Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mississippi River a new pilot is born

A few weeks ago a person called me and asked a few questions about hovercrafts. He asked if I had any used hovers available and I told him I had one Hoverstar SP with a 100 hp motor. He asked if I could bring it up to show him how it operated. After making our arrangements we set the date, however the weather did not cooperate and we had to postpone it until March 10, 2012. This year has been extremely warm for winter in our part of the country and ice has been almost non existent, I was hoping he would be able to provide me with some solid ice to fly on instead of just cold water. It didn't look promising since it was supposed to be 60 at the location of our outing. My grandson Zach agreed to ride along with me and help me with the demonstration. What that typically means is he gets to ride along on the hover so he jumped at the chance. Zach was not disappointed he did indeed take a hover ride with us. Old Miss was running clear at the point we were going to enter the river however the bays and backwater was still frozen so we really got the best of both worlds. I entered the water from a boat ramp with about a 20% grad and Gerald our host was curious if the hover could make it up and down the ramp. I pointed out a couple of hills leading down to the river and told him if he wanted to he could fly his hover up those and load and unload from the street above. To say the least he was impressed. However talk is cheap and we needed to back it up with some action. I powered up the hover and flew out for a quick warm up round on the river. The hover responded beautifully so I turned back toward shore and landed on the nice sandy beach that bordered the park we were launching from. Several people stopped by to take a look at us hovering around, which is pretty typical. I loaded up Gerald and Zach gave a few instructions to Gerald about what we would do and he pointed to a bay covered with ice and said let's head over there. This bay was about a mile in diameter so it was plenty big enough to cruise around on as I approached the ice rim I slowed the hover and just as we were touching the rim I throttled up and brought the nose of the hover up on the ice. I knew my passenger was impressed when the transition was smooth and we were gliding across ice to thin to hold a mans weight. I followed the ice for a while then headed for the shore line were there was some waiting swamp grass and we flew up on the shore and settled down and I shut the hover off for a minute to explain what we were going to do next. Gerald was looking around and said land to water to ice to land and back this is amazing. This thing can climb hills too why would anyone not want to have one of these? By this point I knew we had a new hover pilot. Gerald wanted to take the hover out into open water so I asked him if we could get through or did we have to go back out the way we came? He said "I don't know I've never been able to get back into this area before" so I said let's go check it out. With that I powered up the hover again and headed back out onto the ice. Darn no other way to get back out so we headed back up toward the opening of the bay. As we were crossing out into the bay I noticed a cut away along the shore and thought it might lead out to the open channel but by then we were already on water so I figured we would just continue on. Turning into the open channel we cruised about a mile up river and I brought the hover to a stop, shut the engine off, and said "people always ask if these can float when the motor is not running" the answer to that would be yes since we are sitting here floating. I then explained to Gerald that the Hovertechnics LC models were very stable and I could install a fishing platform and stand or sit on that and fish from any point around the hover if I wanted to. After discussing a few more points about hovering on water I fired up the engine again turned the hover slowly back down river throttled up and rose up on cushion again. I found the opening to the little cut away I had spotted on our way out of the bay and decided to take it as a short cut back to our launch point. Back on shore I explained to Gerald that one of the things I personally like about hovering is that if you are flying and want to check something out the only thing you have to worry about is how much time and fuel you have, you don't have to worry about water depth, ice, rocks, logs, or all the other things that a boat or snowmobile have to worry about you just look at it and fly to it. I could tell my passenger was still not sold on hovering so I asked Zach to stay on shore while I took Gerald back out I then asked Gerald if he would like to fly it. He hesitated a moment then said sure. I gave him a couple of quick instructions about how I would communicate with him and off we went. Without any prior experience in a hover Gerald was able to fly out onto the water engage the ice shelf and make some pretty impressive maneuvers on the ice.
When we got back to shore I asked Gerald if he was ready to buy? He said I'm not sure let's talk on the way back to the house. Interestingly enough most of his conversation was about how he would do this and that with his hover. When we got back to the house he instructed me to back the hover into his barn next to his Harley. And with that a new hover pilot was born. Welcome to hovercraft my friend.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rescue Hovercraft Ice Rescue

I recently spoke with a states Senator about utilizing hovercrafts for a certain project. In the course of the conversation he asked me if the hover can go over fast moving water and what the impact was on the hover. I explained to him that the current only provides a slightly higher cushion and enhances performance. He then asked me if it would travel over ice, at that point I realized he really had no idea what a hover can do so I took the time to explain it to him. His first question after that was, "has the local fire department talked to you about buying one of these?" I smiled and said "I have contacted everyone of them in the area and none of them have bought one yet!" he shook his head and said, "They keep asking me for money to buy a boat, the next time they ask I'm going to tell them to contact you because this makes more sense than a boat." He is right the correct hovercraft makes an excellent rescue vehicle. However it has to be the right hovercraft. The Hovertechnics Hoverguard series covers a wide range of sizes from 12-20 foot and can handle a wide range of duties. Hovertechnics hovercrafts are rated at certain load capacities by the US Coastguard however they are capable of a much higher load capacity. I'm not saying over load but what this hover offers is the ability to over perform if you are operating within the range allowed. If you are allowed 600 lbs. and the hover can physically lift 800 then you will not have a performance issue at 600 lbs. I practice a lot when I'm out flying and have successfully maneuvered single and twin prop hovers into positions to perform rescues under various conditions. Ice rescue is always tricky and requires pinpoint accuracy on the approach, the Hoverguard 600 with a 100 HP engine and variable lift can put you into a position to retrieve a victim. The beauty about using a hover for ice rescue is that you never have to leave the safety of the hover. From what I've read and after talking with some 200 rescue workers the typical ice rescue is approached in a couple of ways when there is no hovercraft available. One they utilize a rescue suit that protects the rescuer from the elements then they use ropes, and or ladders, and rubber boats to crawl across the ice to the victim. Now if the ice is thin enough for a person to fall through then it cannot be driven on so most other forms of vehicles are excluded from the rescue at the point of extraction of the victim. The impact of the hovercraft on the surface is minimal, I heard one person explain the pressure on the surface is compared to a seagull standing on one foot. I have spoken with rescuers that have crawled as far as 100 feet to get to a victim, and I'm sure this is not the furthest anyone has had to crawl to rescue a person. This is extremely time consuming and dangerous and when you have a person in frigid waters and time is a huge factor you don't want to waste it but, you have to be careful and consider the safety of the rescuer, the last thing you want is to wind up with more people in distress. I spoke with one department that described a recent rescue they were involved in that took them 45 minutes from the time they arrived on the scene until they were able to rescue the individual. When they told me what they had to do I then described to them how a hover would be used in the same situation. I said you arrive at the scene, you release your tie down strap, you start your hover, pivot the trailer, accelerate fly from the point of unload, onto the ice, out to the person. Without having to get out of the hover you reach over the low sides secure the victim, pull them into the hover and fly back to the point of the waiting rescue vehicle. Based on what the rescue worker told me the entire time to retrieve the person would have been about 3 minutes versus 45 minutes. The rescue workers involved would have been two not 10 or what ever it took so you reduce the number of people at risk. The rescue workers can stay in the unit or if they have to get out they do so at the point of extraction and then once they retrieve the person they reenter the hover and fly back to the safety of the shore. The 12 foot Hoverguard 600 is so steady that you can stand on the edge of it and it will not flip so two rescue workers can extract the person in peril and pull them to safety. I think the Senator was correct in his assessment of the need for a hovercraft for rescue purposes.  In my next blog post I'll discuss the use of hovercrafts in assisting flood victims.