July 9, 2015 | By Simon

Although they may not be as common today as some might have previously thought, hovercrafts are among the more fascinating vehicle types when it comes to non-traditional vehicle design.  Also known as an air-cushion vehicle (or ACV for short), hovercrafts are able to travel over multiple types of terrain including land, water, mud, ice marshes and other earth surfaces that may prove problematic for other vehicle types.  

In order to get from Point A to Point B, hovercraft uses air blowers to produce a large volume of air that is slightly above atmospheric pressure.  Ultimately, this difference in pressure between below the craft and the air above it allows the vehicle to float on a cushion of air similar to an air hockey puck.  

Currently, hovercraft are used both by military branches and those who regularly tread over uneven terrain - such as those that live in marsh environments.  For those that may have always wanted to try their hand at operating their own hovercraft but might not have access to one, design engineer Jan Bürstner has created the next best thing.  

After reading an article about hovercrafts and further studying the principles of their operation, Jan was inspired to create his own hovercraft design using his 3D printing.  Today, his open source ‘3D Printed Hovercraft’ design is currently in its third iteration on Thingiverse where anybody can download the STL files and create their own motorized hovercraft design.   

While his third iteration of the hovercraft design (and currently the one available on Thingiverse) is his most polished yet, it didn’t end up there without a few kinks along the way.  Among other problems he experienced with his earlier hovercraft designs included an inability to control them outside of turning around their own axis, the inability to carry weight, and the inability to recover from light damage - such as an incident involving small stones destroying the propeller of the lifting motor - which was solved by gluing two bicycle tubes under the base.  

To create the hovercraft design, Jan used Autodesk’s Inventor 2013 software and a MakerBot Replicator using 15% infill on his two-shelled parts at a speed of 75 mm/s.  In total, the hovercraft took over 3 days to print all of the various components of the final design, however it would have taken considerably longer to print had he not incorporated some additional materials into the final design.

“I did not print the base because it would take way too long,” explains Jan to us.

“Styrofoam has the advantage that it swims when the engines fail. I also did not print the bicycle tubes because they have to be flexible and they must be one piece so that no air flows out to the sides.”

The final design, which utilizes both styrofoam and bicycle tubes along with the 3D printed parts, is lifted by two motors while a single thrust motor helps control the direction of the craft.  To power the three motors, Jan utilized three 2800 mAh Lipo batteries.  To add functionality to the craft, Jan also installed lights for night rides and an FPV camera on top of the rudders.

As for what he plans to do with the hovercraft design over time, Jan wants to develop a cheap mobile research station that could be used in extreme terrain conditions such as the Arctic.  

For those looking to create their own Hovercraft, Jan has outlined a list of parts and supplies needed before jumping in to the build:

  • 3x Motors
  • 3x 2800 mAh Lipo batteries
  • 1x Servo for the rudders
  • R/C controller
  • glue for the chassis and the bicycle tubes
  • 1x styrofoam base (88 cm x 36 cm)
  • 2x Bicycle tubes (28")
  • Lights

To download the necessary files and find out more about the build process, head over to the 3D Printed Hovercraft Thingiverse page.  

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

 

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