, real life pooh-poohs the party since increasing the area will increase the craft weight, and the presure must be evenly distibuted or one side will drag. The construction material also has to be rigid of or some areas will sag which unevenly distibutes the weight(so make sure you get thick plywood).
Driving it around is a little more problematic since contact with a rough surface like asphalt will wear though the skirt pretty quick. Smooth flooring or ice or maybe even glass smooth water would work the best.
Then there is the propulsion. You would need at least a small prop engine to get up any speed, and once you got it, you will instanly become aware that turning and or stopping is going to take some planning.