My interest in Hovercraft started in 1959 when watching the SRN1 perform crossing the English Channel on the old black and white Pye Invicta TV. I watched and learned anything I could either on TV or at the local library (no internet then). Then a magazine was published called Hovercraft World. I collected as many as I could and from the library took out Janes Surface Skimmers many times and any other books on Hovercraft that I could get.
A local Whittlesey firm Hoverair Limited, started in the early 1970s but did not last very long. They produced a Hover Hornet, Hover Lark and a two-seat Hover Hawk.
I became friendly with some of their staff and used to test some of these machines in a flooded local brick-pit near Fletton. When the company went into liquidation, I attended the sale and purchased three craft – two Hover Larks – and although I did not know it at the time, a Hover Hornet that turned-out to be the prototype, having 001 on the interior.
I also purchased many spares. The two Hover Larks I completed and sold to pay for my Hover Hornet and the spares. The Hover Hornet 001 and all the spares relevant to it are now in the Hovercraft Museum at Lee-on-Solent.
My interest continued and I purchased the plans for a K & M Eagle 3 and under its designer Ken Rigley’s guidance, stretched this into a four-seater. I bought all the wood; cut all of it out with the help of my children as a project. It never did get built and I have given all of it, the plans as well, to the Hovercraft Museum and I believe this will be built as a Duke of Edinburgh Award Project.
There now followed an intense search on the internet to see what was available, either built or in kit-form anywhere in the world. It was during this search that I first noticed these hovercraft, with what seemed like “ears” fitted This led me to Neoteric Hovercraft Inc in Indiana, USA. Looking on their website, they had five 2002 ex Philadelphia Fire Brigade rescue craft for sale. I plucked up courage and rang them to ascertain what price they were asking. The lady who answered (Barbara Johnson, I got to know….. and it’s all her fault!) told me that the lowest priced craft was $89,000. I said I would let her know. She must have realised that that was a lot of money and then asked if I was handy, i.e. practical and could I build a kit. The answer was “yes” and she said the basic four-seater kit came out at approximately $16,000, a big difference and I wanted to know more. She headed me to their website where I could make my choice of items, power unit, etc and basically spec a craft to exactly what I wanted. I had decided to go for a Rescue version right from the start, with all the bells and whistles instead of a plain cruiser version. The buckets and reverse thrust on a craft would be novel and I could see their benefit immediately.
So began the saga of building this Neoteric Hovertrek Hovercraft. I decided to import it as there was no import tax on a kit and certainly not on a rescue craft. I was sent a video of my actual craft’s construction as it was layed-up, to completion and of the loading of it into its container.
Following conversations with Chris Fitzgerald, Barbara Johnson and the shipping company (Unipac Shipping (UK) Ltd) it was all very interesting and we followed its journey from being put in its container to New York Port and its journey across the Atlantic. It then went onto Bremerhaven, Antwerp where it was transferred to another ship and finally onto Felixstowe.
1st ship was MSC Valencia
2nd ship was Maersk Edmonton
New York to Antwerp via Bremerhaven
Antwerp to Felixstowe
Mileages of the journey:
Arrived at March and parked in my Lift Shed at 17.07
The shipping company could not have been more helpful and arranged for us to collect it from the port, which was not their usual practice.
On 17th July 2018, Yvonne, David and I set-off with my Vauxhall Vectra and large trailer, heading for Felixstowe.
We had to have hard-hats, steel toe-cap boots and high viz jackets to comply with the Port regulations.
The towing hitch 2” and chrome ball were not compatible with our 50 mm UK and European standard equipment and the American wiring was different too. I also figured that the extra suspension of the large trailer would be an advantage over the rougher local roads as we approached home.
By 17.07 it was at rest in my lift shed at March (Cambridgeshire). We had prepared in the lift shed and garage, to store all the contents of the craft and so like a kid with a new toy, the unpacking began. Everything was so well-packed, nothing was broken or damaged and a new learning curve commenced, near vertical. Everything was checked-off again the manifest.
One of the first jobs we tackled was fitting the Skirt Retention Strips. It was marked-out as suggested and no problems were encountered. After the first rivet, a paperclip was opened-out to a hook shape to hold the nylon spacer in position as the rivet was inserted. This completed all the lower fixings. Just in time, we found out that the upper fixings were to be made with the black-coated rivets. Didn’t find this in the instructions! After a count-up this became obvious. Again the paperclip was a huge help. The rear strip was drilled as advised and fitted. The spacings were not quite to my liking, but in the end only one rear skirt segment was modified and that may not need to be done at replacement time.
The next job was to fit the Rescue Lift Handles (3962). The front handles were spaced from the Skirt Retention Strip by a piece of wood about 3/8” thick which worked well.
A study of all the parts and wiring diagrams began. I would like to emphasise the importance of reading all the information available - discs and downloads and study them well. Also study any photos! At the end of the day a phone-call to Indiana will put your mind at rest (or make you feel very stupid!) One thing I think was very important was to have all the wiring diagrams blown-up twice the size and then colour them in. It may not be obvious at first, but wiring starting with one item at a time (I started with the bilge pump), it soon becomes easy. But there were some things or modifications on this craft that had not caught-up with the written instructions or DVDs. Hopefully the pictures tell most of the story.
When I first ordered my Hovertrek, I queried in my own mind if I would really need a trailer as I already have two (one large and one medium size).
Well, be assured from my experience, the craft arrived on 17th July 2018 at Felixstowe Docks (as seen in photos) was loaded onto my large trailer (towing equipment and lighting not compatible) and taken to my lift-shed in Cambridgeshire the same day. From there on it was worked on until completion on 16th November 2018 only being moved back by about 10 or 12 inches on its trailer to fit the skirt, until its first flight on 11th December 2018 at Wyboston Lakes.
In my lift-shed I have the advantage of a level solid concrete floor and we found that a 20 litre oil drum fitted under the rear box section of the trailer and two blocks of wood to a thickness of 9.5 inches under the spare wheel gave us a level and solid craft (checking with a spirit level on the floor of the craft in several places).
We found that every operation to build this craft could be achieved with this set-up, a small step-ladder being necessary to climb into the craft and that access to all operations underneath were totally unobstructed. Obviously the rear arms had to be moved to fit various parts, but we marvelled how well this trailer had been designed. We had to change the towing-hitch and rewire to British and European standards. Although Chris had sent a chrome 2 inch ball, it was impractical to change this as I have three vehicles that I could use and also any other vehicle would need to match.
The only other time we had to move the craft was to fit the power-unit and position it under the overhead crane, then it was returned to its original position.
And so to 11 December 2018 to Wyboston Lakes and its maiden flight. This was the first time the Hovercraft had been off its trailer since it left Neoteric's Factory. After de-trailering and learning all about this procedure, after start-up and warm-up time, this was also the first time I had piloted a Hovercraft since the mid 70s - as you can see its first movement is actually backwards! I was taking my time getting used to its balance and power and not afraid to use reverse! This was on an infield at the Wyboston Lake Complex that is used for the Hovercraft Experience trips, as the Rides Leisure Group operate most of the year round.
It did everything I expected of it and was very controllable. All this was at low-speed to begin with for about half-an-hour.
Just after this we went onto one of the lakes with Lee (one of the owners of the lakes) piloting and me ready to act as mobile ballast as in the second video. (this you already have).
Since then I have been out in the Solent whilst visiting the Hovercraft Museum and been out in The Wash, launching from Heacham. I have given a demonstration to a local Search and Rescue Group who were very impressed but did not want to commit.