30 October, 2020

Neoteric Hovercraft Adventure on Alaska’s Yukon River

 Approximately 450 miles northwest of Anchorage, you’ll find the Anvik River Lodge, the only lodge on the entire 120+ mile Anvik River. Owner Clifford Hickson and his family are now celebrating the 25th season of the most remote fishing lodge in Alaska – and likely in the world.

But Cliff’s sense of adventure expands beyond owning a lodge in the Alaskan wilderness!

 There’s nothing like a hovercraft to expand an already adventurous life. Cliff Hickson gives you a fine example with the story of his recent 750 mile 3-day trip on the Yukon River from Nenana, Alaska to his lodge – his first experience flying a hovercraft.

Left to right: Cliff Hickson, daughter Alyson, wife Cheryl and son Blair.

Cliff’s hovercraft adventure, in his own words …

“Several years ago, while talking to a close friend that operates a surplus military hovercraft in Bethel, Alaska to deliver freight and mail on the Kuskokwim Delta, I became intrigued with the potential applications for our remote operation in Western Alaska.

My wife and I visited a hovercraft shop in Washington and, after spending weeks studying and watching about every video on YouTube associated with flying and operating the hovercraft I decided to get one. I looked at all the typical sites that list them for sale, and ended up finding a used Neoteric Hovercraft in Alaska that we decided to purchase.

After a month in transit it arrived in Anchorage, where I flew to get it and begin a 750 mile trip down the Yukon River to our Anvik River Lodge. I had never actually been on a hovercraft or ever thought about flying one. But due to the time of season and scheduling it became apparent that it would be necessary to bring it down myself. 

Knowing the reputation of the Neoteric Hovercraft I felt confident that it could be an extraordinary  and safe adventure. After all, it only had 18 hours of use!”

Cliff’s Neoteric Hovercraft is a pre-owned model built from a Neoteric Hovercraft kit.

“After determining the distance between villages and calculating fuel consumption, I made a plan and determined my weight and balance. It was fairly simple: I would carry 52 gallons of fuel (353 lbs.) as backup in the event I couldn't fuel up at villages where I planned to stop, myself (220 lbs.), tools and personal equipment, 2 gallons of drinking water and a bucket of fried chicken. Total weight = approximately 707 lbs. Incidentally, the entire trip took about 160-170 gallons of fuel.

With the help of a friend, I then drove to the town of Nenana (approx. 233 miles north of Anchorage) located on the Nenana River and went to the boat ramp. I still had not yet flown a hovercraft, so I loaded about a third of my gear and fuel and took it for a spin - literally.

After about 10 minutes practicing getting over the hump and maneuvering, I loaded another third of my gear and gave it a go. It was a bit more cumbersome, but doable. I took it once more around the patch and returned to the ramp and loaded the rest of my gear.”

Practice makes perfect: Cliff makes trial runs before he begins his 750 mile trip.

“I thanked my buddy for the ride and embarked on my Yukon River trip about 9:00 a.m. on September 2, 2020 and the day was bright and clear. It took me a while to get over that hump, and luckily I found a flat gravel bar to give me some lift. Once I was up I stayed on it until it was time to refill the 12-gallon fuel tank. I had to run about 6500 rpm as my typical cruise speed, possibly due to the replaced tachometer maybe not calibrated for the engine. That jury is still out.”

Cliff launches his hovercraft on the Yukon River and the adventure begins.

“My first fuel stop was the village of Tanana on the Yukon River. It was late afternoon and I had earlier arranged for fuel in all the villages where I stopped. When I arrived I learned the store owner and his wife also had a hovercraft, so I found camaraderie there along with fuel and conversation on hovercraft operation. That night was a hard freeze and he graciously allowed me to stay in a vacant cabin located by the river.”

Two hovercraft on shore at the village of Tanana.

“The next morning, I fueled up and departed early, around 9:00, due to the cold temps and moisture. Once it started to warm there were numerous fog banks, and because I had a GPS with good detail I pushed on. I went through one particular bank that reduced my visibility significantly, so I was barely hovering and following close to the bank when I came upon a stump. Unable to steer around it I found myself perched up on it and at a very muddy location.”

In the dense fog, Cliff’s hovercraft gets stuck on a tree stump.

“That was when I figured out the great design and importance of the Neoteric Hovercraft’s quick and easy skirt removal and repair. Of course, I had to empty the hovercraft and move it back to a flat spot to gain mobility again. I learned a good lesson there. 

As I continued further down the river towards my next fuel stop, I passed through incredibly beautiful wildlife refuges where moose and wolves could be seen along the river. The wildlife and view were exquisite. During the trip, sunset was 11:30 p.m. and sunrise 4:30 a.m. and it was never totally dark, so there was plenty of time to enjoy the view. I consider myself very fortunate to be one the few people who are lucky enough to experience such wonders.

I finally made it to the Yukon River Lodge where I was able to get more fuel, and visit with the owner who was very helpful. And I met several other villagers who were also headed downriver for a memorial service.

This day was fairly rainy and cold and for parts of the trip I had to deal with wind and 1 ft. waves. I pressed on until just before dark, when I found a gravel bar with a huge pile of accumulated driftwood and I built a pretty sizable fire that I kept going all night. It allowed me to stay warm and dry at least on half my body most of the time.” 

Cliff spends the night on a sandbar in the wilderness along the Yukon River.

“The next day I continued to the village of Nulato where I met an old friend who agreed to get me fuel from the local station. The villages along the river are very careful to allow anyone to enter because of the current Covid-19 pandemic. But I got fuel, and he also gave me some hot coffee, some Pilot Crackers and fish strips - a staple in the villages, and a finer meal can’t be found!”

Cliff’s hovercraft serves as a snack bar for his Pilot Crackers and fish strips!

The riverfront at the village of Nulato, where Cliff was warmly welcomed.

“I then continued on for the last leg of the trip to the Village of Anvik. My son Blair and friend / head guide Nick had been asked to bring fuel to the mouth of the river and meet me for the last 75 miles up the Anvik River to our lodge. We met just upriver of the village of Grayling and they had brought more food and fuel. We decided in the interest of weight that they would carry my personal gear and excess fuel.

Now the real adventure begins. Late in the day when we were all heading to the mouth of the Anvik River, an unfortunate situation happened. I was taking the shallow most direct route and they were not able to follow me. I was dipping behind islands and across mud flats, and just at sunset ran out of fuel on the opposite side of the Yukon.

I called on my sat phone and gave my predicament, but while waiting for the guys to show up, fell asleep while drifting in the middle of the river. I thought for sure I would hear the engine of the boat, but when I finally awoke it was almost midnight, and I had drifted about 18 miles past Anvik  I called again and decided that it was best to just wait until the next day. By the way, it was freezing again and I was very cold. 

The next morning, September 5, 2020, the guys showed up and we made the last 75 mile run to the lodge, arriving around 1:00 p.m.. I was happy to get home for a nap!” 

Cliff was welcomed home by everyone at Anvik River Lodge – including the wildlife!

“I’m interested in the possibility of a larger hovercraft as I’m exploring the potential of a new experience for our guests. I’m experienced in building airplanes and boats, so I can apply these skills to repairing this hovercraft. The last aircraft that I rebuilt made the cover of “Vintage Aircraft Magazine” (June 2002). I would probably be interested in a kit that I could build myself.

 I did get our new skirt and installed it, then my wife and I took about a 80 mile trip up the Anvik River and it was great. This was the day before we got sick. At the end of hunting season the last hunters we had exposed us to the Covid virus and the entire lodge got it. We are all healed now, but there was a period of recovery for a couple of weeks. It’s an ugly virus, and we are glad to put it behind us.”

Adventure is nothing new to Cliff. He’s owned avocado farms in Florida, and owns homes in the Florida Keys and Bahamas, which he’s in the process of repairing after they were damaged in Hurricane Dorian.

He’s an aircraft pilot, a ship captain and owns a 65 ft. trawler. He was an Olympic swimmer and a surfer. He taught himself carpentry and at age 21 he moved to Alaska to experience a frontiersman’s life. There, he built school houses from kits that were transported by ship along the coast. On one of his trips, in the cold Bering Sea, a storm caused 30 ft. waves and his boat sank. The captain drowned, but Cliff and four others managed to get to shore. The incident caused lifelong damage to his feet.

But regardless of his venturesome background, Cliff says his hovercraft trip “was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done – enjoyable beyond words!”

And his wife Cheryl adds, "Not only was this the first time he'd ever been on a hovercraft, he'll be 66 years old this month and he had open heart surgery in late January of 2019. So, holy cow, nothing will slow him down!"

The Anvik River Lodge: Home sweet home for Cliff and his Neoteric Hovercraft.

We at Neoteric congratulate Cliff for his daring undertaking, and we thank him for sending us the details of his adventure. Reading the story of his highly unusual hovercraft delivery was enjoyable and helps us to imagine the experience. We’re quite pleased that you happened upon a Neoteric Hovercraft and were successful in flying it 750 miles home to your lodge!

 Clifford Hickson visited Neoteric Hovercraft on Nov. 6, 2020 and met with the company President Chris Fitzgerald.

Dreaming of an adventure of your own?

 Launch your dream with a Test Flight or Flight Training on a Neoteric hovercraft!

And check out Anvik River Lodge

21 May, 2020

A hovercraft puts the “Happy” in "Birthday!"

Have you ever had a birthday that made your fondest dream came true? If so, it’s most likely that your loving family arranged it.

That’s exactly what happened to Dr. Robert (Bob) Henderson of Lancaster, South Carolina. Bob became interested in hovercraft 15 years ago when he saw one at a boat show in Annapolis, Maryland. Here he is, exhibiting that interest …

You may not recognize Bob, but you’ll most likely recognize his work. His son, Troy Henderson, describes why he and his brother Todd decided to give their father a hovercraft for his 80th birthday on May 14, 2020 …

“Dad has always been an innovator. As a pharmacist, he was intrigued with nutrition in the 70’s and 80’s. Then in 1992, he founded Nutramax Laboratories and patented the combination of Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate that led to the launch of Cosamin® DS for human joint health and Cosequin for animals - which has changed the way many physicians treat osteoarthritis,” Troy explains. “The innovation of the hovercraft, with its ability to fly on land and water, is fascinating and Dad has talked about one day owning a hovercraft of his own.  My brother and I decided that a hovercraft would be the perfect gift for Dad’s 80th birthday.”

Why did they choose a Neoteric hovercraft? Troy says, “We tasked Brian Adams, our Director of Engineering and Maintenance at Nutramax Laboratories, to research the companies that sell hovercraft in the U.S. and he found Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. One of the main reasons we chose Neoteric was the patented reverse thrust system which gives the pilot more ability to control the hovercraft.

Nutramax is a family of companies run by the Henderson family. Bob is founder and Chairman of the Board; his sons Todd, a veterinarian, is President/CEO and Troy, a chiropractor, is Executive Vice-President. They are obviously innovators, as well. At their father’s birthday party, attended by 300+ Nutramax employees and family members, they teased him with a birthday cake shaped exactly like the Neoteric hovercraft he was about to receive …

His sons presented the cake to him, saying, “Here you go, something you’ve always wanted!” Bob just laughed and suspected nothing - until his new hovercraft came flying around the building. It was Bob’s “dream come true”! Troy says, “Dad was totally surprised and threw his arms up in the air in disbelief!”

Watch and enjoy his reaction …

Todd (center) and Troy (right) were as excited as their father (left) when the hovercraft appeared, piloted by Steve Stafford from Neoteric …

Troy says, “Our father has done so much for so many; not only for us over the years, but also for countless others and for our community.  It gave us so much joy to see the look on his face when he saw the hovercraft hover across the parking lot.”

Bob couldn’t wait to get behind the controls of his hovercraft. Here he is with his wife, Janet …

And here he shares his joy with his five month old great-granddaughter, Rosie Fletcher …

After the once-in-a-lifetime birthday party, Bob and his sons underwent flight training on Fishing Creek Lake in Lancaster, South Carolina, conducted by Steve Stafford, Flight Instructor for Neoteric and its Hovercraft Training CentersFlight training is essential. It’s easy to confuse hovercraft with other land-based vehicles since they travel so close to the surface, but make no mistake: hovercraft are flying machines. Because they fly above the surface on a cushion of air, hovercraft operate on the principles of aerodynamics, not the rules of the road or waterways.

In conclusion, we’d like to say that the Hendersons are not only innovative; they’re wise, organized and disciplined as well. This is exemplified in the steps they followed in purchasing a hovercraft:

First, they did research to learn that, besides its patented reverse thrust system, Neoteric is the world's original light hovercraft manufacturer. Founded in 1960, with clients in 50+ nations, Neoteric has a level of trustworthiness, experience and professionalism superior to any other light hovercraft manufacturer.

Second, they contacted Neoteric in November 2019 to learn more.

Third, in February Troy, along with Brian Adams, came to Neoteric to take a Test Flight before they ordered a Model #1874 four-passenger hovercraft with several added options, including a trailer. 

And fourth, they arranged for immediate flight training for the family after the hovercraft was presented to their father.

In closing, we at Neoteric would like to emphatically say that we are grateful to be associated with such a caring family and are honored to have played a role in helping the Henderson brothers make their father’s 80th birthday a memorable one!

12 February, 2020

Texas attorney buys hovercraft to help with flood rescues

Retirement planning has taken an interesting turn for Myall Hawkins, an intellectual property attorney in Houston, Texas. Two major factors played an important role in that turn:
 1) The dramatically rising risk of flooding and 2) The effectiveness of Neoteric Hovercraft in flood rescue operations.

Myall says, “I’m 64 and gearing up for what I want to do when I retire. So I thought, how can I help others? In recent years we’ve had major catastrophic floods in Texas, and predictions say we’re facing even more flooding and it will be more severe. So my thoughts turned to how I might provide assistance.

He’s absolutely correct. The National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Association reports that 2019 was a record-breaking year of flooding and they expect that every year for decades to come will break the record over and over again.

What led Myall Hawkins to hovercraft?

Myall explains, “I live in a gulf county and from any storm coming in from the gulf coast, we’re going to be impacted first. Our first responders get overloaded. In 2017 with Hurricane Harvey, the Cajun Navy came in. Our Louisiana neighbors came in with flat bottom boats, airboats, cruisers, whatever they could.

I became interested in how I could help. I bought an inflatable boat that’s good for some flooding events. But when I talked to first responders, they had plenty to say about the problems with boats in flood rescues, the main one being that outboard motors and propellers are easily damaged or lost. During Harvey, boats capsized and rescuers had to be rescued. 

And most flooding is residential, so you often have one neighborhood under several feet of water, the next neighborhood may have hardly any, and in between the two are dry streets. So if you had a boat, you could only go so far.

So I started researching flood rescue equipment that can handle swift water, shallow and deep flood water, and transition between grass, mud, sand, water and other surfaces – and came across hovercraft. I didn’t know anything about them, so I started searching online. There were different hovercraft companies out there, but I quickly learned that most first responders use Neoteric rescue hovercraft.”

Why a Neoteric hovercraft?

His next question was why most fire departments and rescue agencies choose Neoteric hovercraft. He says, “I discovered it’s because it’s the lightest weight. It’s got the highest horsepower. And it’s got reverse thrust, giving it maneuverability that’s just phenomenal. You can brake, turn, fly backwards, hover in place and fly easily right up to victims. No other hovercraft can do all that.

After his thorough research, Myall purchased a pre-owned 6-passenger Neoteric rescue hovercraft. His first step after that was to undergo flight and maintenance training at Neoteric. “I would never operate a hovercraft without proper training,” he says. “That would be really foolish.”

Here, Myall learns to fuel his hovercraft as he begins his flight training with Neoteric President Chris Fitzgerald at the Wabash River in Terre Haute, Indiana …

Myall’s training was his first experience in a hovercraft. His reaction? “Flying a Neoteric is phenomenal! You definitely don’t experience its capabilities until you get out on the hovercraft. You can read about it, you can see a video and that’s nice, but then you fly it yourself and oh, yeah, I can just imagine what we can do with this. It definitely is a performance machine.”

One aspect Myall noted was the hovercraft’s easy transition between different surfaces. “We went down the boat ramp and onto the water at a decent speed and you don’t feel the transition at all – it’s completely smooth – even going sideways. I was really surprised.” …

Back at Neoteric headquarters after successfully completing his flight training, Myall (left) receives his certification from President Chris Fitzgerald ...

What comes next?

After Hurricane Harvey, Myall reports that many civilians in Texas have come together to assist in flood rescue efforts, and he plans to join them. Numerous websites have been set up where these volunteers can list their equipment, their training, their location, and what they can do, then first responders call on them for help.

In the meantime, Myall explains, “My hovercraft was built in 2011. My next step is to have Neoteric upgrade it with current rescue features. I’ve told Chris I don’t want it quickly, I want it right, so whatever it needs, let’s do it. Then I’ll have it shipped to me in Texas.”

Now that I’ve finished my initial standard training,” he says, “when the hovercraft is shipped to me, I’ll get more hours of experience in it, then come back for second level rescue training. So that’s my goal: get hours on the craft, get very comfortable with its operation, undergo rescue training and hopefully help save lives in future flooding.”

And a side benefit is that when Myall's hovercraft is not in use as a flood rescue vehicle, he can always enjoy it as a recreational hovercraft for river cruising, fishing and much more!

The importance of hovercraft in the future

There are few places on Earth where flooding is not a growing concern. Flooding is the #1 natural disaster in the United States, and of all U.S. weather-related disasters, floods are the main cause of death. The National Weather Service reports that 2019 was the wettest year in recorded history - 124 years -  and the frequency and intensity of floods will continue to increase.

Hovercraft are a critical rescue apparatus for flood rescue operations. As Myall Hawkins – along with first responders in more than 50 nations - have recognized, the Neoteric rescue hovercraft, with its exclusive patented reverse thrust, greatly tops the maneuverability of other hovercraft on the market. It performs safely in debris-filled, shallow, fast-flowing flood water and allows rapid up-close access to victims while keeping first responders above the danger – not in it.

The Mansfield Fire Department in Texas, who operates a Neoteric rescue hovercraft, sums it up quite accurately:  “The benefit of having the hovercraft is we do not have to send our personnel into the water to retrieve victims. It can also hover over logs, car tires and any other debris, unlike boats that could be a hazard in flood water. A hovercraft is the answer to a faster rescue – a safer rescue.”


Experience first-hand what a Neoteric hovercraft can do for you: