One of the best sequences in Return of the Jedi was the forest chase on those cute little personal hovercrafts. Now, a company called Aerofex has perfected a design that was abandoned almost 40 years ago over stability issues and tested a personal hovercraft.
It’s not as sleek as the Jedi version because it hovers with two encased sets of rotor blades, but it is compact and small enough to carry and be flown by a single person. The stability issue was solved by going back to land vehicles. By making the vehicle as responsive to the movements of the human body as a motorcycle, it was possible to cure it of the nasty habit it had of dumping the rider. For those who have never ridden a motorcycle, it responds when a person leans to one side or the other, making it possible to control the bike’s turns. On the hovercraft, there are a pair of bars where the rider’s knees are that translate the rider’s leanings to the hovercraft.
And that’s about as close as this mechanical dummy can get to explaining this thing. At present, the tests have been limited to a height of 15 feet and speeds up to 30 miles per hour, but that is due to an overabundance of caution with human testers and not indicative of the craft’s abilities.
Aerofex is not developing these machines for anyone in particular, but has been successfully testing it in the Mojave and forest terrain. They are working on new technologies for unmanned “heavy lift” equipment for use in transporting supplies and working in farm fields. They are expecting to unveil their new drone late next year.
It has been up to others to imagine what these machines could be used for.
Those with a military mindset are seeing these as a way to transport troops and supplies over bad terrain to reach distant outposts. We have such outposts in Afghanistan and they are not accessible over roads. They can also be used in urban battle settings to transport materials. That brings us to the potentials for urban police forces. Hovercrafts don’t slide on wet roads the way motorcycles do and they can go over trash and fences as a bike can’t, making them very useful for pursuing criminals through alleys. They can also go over traffic jams to reach the cause of the jam and more quickly reach the front of a multi-car pile-up.
How about border patrolling? Here on the northern border, there are thousands of miles of forest and mountains, along with part of the St. Lawrence River and all but one of the Great Lakes. On the Mexican border, there is desert mountain terrain and the Rio Grande. A small hovercraft can go where Jeeps and SUVs can’t. And these things would be a blessing in ski areas. They could reach an injured skier so much faster than traveling on skis with sleds and even evacuate people from a damaged lift.
As for ordinary people and the dream of flying cars – don’t even think about it. Can you imagine drunk drivers in the air over our towns and cities? Can you imagine someone texting while flying? I wouldn’t even want these available for rental for hunters going into the woods. They don’t need any advantages over the wildlife.
About the only place the hovercrafts wouldn’t work is in space, as in on the moon or Mars. The one thing a hovercraft absolutely has to have is atmosphere.