31 October, 2014

Hovercraft in Minnesota Mining Operations

When you think of vehicles used in mining operations, a hovercraft may not come to mind … unless you have the foresight of David Olson. Olson’s company, D & T Landscaping, Inc., is under contract to seed and reforest, as well as to manage environmental hazards such as blowing dust, at a major taconite mining region on the Mesabi Iron Range in Minnesota.

Some background: Taconite is an iron-bearing sedimentary rock, a low-grade iron ore. When high-grade natural iron ore was plentiful, taconite was considered a waste rock, but the industry recognized its value as the supply of natural ore diminished. After years of research, scientists and engineers at the University of Minnesota developed a way to extract the iron ore from taconite, which is mined in opencut mines, then crushed, processed into small pellets and shipped to steel mills.

David Olson explains what happens during the process: “As the rock is crushed, the residue is mixed with water and pumped into tailings ponds to dry out. As that surface dries, the dust is picked up by the wind and can be blown into nearby towns. Mining companies are strictly mandated by state and federal regulations to control environmental issues such as dust.

But how can hovercraft help solve this problem? “We need something different. We use tractors and piston bullies, but they don’t work well in a soft environment. The surface is like quicksand; it does build a crust as it starts to dry, but you can’t stand or walk on it. Our situation is basically mud,” Olson says. “We’re looking into using a liquid dust suppression agent on the tailings, and we need to be able to get out to places where our current technology doesn’t take us. I want to see if hovercraft can help us facilitate that process. ”

Olson’s first step was to take a one-day standard pilot training course at Hovercraft Training Centers in order to familiarize himself with hovercraft technology and to evaluate the capabilities of the Neoteric range of light hovercraft ...
At the controls, David Olson learns to fly a Neoteric Hovercraft at HTC,
with Senior Instructor Chris Fitzgerald providing directions as needed.
After his day at Neoteric and Hovercraft Training Centers, Olson was convinced that hovercraft would do the job. “Even if we can cover 80% of what’s not being covered today, that’s a significant improvement,” he said. And he found it to be an enjoyable experience, adding, “It’s pretty exhilarating. It’s fun! I could see myself personally wanting one. And it’s much more stable than I anticipated.”

Olson was reasonably sure after his training that hovercraft could help spread the surface sealant agent that he was considering. His next step was to arrange an on-site evaluation at a Minnesota mining site to see how the hovercraft would handle the variable, soft and sticky surface of the tailings ponds ...

Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald and David Olson test the hovercraft’s performance
over the challenging terrain at a Minnesota taconite mining site.

A closeup of the muddy surface of the mining site’s tailings ponds.
The evaluation looked promising and Olson believed that hovercraft would give him the opportunity to expand the surfaces he could reach. So, working with Neoteric, a set of requirements for application rate and acreage covered per hour were developed, along with various scenarios to be evaluated for the purpose of optimizing the spraying operation. An application rate of 30 gallons per minute was deemed necessary in order to cover the vast area with which Olson must deal.

This resulted in an order for two hovercraft each capable of carrying 100 gallons of the dust suppression agent/water mixture, fuel, a pilot and a lightweight spraying system ...

Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald (right) discusses fuel tank position with assembly factory supervisor
Eric Whalin during the manufacturer and installation of the spraying system.

Since all off-the-shelf commercial spraying systems were too heavy, Neoteric fabricated
the special lightweight tanks used to transport and store 100 gallons of dust suppression agent
aboard the D & T Landscaping hovercraft. 

Neoteric designed, built and tested two spraying systems, one for each D & T hovercraft, in record time because the weather was rapidly deteriorating in northern Minnesota. And the entire pumping system and tank weighed just 80 pounds!

These two videos of Chris Fitzgerald testing one of the completed craft illustrates the high degree of control the Neoteric hovercraft's reverse thrust system will give D & T Landscaping ...

Finally, Chris Fitzgerald and HTC flight instructor Steve Stafford delivered the two hovercraft to Olson in Minnesota and conducted flight training for D & T Landscaping personnel at the actual taconite mining site, with the crafts’ dust suppression systems in full operation.

Upon arrival at the mining field, Chris Fitzgerald (left) meets with David Olson.
The truck at the left gives an indication of the dust problem that the hovercraft will help ameliorate.

Here’s a video clip of a practice session showing one of the two hovercraft moving across the cracked, sticky mud while a trainee practices hovercraft piloting and dust suppression spraying …

The tanks of the dust suppression system are refilled during flight training
at a taconite mining site near Hibbing, Minnesota.

D & T Landscaping personnel enjoyed their flight training and were impressed with how
the hovercraft will expand their capabilities. With Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald (left)
are Jason Martire, T.J. Lamping, Doug Grovenburg and David Olson.

The Neoteric hovercraft utilized by D & T Landscaping will increase the reach and speed of their dust suppression efforts. Hovercraft expand access to areas on the mining site that are difficult for other vehicles to reach, and they operate less expensively than other vehicles. Hovercraft also move much faster than tractors or piston bullies, which can become stuck in the mud.

In addition, the hovercraft are controlled internally by D & T Landscaping without the need to rely on outside contractors to provide, for example, helicopter services. Helicopters have been used in the past by D & T to attempt to manage the blowing dust problem.

The use of hovercraft for dust suppression in taconite and other similar mining operations can protect companies from legal actions and expensive dust cleanup in nearby regions. Make no mistake, this industry is vital to Minnesota, which is the largest producer of taconite and iron ore in the United States. During World War II, one-fourth of all the steel used in the United States came from this area and Minnesota’s Iron Range currently contributes more than $1.8 billion to the state’s economy. Taconite saved Minnesota’s iron ore mining industry and is the largest employer in the central iron range region. And reports suggest that taconite reserves exist in this area to last at least the next 100 years.

Neoteric Hovercraft in Gold Mining and Coal Mining

The Minnesota project is not the first time Neoteric hovercraft have played an important role in the mining industry. In the past and present, our craft have been employed in similar mining operations, such as accessing tailings ponds at cyanide gold leaching mines in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, South  Carolina and Montana.

Neoteric craft are also utilized in coal mining operations and at coal fired power plants, which often slurry coal or residual ash for the purpose of transportation to storage or waste slurry ponds. The hovercraft are used to safely traverse the ponds’ surface for rescue of personnel and wildlife, for surveying, to check chemical levels and to transport work crews needed to position infill piping ...

Here, First Energy Corp. of Pittsburgh, PA uses their hovercraft for
surveying, sampling, seeding and inspecting waste ash pumped from a power plant
seven miles away. See more photos ...
A Neoteric hovercraft conducts an ash pond study at the Duke Energy 
electrical plant on the Wabash River in Terre Haute, IN. See more photos ...

Neoteric hovercraft have also proved to be a vital tool where similar conditions
and requirements exist, such as in dredging operations in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland 
(shown here) and in rebuilding barrier islands in Mississippi. See more photos ...

24 October, 2014

Neoteric Hovercraft as an Educational Tool

Keeping students engaged in the learning process is possibly a teacher’s greatest challenge. Understanding the amazing ability of hovercraft to captivate audiences of all ages, Neoteric and President Chris Fitzgerald have long been actively involved in education and working with students.  For instance, Chris is the founder of the DiscoverHover International School Hovercraft Program and, in addition, he often personally visits schools to introduce hovercraft and hosts students at Neoteric as well.

Our customers also generously share this spirit and use their hovercraft to work with students. Here’s a video of MedCity Hovercraft in Minnesota mentoring the Chanhassen High School Engineering Group with their Neoteric hovercraft …

By the way, this hovercraft is the same one MedCity used to rescue two deer trapped on an icy lake – if you haven’t seen it, here’s the video.

Here are a couple more examples of the educational value of hovercraft:

Whether you’re a teacher or a parent – or a kid yourself - a hovercraft is the ideal way to get youth of all ages fascinated with their education. From aerodynamics, mathematics and physics to painting, sewing, woodworking and much more, hovercraft can be used to impart knowledge in a wide area of subjects – and, even better, make it fun!

Get started today! Join the DiscoverHover program or, like Blake Resnick, HTC’s youngest student pilot so far, treat your student to a Test Flight or Training Course at Hovercraft Training Centers.

18 October, 2014

The Increasing Importance of Hovercraft

Maritime Reporter and Marine News magazines recently published an article emphasizing the need for hovercraft to play a growing role in maritime operations, due to their singular ability to travel where no other vehicle can go. Here are a few excerpts:

Extreme Applications Demand Specialist Small Craft

With 90% of world trade transported by sea then passing through ports and waterways, no amount of technology will replace the requirement for multiple small fast craft and skilled operators.

Mobility plus the ability to operate in shallow areas are critical capabilities for small craft. 

Rising Up: Hovercraft

Small hovercraft have a growing role to play in search and rescue, commercial and military operations around the world. Hovercraft can be a practical proposition for operations in areas inaccessible to other vehicles including frozen water, mud flats, intertidal areas, shallow rivers and flooded inland areas. Perceived to be environmentally sound, as they don’t exhaust into the water, create no wash and do not disturb the sea bed, they are also economical and do not endanger marine animals as there is no propeller in the water. 


Enjoy a few photos of Neoteric hovercraft in action around the world
that confirm these capabilities ...

Neoteric commercial hovercraft utilized in Kuwait intertidal zone
Neoteric hovercraft were used on Kuwait's intertidal zone to survey the environmental damage inflicted by the 1991 Persian Gulf War oil fires. The hovercraft was the only vehicle capable of operating on the thick mud.

Wilkes-Barre Fire Department Neoteric rescue hovercraft
The Wilkes-Barre Fire Department’s Neoteric rescue hovercraft soars over broken ice on the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania during ice rescue practice. The craft’s 9-inch deep air cushion and patented reverse thrust enables it to safely maneuver over jagged, broken, snow-covered ice floes.

Neoteric rescue hovercraft deployed in 2014 Washington mudslide
Snohomish County Fire District 19’s rescue hovercraft were deployed from the initial alarm at the massive Oso, Washington mudslide. First responder Trent Nunemaker said, “Our hovercraft can navigate through floating debris and logs, so we’re able to cross the flooded valley and access the debris field. These Neoteric craft are able to quickly and safely access almost any environment.”

Finally, you’ve probably seen the viral video of the Neoteric craft rescuing three exhausted deer, stranded on the ice for days on Albert Lea Lake in Minnesota - but it's worth watching again! 

As the media reported, "Hovercraft are kind of a genius idea here ... Boats and jet skis are pretty useless on ice and snowmobiles fall through ice if it won't hold their weight. Hovercraft can fly over any surface, so they save many lives. If you fall through the ice, or get sucked into mud or quicksand, better hope someone locally has a hovercraft handy."

13 October, 2014

Nine inches above the Wabash

The Daily Republican Register recently published the following article about a week-long advanced flight training session conducted by Neoteric and Hovercraft Training Centers for an official from the Albuquerque Police Department. The training was assisted by first responders from the White River Hazleton Fire Department and their Neoteric rescue hovercraft.

Check back soon for full details and a photo gallery!

By Amber L. Nixon

MT. CARMEL - Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. came to the Wabash River early Thursday morning to train several members of their one-week program.

The trainers, Chris Fitzgerald and Steve Stafford, have been giving advanced lessons to the group on the technique of piloting the craft both day and night, the mechanics of how the craft works and learning how to navigate swift water.

Albuquerque Police Officer Andy Montoya traveled from New Mexico to refresh his memory on the practices as well as learn how to pass on the skill.

I finally had the chance to train with Neoteric up here, and since I hope to retire in a few years I need to be able to train others to eventually take my place,” said Montoya.

The group of trainees was out on the Wabash all day Thursday, staying until after dark to learn how to use night vision scopes and practice night rescue operations.

The White River Hazleton Fire Department have been involved in the past with three hovercraft rescues along the Wabash River, as well as several Gibson and Knox County rescues.

Mark Ellis pilots the White River Hazleton Neoteric hovercraft with other members of Hazleton’s Volunteer Fire Department during the training on the Wabash Thursday morning. The craft hovers nine inches above the water and makes it easier to maneuver in shallow waters, meaning it can be an invaluable tool in rescue. 

The volunteers consist of at least seven people who have had experience with the hovercraft, two of which are accompanying Chief Mark Ellis in the program with Fitzgerald and Stafford.

With the hovercraft balancing nine inches off the water, their experience can come in handy with the more advanced training over the rest of the week.

The crew needs to know how to maneuver the hovercraft and how their movement can affect it,” said Ellis, “It can be very important in rescue.

Although balance has to be watched while on the craft, those nine inches can be a definite bonus in rescue.

The hovercraft can go right over a log, rocky shallow waters, sand, mud, you name it,” said Ellis.

The versatility of the craft has become a vital tool in rescue throughout the years and, as with any tool, it will continue to be used to its best advantage with well-trained professions.