Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What Ever Happened to the Air Cushion Vehicle?

I was one of the pioneers of air cushion technology in the late 1950s and I met or knew many of the other founders of what we hoped then was a technology with unlimited promise. When I look around I am more than surprised by how limited is the use of ACVs today. The World Hovercraft Organization, with its Hoverworld Insider newsletter presents many of the craft being sold and used worldwide. It amazes me how this technology is limited to a few niches, and cannot even begin to compare in popularity with boats. How is it possible that instead of revolutionizing water and land travel, ACVs are such a small business?

Well, for one thing, ACVs are challenging to control. A frictionless craft is at the mercy of many elements, including wind and slope. I experienced first hand the frustration of getting these craft to precisely obey the driver. It took me a number of years and a number of full scale model craft before I could finally tame the wild ACV beast. My Gimbal Fan technology makes it possible for these vehicles to navigate as they should. On water and amphibious surfaces, Gimbal Fan ACVs maneuver effectively and predictably. Such craft really could challenge boats for many uses.

We pioneers of the technology also expected to revolutionize land transportation, too. The initial coverage of my work by Popular Science in 1959 talked about “cars without wheels”. It is doubtful that anyone today uses an ACV for land transportation. It was not until I developed my Aeroduct System of ground transportation, with ACVs in guideways, that I felt that air cushion technology really could replace the car. Even my early work showed me how ACVs liked being confined in grooves, and over time I conceived the Aeroduct System and developed a working prototype of this System. With wheel based transportation having any number of deficiencies, I feel that a car without wheels is exactly what is needed now and in the future.

I've spent 50 years in the air cushion craft business, and so far, it is not a business that has thrived. But the potential is still there and I feel I've found the ways for this technology to live up to all its promise.

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