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Hovercraft World Speed Record

May, 2003
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 vehicle.

"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 100 knots.

"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, Australia.]


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 championships.

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 of Fyshwick.


Copyright © 2001 Eric Shackle

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