hovercraftHovercraft transport people and their stuff across ice, grass, swamp, water, and land. Also known as the Air Cushioned Vehicle (ACV), these machines use air to greatly reduce the sliding friction between the bottom of the vehicle (the skirt) and the ground. This is a great example of how lubrication works – most people think of oil as the only way to reduce sliding friction, but gases work well if done right.


In this case, the readily-available air is shoved downward by the hover motor and the skirt traps the air and keeps it inside, thus lifting the vehicle slightly. The thruster motor’s job is to propel the craft forward. Most hovercraft use either two motors (one on each side) for steering, or just one with a rudder that can deflect the flow (as your project does).


The first hovercraft were thought about in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that real ones were first tested. Today, the military use them for patrolling hard-to-drive areas, scientists use them for swamp research studies, and businesses use them to transport toys and food across rough and icy areas. Scientists are already planning future ACVs to use magnetic levitation in addition to the air power… but it’s still on the drawing board.


Are you ready to make your own? We have TWO different models to choose from. Click this link for the Easy Balloon-Powered Model, or keep reading below for the advanced version.
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You will need:


  • 1 wood skewer
  • 1 wood popsicle stick
  • 1 straw
  • 16 oz. styrofoam cup (the kind used for sodas). Note that waxed paper cups will not work!
  • 1 foam hamburger container (the one in the video is 5.5″ square and 3″ high when closed)
  • 1 foam meat tray (the one in the video is approx. 10″x12″x1″ – it does not need to be these exact dimensions – try a few different sizes out to see what happens! You can get them for free if you ask for a clean one from your butcher.
  • 2 3V DC motors (one smaller, one larger)
  • 2  propellers (the ones in the video are 3″ diameter, so check your local hobby store and get a variety to test out) – read comments below for ideas on where to get props!
  • 9V battery clip with wires
  • 9V battery (get a good kind, like Duracell or Energizer)
  • 9V battery holder (looks like a “C”) OR use tape to attach the battery to your hovercraft
  • a couple of extra wires (speaker wire, alligator clips, etc.)
  • 1 SPST switch


Download Student Worksheet & Exercises


  1. First, we’ll work to make the hovercraft hover. Start by finding the center of the Styrofoam meat tray. This will be your base.
  2. Use the ruler to measure the diameter of your cup to make sure it’s 3.5 inches. If it measures correctly, use the cup and pen to draw a circle in the middle of the tray
  3. Carefully cut out the circle, supporting the bottom of the foam.
  4. Cut your skewer into three pieces, making sure they are longer than the cut-out circle is wide.
  5. Use the hot glue gun to attach the lip of the round motor onto the skewer pieces, keeping them as parallel as possible.
  6. Gently attach the skewers onto the foam.
  7. Attach a propeller onto the shaft of the motor which is now attached to the skewers and foam tray.
  8. Now we will work with the takeout container. Open it and cut it in half and place one half to the side.
  9. Check the diameter of the bottom of the foam cup to ensure it’s about 2 ¼ inches. Then you can trace it with a pen on the top of the hamburger container half.
  10. Cut out the circle and discard it.
  11. Using the slide switch as a guide, cut out a small rectangle in the front for the switch. Reinforce it with hot glue, being careful to NOT get hot glue in the switch. Make sure it still slides back and forth.
  12. Rest the hamburger half on top – we aren’t going to attach it just yet.
  13. Find the small motor and look for the small contacts (they are very small and fragile – they are copper and look a little like foil). Gently bend them up a little in the back.
  14. Hot glue the motor onto the end of the popsicle stick with the shaft pointing away from the stick and the contacts pointing up.
  15. Use hot glue to secure the stick across the top of the hole in the hamburger box.
  16. Attach a propeller and give it a spin to make sure it will spin.
  17. Find the 9-volt battery clip and hot glue the bottom of it onto the middle of the popsicle stick.
  18. Cut your wire into two equal length pieces. Remove the insulation from the ends (about ¾ of an inch to an inch – get adult help if you need it). Twist the exposed wires together. Do this for both wires.
  19. If you aren’t going to solder the project, you’ll need to cut off the metal ends of the 9 volt battery clip’s wires and strip the wire insulation. Twist these wires together as well.
  20. Now we’ll work on wiring the inside motor. Take the end of one wire and put it halfway through one of the posts. Bend it up and twist it around itself very well to ensure it’s connected well. Do this with the other wire and connection.
  21. One of these wires will go to the switch. Thread the wire through a tab and twist it around itself.
  22. Attach the black wire from your 9-volt battery clip to the other tab on the switch.
  23. Thread your remaining wires (the red one from the battery clip and the remaining red wire from the first, hovering motor) up through the hamburger tray to attach them to the second motor. This is the thruster motor.
  24. Now that everything is wired, glue the hamburger tray to the bottom tray by placing hot glue at each of the four corners and pressing down gently.
  25. To test, grab your 9-volt battery. Check to make sure everything is wired correctly – the hovercraft should hover, not be sucked down to the table, and you should feel air blowing if you hold your hand in front of the thruster motor. Switch the appropriate wires if you note any issues during testing.
  26. Now we’ll build a shroud around the thruster motor. You’ll need the cup, the last piece of wooden skewer, the straw, and the remaining big piece of foam. Measure about halfway down the cup and cut it all the way around – essentially cutting it in half. You’ll be using the top of the cup – the cuff-like portion. It should fit around the propeller.
  27. Starting on the cut side of the foam, cut out a rectangle to use as a shim. Hot glue the rectangle down to the hovercraft. Then hot glue the cup cuff down to the rectangle.
  28. If the propeller is hitting the Styrofoam, you can move the cup around and hot glue as needed to make sure there is room for movement.
  29. Make a vein from a rectangular piece of Styrofoam that fits inside the cup cuff.
  30. Glue the straw onto the long end of this piece and trim the straw down. The wooden skewer should fit right through the straw.
  31. Push the wooden skewer down through the top of the cup. Pierce the bottom of the cup but DO NOT pierce the bottom of the hovercraft.
  32. Put the straw and Styrofoam piece in, and then thread the skewer back down through the straw.
  33. Troubleshooting: make sure the bottom of the hovercraft – the tray’s lip – is as smooth as possible. You can sand it down lightly if you need to. You’ll need a clean, smooth, flat surface to hover on as well! You might also double check the motor directions. If necessary, you can lightly weigh down the front of the hovercraft to balance out the weight from the back.
  34. Modification: Once the hovercraft is operational, you can hot glue foam tubing to the bottom to make a water hovercraft. However, it will no longer work on land!

Exercises:


1.  What happens if you use a larger meat tray?


2.  Add another 9V battery?


3.  se a 12VDC motor for the 3VDC motor?


4.  Remove the battery pack entirely and add longer wires so you can hold the battery in your hand as the hovercraft zooms down the hallway?


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Comments

187 Responses to “Hovercraft”

  1. Marla Ramsum says:

    My brother and I are modifying this

    we took the circuit board out of my remote control and are in the process of putting it on now

    hopefully it will work and/or on water

  2. Delia Ayer says:

    But your “squished” motor in the video didn’t have a gear on it. Is there any place I can get one like that?

  3. No – those are usually press-fit on, and you need a machine to get them off. However, I’ve had luck heading up the motor shaft (get an adult to do this for you) and then quickly pressing the hot gear-shaft end into a propeller and melting the prop right onto the hot shaft. Make sure when you do this you’ve got a soft, bendy type of plastic propeller or it may not work.

  4. Delia Ayer says:

    I got some hobby motors but they have gears Instead of a plain old shaft. Any ideas on how to get them off?

  5. First of all, awesome job making it work at all and building it yourself! Here are some things to you try to make it even better:

    1. Put in a fresh 9V battery – does that help?
    2. Remove the battery and hold it above the hovercraft in your hand, so its weight isn’t on the hovercraft any longer… does it move faster now?
    3. Make sure that there are no air leaks around the perimeter of the hovercraft where it contacts the table. I noticed when I made mine from paper that it would always have air leakage problems. When I switched it out for a foam plate, those issues totally disappeared.

    Hope this helps! Great job!
    Aurora

  6. Delia Ayer says:

    I built it but it moves forward very slowly, I don’t know if that is because I used a paper plate for the base or if I have two of the same motors? Other than that it works fine.

  7. So the fan doesn’t hit the shroud. 🙂

  8. Delia Ayer says:

    Why do you need the shroud to be elevated?

  9. I’ve sent you a private email. 🙂

  10. Pat (mom of Annalynn) Parker says:

    Aurora, When I click on that link you sent, it just talks about how radioshack parts are not easy to get any more. You mentioned if we get motors from the shopping list we should be good, but it didn’t say to get a flat sided motor. This is what we cannot find. In the video you said to be sure to get a flat sided motor. We’ve been everywhere. We went to the last hobby shop that has very upscale RC parts and all his motors are round as well. We went online and all we can find is a flat sided motor from FRANCE!!! So please let us know where we can get a flat sided motor. Thanks. pat

  11. Hi Pat! The motors can both be the same – if you got the ones from the shopping list, then you should be fine.

    I am sorry you had so much trouble getting the items… I will put it in my notes for this project that exact foam tray measurements aren’t necessary. One kid even wrote in that he used a foam paper plate when he couldn’t find a rectangular meant tray, and it worked! I sent you an email response about propellers last week, and sent you a packet of propellers that same day via mail, so you should have it very soon!

    For future projects that need specialty parts like this one, you can use our master spreadsheet list here: https://www.sciencelearningspace2.com/2016/08/radio-shack-component-replacements/ that show you exactly which parts and where to order them online. Does that help?

  12. Pat (mom of Annalynn) Parker says:

    We are sitting here finally with all our parts and my daughter still cannot do this. We got the two motors, but did not realize til we got into the video that the one has to be flat sided. We have spent so much time getting all the stuff together for this, including driving to several grocery stores to find the right size foam tray, leaning into the meat cases with my tape measure. After many days and miles of gathering, now we still can’t do it. I had emailed you several days ago about the propellers and had not heard back, but Crystal did send me an email and sent propellers out. Now we need to know where to get the right motor. I am so frustrated……………….please tell us where to get this motor.

  13. Emily Florian says:

    My dad is a electrician so I had all the parts btw this thing is AWESOME

  14. Ching-Yu Hsu says:

    That is COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. I’ll have my team contact you right away!

  16. Cailon Moreau says:

    Another question, where do i buy the parts

  17. Cailon Moreau says:

    It says that i don’t have access to this section is there a way to fix that

    Thanks
    Cailon

  18. Radio Shack at the moment, but we’re also putting together a new set of part numbers to replace all the Radio Shack parts, which will be available soon!

  19. Patricia Stone says:

    where is a scource for purchasing the motors

  20. Hi Carol,

    If you’d like, you can send a SASE to us and we can ship these out to you for $3 per propeller, but that’s the only way we can do this as we’re not currently set up to take orders for small parts any longer. If this doesn’t work due to time, you might try a hobby store or get one of those rubber-band-powered wood balsa flyers that are only a couple of dollars and take the propeller from it. Hope this helps!

  21. Carol A Gordon says:

    Hi Aurora: My grandson wants to build the hovercraft project obtained from the e-science list; however, I am not able to locate the propellers for the motors. Do you have these available in a kit that I can purchase and receive like yesterday since the project is due soon? Your assistant would be greatly appreciated and welcome. Thanks so very much

  22. I’ve sent you a private email… 🙂

  23. cheesebloxs says:

    I was wondering where the link is for sending the SASE to you for the propellers? Thanks.

  24. No, two blade props work great. I would turn it into more of an experiment where you need to find the one that works best (just like a real scientist would do…) 🙂

  25. Jessica Thornton says:

    I found 2 blade 4 inch propellers on amazon, or 2 blade 75 mm propellers. Do I need 3 blade propellers?

  26. You can use two of the same motors – you may need to adjust the weight a little bit so it’s balanced, but with a fresh 9V it should still work. I am sorry…I thought you referring to the kit we provide for this video that is included with the Science Mastery program. The propellers are something you can find at a hobby store, or we provide them with a SASE as shown in the comments here. 🙂

  27. Loreena Baker says:

    So may I suggest that you change the shopping list to match the video. I shopped for the motors and then when we watched the video we found out we didn’t have the right things. It was frustrating. A link to order the propellers would be nice also.

  28. You need the lighter one as the hovering motor… watch the video to see how these are different.

  29. Loreena Baker says:

    Why do you say to buy 2 3V DC motors (make sure it’s a high-speed motor like this motor) in your list of things needed and then say two have two different sized motors in the video?

  30. I’ll have my team connect with you right away!

  31. Teresa Romaniak says:

    I had access to the advanced hovercraft a couple of weeks ago and now I don’t. I bought all of the materials to make it but now it looks like I can’t see the video.

  32. hock tai ding says:

    Amazing! This exercise helps my child understand!

  33. Yup – you can still do this. Just it in to us for however many you need and we’ll help you out!

  34. Teresa Romaniak says:

    I found your post about sending the SASE to you for the propellers, thanks!

  35. Teresa Romaniak says:

    I am having the same problem finding 3-inch propellers. Please help!

  36. LeeAnn Smith says:

    Wow. Your customer service covers my science naivete! Maybe if we do this long enough, even I (Mom) will get it!

  37. Good catch on keeping the lesson without throwing out the whole experience! I am sending you something by mail that I think you’ll find useful. Keep an eye out for it!

  38. LeeAnn Smith says:

    This was frustrating. Everything seems to be working properly, but one of our styrofoam pieces is way too warped on one end. I think we need a smaller straw for the rudder–more like a stirring stick? My kids also learned not to substitute tape when you say glue. I had to rip half of it apart to get to the motor underneath that was taped onto the skewers. Valuable lesson in following directions, I’d say.

  39. I’ll have my team contact you right away!

  40. Tammy Bristow says:

    Help – I cannot find 3 inch propellers anywhere!! Can you send me a link where I can order a few. We have everything else but are waiting on the propellers.

    Thank you!

  41. What happens if you reload the page, or try a different computer?

  42. Maximilian Mohun says:

    The video wont play! I am connected to the internet and everything but its not working. It just keeps loading and loading ad infinitum.

  43. Let’s check a few things first: does it hover? It sounds like it does if it’s slowly spinning in a circle. Get down and put your eyes right at the level of the bottom edge of the big tray and see if there’s a gap between the tray and the table (or floor). If there is, there’s an air leak and you need to sand the edges down a little more so there’s no gap at all, all the way around. If it spins in a circle, that’s usually because it is dragging a corner or the batteries aren’t very fresh. You mentioned holding the battery and it did the same thing – my guess is that the batteries you are using aren’t at their full charge, since when you hold them, this usually lightens up the load considerably, and it usually will zoom off as soon as you do this. Let me know how it goes… and keep trying! I know you can do it!

  44. Emily Brock says:

    I have hooked it up from the kit. It doesn’t do anything except slowly turn in a circle. I have checked the motor directions and they are correct I think. I have tried several cup configurations over the propeller but with no success. I even tried holding the battery and it did the same thing. I sanded the edges and corners quite a bit and they look pretty smooth. Any Ideas?
    Thanks,

  45. Leanne Hogan says:

    How do I get the kit????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  46. You’re welcome! 🙂 Happy to help make your life easier so you can do more cool stuff with your kids…like science experiments!

  47. Brandy Sexton says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for the written directions! We watched the video all the way through, but I think it will be handy to have the directions right by us in the kitchen for quick reference while we are doing it. Have a great day!

  48. We’ve never had written directions for the hovercraft since it’s such a complicated project, but I went ahead and posted them for you with the experiment since you asked. You’ll want to refer to the video for the steps, since the video is going to be a lot more clear when building your project. Hope this helps!

  49. Brandy Sexton says:

    Are there written directions for this experiment? I have the Diamond Mastery Program (and Love it), but I don’t see written directions for the hovercraft. Are they here and printable? Thanks!

  50. Shae Tebbetts says:

    Thanks Aurora

  51. Check your email – we’ll help you out so you don’t have to fuss and worry about the hassle of getting the right ones. 🙂

  52. Shae Tebbetts says:

    sorry, I meant to type 80mm=abt 3″ (yawn…need to give it up and go to bed) 😉

    No i didn’t know about the offer to subscribers.

  53. The one from home training tools is meant only for water, so I’d get that one for the underwater robots you’re building. The rest are meant for air, but I notice they are expensive. Did you know we have a special thing we do for our subscribers regarding propellers? I’ll send you a personal message…

  54. Shae Tebbetts says:

    Having the hardest time finding the 3″ diameter propellers….also the foam meat tray. If anyone has a link for where to buy, please share.

  55. Awesome! I know you’re really going to get a lot out of the program. 🙂

  56. Daniel Ohanessian says:

    Don’t worry: I am getting SILVER!!!!

    which has all the materials for hovercraft

  57. Sounds like a DPDT switch. Just use the three that are all in a row on one side and ignore the rest.

  58. Glynns Thomas says:

    We got a switch from Radio Shack and only now see that it has (3) pairs of tabs. Any idea which to connect?

  59. This is a hard question to answer without seeing your project in person. If I were you, I’d first make sure each motor turned when power is applied to it by connecting each directly to the battery for a second (not too long, as 9V is too much for most hobby motors). Next, I would make sure that the switch is working properly, so add that to your circuit. Last, re-watch the video and make sure you’ve got the wires hooked up exactly as shown. If you try all these steps and it still doesn’t work, the last thing to check are the wires themselves – trade them out for a new pair and see if that fixes it. You can do it! 🙂

  60. Lisa peters says:

    i almost have it all put together but when i wired it up only one of the motors turns. is there anything i can do to get them both turning??

  61. You want to choose something that is easy to work with and very lightweight. Since foam is both these things and cheap, it’s the one I recommend… but do let me know what else you find that works!

  62. Daniel Ohanessian says:

    Okay! Thank you!

  63. Daniel Ohanessian says:

    🙂 Science is best! 🙂

  64. Daniel Ohanessian says:

    Aurora,

    I want to know if there is an alternative to foam cups, hamburger boxes, and meat trays.

    Can we use plastic, or something else? Or we have to use foam?

  65. Lorelei Grecian says:

    Thank you so much!!

  66. I think about a hundred years ago, one of the people that worked for the patent office said that everything that could be invented already was… boy was he wrong! 🙂 That was before jet aircraft, computers, and cell phones. My point is, he discouraged a lot of people who chose to listen to him. You have everything you need right now, believe it or not. You don’t have to find the cure for cancer to make an impact on someone’s life. For every hundred ideas that don’t work or no one ever finds out about, you’ll get one or two gems.

    The best scientists are the ones that do science because they have a passion for it, a love of learning, and an insatiable curiosity. And they know their outcome and don’t lose sight of their goal, no matter how rough it gets. You’ll figure out how to get there if your reasons for wanting your goal are strong enough.

    Think about it this way: most kids can walk, not because they studied walking from a book or thought about it really hard about it while sitting around. They did it because they knew they wanted to – they had a clear vision in mind and worked at it, trying different things (some of which didn’t work), until they finally figured out how to do it. The result is that most people on the planet can walk.

    There’s no difference between babies learning how to walk and what you’re asking about. All you need is a clear vision and a driving purpose, and you’ll figure out a way to do it. You will realize who you are along the way, knowing that you’re constantly changing and growing as you go. I choose goals for myself not based on what I think the goal will give me, but who I will become in the process. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I hope it helps a little.

  67. Looks good for a title, but you might want to try: “An ACV” so it reads easier. Or you can try a different subtitle, since most people don’t know what ACV stands for, so you might have to get creative, like: “Hovercraft: Riding on a Cushion of Air” or “Hovercraft: Floating through all Seasons”… you get the idea. 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  68. Lorelei Grecian says:

    Aurora, I want to be someone famous when i get older. I want to make something that people will use and like. But I don’t know what has not been created. I’m kinda like the guy on cloudy with a chance of meatballs. Its not really because i want to be famous but…… I want to be more than just me.
    Raena age 11

  69. Lorelei Grecian says:

    I am doing a science fair project on hovercrafts and this is my title:
    Hovercraft
    A ACV that can be used for all seasons.
    Tell me what you think please.

  70. yes thank you

  71. Cool! Nice work! Most students would have given up, but you not only got to finish a really cool project, but I am guessing you also sharpened your resilience and troubleshooting skills along the way… an added bonus, which will also make your next science project go all the more smoothly. Send me an image (via email) and I’ll post it to the site so everyone can see your project!

  72. Lorelei Grecian says:

    I finally finished it… it took 28 days. What i had to do is use a 9v battery, and a battery pack. One for each motor because they only go fast that way. I also read one of the comments that you said and used it. To hold the batteries so that it was lighter. This is sooooooo awesome!!!! 😀

  73. Jessica Smith says:

    I cant wait to build this hovercraft

  74. It looks fine, although these are more expensive than the ones from Radio Shack I think.

  75. Ashanta Ambush says:

    I found the propellers, switch, motors and battery clip parts on Amazon if anyone is still looking.
    HTH

  76. Right – you can use anything that’s lightweight to support the motor. Does that help?

  77. I mean what is on the hole cut out in the bottom

  78. A skewer? The bottom of the hovercraft is made out of foam if you’re using it on land, or that gray foam tubing if you’re making it to work on water.

  79. can you use anything besides a skewer for the bottom of the hovercraft

  80. Plastic is a lot heavier (and louder) than foam, but I’ll bet you can still get it working. Did you notice how the battery sits on top? What happens if you remove the battery and hold it? Does it hover now? You might need longer wires attached to make it work right with this modification, but this will decrease your weight significantly. Let me know how it goes!

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