07 May, 2012

How do airboats compare to hovercraft?

Unlike airboats, hovercraft are flying machines that travel above the surface on a bubble of air so they don’t create a wake on water. Airboats are flat-bottomed boats with a large propeller and their entire weight rests on the surface, creating a wake.  Airboats usually require a boat dock for launching; hovercraft do not.

Airboats are limited to relatively smooth water because their hulls have low gunwales which can be easily swamped. Airboats have minimum positive flotation, where hovercraft have quite a lot - up to 1 1/2 times their weight. This enables hovercraft to operate safely on swiftwater. Here, first responders from the U.S. Air Force practice swiftwater rescue techniques in a Neoteric hovercraft …

Both are amphibious vehicles but hovercraft, since they ride on a cushion of air, are better on dry terrain. Airboats travel over mud, grass, sand, pavement, gravel, or other dry surfaces by sliding on their plastic-covered hulls.

The airboat’s tall propeller also limits its use in areas with overhead obstructions, which are often found in flood rescue operations. An airboat’s propeller usually runs close to the speed of sound and generates considerably more noise than a hovercraft. Airboats can consume up to three times more energy than hovercraft, so they use more fuel.

Hovercraft can be safer than airboats in ice rescue operations. For example, a news article from earlier this year, Dive team set for ice rescues stated,  “Emergency personnel practiced rescuing victims who have fallen through ice by getting as close as they can with airboats - too close and the boat will push the ice and crush the victim - and then, with insulated, waterproof suits on and an attached rope, swimming out and bringing the victim back." 

Of course, every situation is different, but hovercraft have the ability to fly on top of thin or broken ice while an airboat cannot, and hovercraft often break the ice into small pieces that are of no danger to the victim. Hovercraft can also approach the victim directly, keeping rescuers out of the water.

An example of an airboat's tall propeller and high center of gravity.
The airboat's high center of gravity makes them prone to flipping over. However, their large propeller produces a lot of thrust, enabling airboats to push through tall vegetation where a hovercraft cannot.

Finally, airboats are generally less maneuverable than hovercraft, particularly Neoteric craft whose patented reverse thrust system allows them to brake and otherwise outmaneuver every other hovercraft on the market. Reverse thrust is essential for hovering on ice and swiftwater. Airboat control comes from propeller thrust and airflow across its rudders, so it takes full power to achieve real control. In contrast, a hovercraft with reverse thrust is more easily controlled, no matter how much power is applied.Operating an airboat at full power is a bit like running a bucking bronco! But flying a hovercraft with reverse thrust, even at full power, is nothing like fighting a monster - it's more like dancing with a ballerina.

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  1. what is the usual power requirement of an hovercraft of payload about 200kg. I got it around 130 hp. If it is right then where can i find a suitable engine?

  2. My goal is to buy the best machine for traveling on early/late ice for Ice fishing. As I see it, 2 weeks of fishing is lost due to the ice first being formed, then 2 to 3 weeks of lost ice fishing time due to ice being good, but the shoreline ice has melted away 3-10 ft. away from the safe ice. So what machine will be best for traveling on smooth/little snow/wide open area? The hovercraft could have trouble with skirt issues if the ice has ridges, like lake winnabago or the bay of green bay in Wisconsin. I don't need speed, I do want a machine that can be loaded up with equipment for ice fishing with 2-3 people. SO what the best fit for a Icefishing nut like myself?