By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
New Zealander (he's half Australian) Rudy Heeman has, over 11 years, transformed his hovercraft into a wing-in-ground-effect vehicle, and now it's for sale. Heeman says he's found the ideal flight altitude under the vehicle's 7-meter wingspan to be about 1.5 meters, over flat water or land, where he reached a top speed of about 60 mph in a test. It will hop small bushes or short trees and, yes, Heeman has hit shrubbery with it (and continued to a safe landing). Theoretically, the pilot plus one vehicle can cruise at about 55 mph for roughly 140 miles. The project includes parts from six different cars, including what was originally a 1.8-liter Subaru engine, and a gas bottle from an old barbeque. Its wings consist of what appear to be a front and rear aluminum tube spar, foam/fiberglass ribs (four per side, plus an end rib) and zip-to-close fitted fabric covering -- all of which separate for storage/transport. The vehicle is controlled by rudder and elevator, actuated by a control wheel (no rudder pedals). The cockpit includes a GPS and engine gauges, but Heeman has included other creative refinements.
To better manage the aircraft in flight, and improve its performance, Heeman has created a system that allows him to retract the hovercraft's skirt while in flight to reduce drag. He's also devised a "thrust diverter" that at the same time "converts lift air to thrust when flying." The vehicle operates under New Zealand's rules for boats, according to a recent SkyNews report, even when flying with its removable 23-foot wing attached. Heeman has put about 150 hours on the craft. Last we checked, the vehicle's auction (plus trailer) had attracted a bidder at $26,800. The sale includes training ... and a liability disclaimer, "which must be signed on pickup" according to Heeman.
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