Hovercraft World Speed Record
Eric Shackle's eBook
By Eric Shackle
A bid to set a new world speed record for hovercraft is planned
to be held on Lake Burley Griffin, in Australia's capital city,
Canberra, in 2004, as the highlight of [HoverWorld Expo 2004.]
The events, which are sure to attract global media coverage, will
commemorate the 40th anniversary of the world's first hovercraft
race, held on March 14, 1964, on the then partially-filled lake.
The attempt to break the world speed record was suggested by
Chris Fitzgerald, Australian-born president of one of the world's
leading hovercraft manufacturers, Neoteric Hovercraft Inc., of
Terre Haute, Indiana. His company, then known as Australian Air
Cushion Vehicle Development (AACVD), competed in the 1964 event.
Today, its American offshoot has customers in 50 countries, including
Disney World, local and national rescue departments, dive teams,
gold mines, environmental and fishery research departments at universities,
oil-spill clean-up, the US Army Corps of Engineers and people exploring
remote areas that cannot be reached by other means.
"A little over one year ago the president of the World Hovercraft
Federation, Owen Ellis, who lives in Melbourne, asked me about
staging a 40th anniversary carnival in Canberra to commemorate
the first race …" Fitzgerald said yesterday.
"I'd like to expand this event into a Hovershow involving
not only racing but other activities such as a world speed record
attempt for hovercraft, meetings of hovercraft-related technical
societies, and manufacturers' displays.
"I contacted various officials in Canberra and after writing
to Prime Minister John Howard things started to happen. We are
now seeking approval from the National Capital Authority." [Note: Approval
was granted in Oct. 2003]
The present world speed record is controversial. In an email
from Russell, Ontario, Canada, the secretary of the World Hovercraft
Federation, Bob Rennick, said Bell Aerosystems recorded 105.8 mph
with a 78ft SES-100B waterjet propelled sidewall vehicle in January
1980, but some experts had claimed that its rigid sidewalls prevented
it being classified as a hovercraft as it was not an amphibious
"I've spoken to a former HoverSpeed pilot who claims to
have had an unladen SR.N4 [hovercraft engaged in a regular passenger
service crossing the English Channel] up over 100 knots during
testing after a refit," said Rennick.
"The only real recorded attempt at a speed record that I'm
aware of was after the World Hovercraft Championships on the Rio
Douro in Peso da Regua, Portugal, in September 1995. I was one
of the officials for that event.
"Each vehicle had to cover a measured kilometre, first in
one direction and then return. Their average time for the two runs
was used for the speed record.
"Unfortunately, there was a huge bend in the river before
the start, so there was no straight run-up, and a 60-foot dam at
the end, so competitors let up on the throttle well before they
completed their runs.
"Highest speed was 137.40 km/hr (85.376 mph) recorded on
September 20, 1995 by American Bob Windt in a V-6 auto engine powered
UH19P. Later in the week I climbed aboard together with a Portuguese
official and two other American racers, with Bob driving, and we
went for a blast down the river to a waiting riverside luncheon.
"British car drivers who were going to the luncheon on a
road parallel to the river told me later that they could not keep
up with us - and their speedometers were reading over 100 mph.
Our onboard air speed indicator was 'pegged' to the maximum of
"I firmly believe that that was the fastest any hovercraft
has gone - and I was privileged to be aboard. It was unfortunate
that we didn't take a GPS [global positioning system] with us to
record the speed."
Rennick said the possibility that the 2004 world hovercraft championships
would be held in Canberra was "not a sure thing," as
three other countries had also wanted to host the 2004 race "but,
out of respect of the 40th anniversary, have thus far withheld
their proposals to the World Hovercraft Federation." The WHF
had not yet received an official presentation from Australia.
[Note: The 2004 World Championship will be
held in Berlin, Germany; HoverWorld Expo 2004, including the
world's first hovercraft endurance race, will be held in Canberra,
WHINE GOES WITH WINE
The whine of a hovercraft's engines can be heard in picturesque
wine-producing areas in both Douro (Portugal) and Canberra (Australia).
Just as the Molonglo River, running through Canberra, was dammed
to form Lake Burley Griffin, a dam in Portugal's Rio (River) Douro
provided a suitable expanse of water for the 1995 world hovercraft
Back in 1809, British troops, led by the Duke of Wellington,
crossed the Douro River, engaged the French forces in heavy fighting,
captured Oporto, and pursued the French, who were retreating over
the mountains into Spain.
Molonglo's military connection is less dramatic: in 1918, towards
the end of the First World War, the Australian Government opened
Molonglo Internment Camp. A few years later the camp became barracks
for workmen building Parliament House and other buildings for the
birth of a new city, on land where sheep had been grazing peacefully.
Today, the site of the barracks is part of the industrial suburb
Copyright © 2001 Eric Shackle