hovercraftHovercraft transport people and their stuff across ice, grass, swamp, water, and land. Also known as the Air Cushioned Vehicle (ACV), these machines use air to greatly reduce the sliding friction between the bottom of the vehicle (the skirt) and the ground. This is a great example of how lubrication works – most people think of oil as the only way to reduce sliding friction, but gases work well if done right.

In this case, the readily-available air is shoved downward by the hover motor and the skirt traps the air and keeps it inside, thus lifting the vehicle slightly. The thruster motor’s job is to propel the craft forward. Most hovercraft use either two motors (one on each side) for steering, or just one with a rudder that can deflect the flow (as your project does).

The first hovercraft were thought about in the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that real ones were first tested. Today, the military use them for patrolling hard-to-drive areas, scientists use them for swamp research studies, and businesses use them to transport toys and food across rough and icy areas. Scientists are already planning future ACVs to use magnetic levitation in addition to the air power… but it’s still on the drawing board.

Are you ready to make your own? We have TWO different models to choose from. Click this link for the Easy Balloon-Powered Model, or keep reading below for the advanced version.
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189 Responses to “Hovercraft”
  1. Aurora says:

    Cool! I look forward to it! ๐Ÿ™‚ If you upload it on youtube and then send me the link, we can grab it and post it in our student project section.

  2. Lorelei Grecian says:

    My hovercraft is finished but it seems that its not hovering just vibrating around.
    I tried different bases, the one that is working the best is the plastic dish… Its not that heavy so I don’t think its the weight.
    ๐Ÿ™ Although i did put a thin line of styrofoam around the edge because it was vibrating on the ground and it was very loud.

  3. Colleen Canary says:

    Thanks for answering my question Aurora! I want to send you a video of my hovercraft soon!


  4. Aurora says:

    Hovercrafts are expensive, inefficient to use as vehicles, and they are hard to maneuver. It’ like trying to compare apples to oranges… each has advantages and disadvantages.

    Since the hovercraft is riding on a cushion of air, there are no brakes in the same direct way as with a car. Also, you are much more subject to winds, just like an airplane. Which means if you are driving your hovercraft down the road in a crosswind (wind is blowing perpendicular to your line of travel), you have to drive that hovercraft sideways to stay on the road.

    The other big problem is that hovercraft work best on very flat surfaces. Have you ever noticed the crown in roads for the rain to run off? The hovercraft will naturally want to drive along the lower point, so you’d be sliding off the side of the road while trying to drive.

    I learned these tips from someone who has been making and piloting hovercrafts for over 30 years, and the last time he took one down a road, he took 3 mailboxes with him! Hovercrafts ARE awesome, but they will not replace the wheeled vehicle.

  5. Colleen Canary says:

    Yes! Thank you so much for your help. He has endless questions but we’ll just ask one more for now. Why do we not have hovercraft instead of cars?

  6. Aurora says:

    Sure thing! When you slide a hockey puck on the street, it quickly comes to a stop. Take that same puck and slide it over a sheet of ice and you’ll find it zooms a lot farther. What gives?

    Hovercraft use air to reduce the drag (friction) between the bottom surface and the ground. The first hovercraft was designed for military use in 1915, but was mostly operated over later. In the 1930โ€™s, inventors combined simple aircraft principles into their designs to produce the first vehicles that utilized โ€˜ground effectโ€™ and could hover on land.

    Friction is the force between two objects in contact with one another. Friction is dependent on the materials that are in contact with one another: how much pressure is put on the materials, whether the materials are wet or dry, hot or cold. In other words, it’s quite complicated! The friction between the puck and the street are a lot higher than with ice.

    Friction happens due to the electro-magnetic forces between two objects. Friction is not necessarily due to the roughness of the objects but rather to chemical bonds “sticking and slipping” over one another.

    ACVs require at least two engines: one for the lift (hovering action), and the other for forward thrust. The hovering motor pushes air out the bottom, which creates a pocket of higher pressure to accumulate. As the higher pressure escapes out the bottom, it lifts the vehicle up, creating the โ€˜hoveringโ€™ effect. Although some hovercraft utilize air ducts to use one engine for both jobs (thrust and hover), most require two or more. In addition to small vehicles, two hover trains are currently in operation (one in Japan, the other in Austria) since 1985, using an underground cushion of air to reduce track friction and increase speed.

    Does that help?

  7. Colleen Canary says:

    We had great success making the hovercraft. My 8yro is experimenting with toy army guys riding on it, it’ll still hover with just a few. Although he loves the experience, I’m having a hard time explaining what the hovercraft has to do with friction. Could you help explain what the hovercraft is teaching him about friction? Thank you!!

  8. Aurora says:

    Hit refresh on your page and try again. If it does this again, note the time that it occurs and let me know so my team can check it out. Don’t worry – you’ll get this project done! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Aurora says:

    The 12v motor is going to be too heavy – you want to use 3V motors for this project with a 9V battery like the video shows. If you use a 12V motor, you’ll need a larger power source to make it worth the extra weight so it’ll have enough power. It sounds like you’ve got a short somewhere with your wiring. Watch the video again and follow the wiring carefully. If you still have trouble, tell me exactly how you hooked it up or send me a picture so I can help. And yes, you can use alligator clips or wires – whichever you prefer and no the color doesn’t matter. Alligator clips are going to add more weight than wire, though.

  10. Lorelei Grecian says:

    The video is stopping right around the middle and starting over again. ๐Ÿ™

  11. Lorelei Grecian says:

    Can I use allegator clips? I tried but its not working. Does it matter what color I use?

  12. Lorelei Grecian says:

    Ok, I put the two wires in the same row. I have a 12v motor for the hover. And a 3v for the steering…but if i clip the clip on the battery it just goes i can`t turn it off. Please help!!!

  13. Aurora says:

    Yes – make sure they are all on the same side. If it has t tabs, then there are two rows of three. Connect it to two of the three tabs in the same row.

  14. Lorelei Grecian says:

    My slide switch has 6 tabs does it matter what one i connect my wires to?

  15. Lorelei Grecian says:

    How did you ever come up with Supercharged Science…. Cause its awesome!!!!!!

  16. Aurora says:

    We no longer carry the parts for the hovercraft, but I might be able to dig up one for you if you are interested. I’ll have our staff contact you via email.

  17. Lorelei Grecian says:

    I clicked on the link for ordering the parts and it says it is unavailabel. ๐Ÿ™
    Can you help?

    Thanks Raena

  18. Aurora says:

    Awesome! ๐Ÿ™‚ If you send me the pictures by email, I can post them for you.

  19. Jodi Schreiber says:

    Twin 8-year olds and one non-science-brained mom now have a working hovercraft! If I knew how to post pictures, I would send one of our new Lego-transporter. The bottom of the cup works perfectly as a balance and a cabin for action-figures. I can’t believe we did it! The boys are having a BLAST!

    Muchas Gracias!

  20. Aurora says:

    Try refreshing the page… or a different web browser (IE, Firefox…) Did that work?


  21. Nelson Sun says:

    none of the videos work.
    where there is supposed tob e a video it shows a ! enclosed in a circle.
    can someone help me?!?

  22. Aurora says:

    Try this motor from Radio Shack (or rip one out of an old toy or handheld fan).

  23. Toni Haefner says:

    Could you send me the link to the other motor?

  24. Toni Haefner says:


    PS:I got the two propellers in the mail today!!!

  25. Aurora says:

    Do you mean “off” the small motor? I know that with some motor-gear assemblies, they are machine-pressed on, which makes them just about impossible to get off. Use the other motor recommended and you should be fine (I think there were two motors in case one came with a gear – Radio Shack switches products but keeps the part number the same).

  26. Toni Haefner says:

    we tried EVERYTHING and we COULD NOT get the GEAR of the small MOTOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    another trick pleas!!!

  27. Aurora says:

    That’s the one I recommend, actually!

  28. Toni Haefner says:

    Does it matter if we use a low temp glue gun?

  29. Aurora says:

    The Hovercraft is bagged separately in the Science Mastery program – look for the bag with the ‘Hovercraft’ written on the label.

  30. Billy Campbell says:

    Aurora, what kit will I find the needed items in? I only have one propeller, no small motors (they’re all the same size), no switch, and no battery clip in the electricity kit. Am I looking in the wrong one?

  31. Aurora says:

    Since the hovercraft is such a complex project, it’s only on video. There are a few experiments like this, including the underwater robot, most of the electronics circuits, and advanced robotics.

  32. Jeanette Roberts says:

    Where do you find the procedure listed in writing?

  33. Carmenza Coleman Salgado says:

    Thanks, aurora.

  34. Aurora says:

    Yes – put a dab of glue on the hole of the propeller and press it on firmly. Be sure not to glue the shaft to the motor!

  35. Carmenza Coleman Salgado says:

    Thanks! The bottom propeller, under the cabin keeps falling off. Can we glue it in place?

  36. Aurora says:

    Nope – you don’t even need to use a cup at all! The 16 oz sise usually is the best size for making the shroud, but any size will work.

  37. Carmenza Coleman Salgado says:

    does it matter if we don’t use a 16 ounce cup?

  38. Carmenza Coleman Salgado says:

    Great project, Aurora! Thank you.

  39. Merry says:

    Thank you so much!

  40. Aurora says:

    You’ll want to wire this up using a simple circuit design. Simply run a wire from the motor to the switch, and another from the switch to the battery, and a third from the battery back to the second motor terminal. The battery clip has two wires already attached, so you only need one wire to hook it up this way. Make sure one of your wires is connected to the center lead in the switch for the switch to work right.

    There’s a lot of detailed experiments about this type of circuit here:

  41. Merry says:

    Hi Aurora, I watched your video this afternoon,& I was wondering, what if you wanted to only put on the
    hovering moter? How would you wire it up?

  42. Aurora says:

    We used to carry these in stock, but unfortunately no longer offer the kits. You can get the parts from Radio Shack or from an old toy you rip apart (one with a motor and a propeller, like the handheld fans they sell in the summer).

  43. Harminder Dhillon says:

    Hi Aurora,
    Can I buy the materials for this activity from you? Thanks

  44. Laura Castillo says:

    Hi Aurora!

    Your science program is awesome and we are currently working on the hovercraft. Regarding the motors, I have 2 of the first one that is shown from when I purchased them for the cable car. Will those produce enough power for the hovercraft? Or will I need to get the second one that is shown for the thrust. Thanks so much for producing such an outstanding program. Laura

  45. Aurora says:

    Yes you can, but that particular switch is going to be HEAVY. Find a lightweight one so your motor won’t have to work so hard to lift your craft.

  46. BJ Lackey says:

    Can you use this radio shack part instead of the switch you show?


    Thank you.

  47. Aurora says:

    Yes we do. I’ve fixed the link – it should be working now. And you’d be surprised how well these work, despite all the variations in materials and construction! ๐Ÿ™‚

  48. Melissa Beck says:

    I have tried clicking on the above links to get the parts/kit for the hovercraft. My kids started the program today and watched all the videos about the hovercraft…they are SO excited to get started! I have purchased all of the parts separately, but there are SO many variables….like the size of the hole in the propeller (for the shaft to fit)….I have a feeling this may not go well. None of your links are working…they say this link is ‘unavailable.’ I’d love to order the kit if it’s available. Do you still offer this?

  49. jeremiah ryan says:


  50. Kim Spadgenske says:

    Thanks a lot!

  51. Aurora says:

    Do you see the order link in the previous comments? You can order just the props or the whole kit at a discount.

  52. Kim Spadgenske says:

    Where do you get the kit?

  53. Aurora says:

    Whoops! Sorry about that – we were doing a massive upload of newer versions of the current videos to the site that play faster and better this weekend, and this one had the wrong file uploaded. I’m uploading the new one now, so check back soon. Thanks for your eagle-eye!


    P.S. If you ever see something on the site that doesn’t work, please let me know immediately so we can fix it right away. ๐Ÿ™‚

  54. Donald Walker says:

    The video does not play. It says that it is not found.

  55. Aurora says:

    No, it does not produce enough current to power the motors at the speeds required for a hovercraft. I thought you were looking to get your hovercraft working and were suggesting an alternative to a heavy battery – that’s what I thought you needed help with. Sorry for the confusion!

  56. Darla Shannon says:

    help with what? i just wanted to know if it would work. will it work if you wire several large solar cells on it?

  57. Aurora says:

    No, unfortunately a solar cell does not produce nearly enough power you need to make it hover. Try removing the battery and running longer wires to the motors from the battery as you hold the battery in your hand while the hovercraft moves along the floor – does that help?

  58. Darla Shannon says:

    how about if you add a solar cell to it, would that work?

  59. Aurora says:

    Either one – you can put it on you tube and we can grab it if it’s a video, or email us a picture. When you sand, it should only be just enough to get all four corners level.

  60. Robin Scharnick says:

    would you need a picture or a video? I’ve tried sanding corners, but I’m afraid we’ll end up with no lip left if I do much more.

  61. Aurora says:

    Hmmm – that sounds like it’s dragging a corner. Can you send a picture?

  62. Robin Scharnick says:

    No matter which way we turn the vane, it just goes right. Not forward and right, just right (as in sideways).

  63. Aurora says:

    The turning is due to the fact that it’s hovering (which is a good sign) and when something floats in mid-air, the motor that makes it float causes it to rotate in the opposite direction from the motor rotation (remember that forces come in pairs – from newton’s third law of motion). Do you remember seeing a tail rotor on a helicopter? It’s there to counteract this motion. You have a vane on the back of your hovercraft to help you do this. Tilt it one way or the other to help you steer your craft straight. ๐Ÿ™‚

  64. Robin Scharnick says:

    Our hovercraft doesn’t go forward but just keeps going to the right even though we’ve sanded it and tried putting on weights.
    What do we do? Any suggestions?

  65. Aurora says:

    That’s a great question! And you’re right – we cover this in our Unit 10: Electricity unit. Watt is a measure of power, and is defined as Volts x Amps = Watt. When you look at a battery, you read 1.5 Volts.

    Imagine a pipe with water flowing through it. Voltage is like the water pressure, which determines how quickly water (or in the case of voltage, electrons) travels through the pipe (or circuit).

    Current is measured in amperes, and is a measure of how much water flows past a given point per unit time. Bigger pipes mean more flow (larger amounts of current).

    So a fire-hose would have lots of pressure and a big pipe, which would be like lightning. Your kitchen sink would have slower-moving water and smaller diameter pipes, so this is more like AA batteries. You can have a high-pressure stream of water coming out of a tiny pipe which can really do a lot of damage, which is like a neon sign transformer (which can kill you). You can also have a sewer sized drain pipe with slowly flowing water – this is like the static charge you build up when you scuff along the carpet in socks.

    Does that help?

  66. Kristina Massey says:

    Totally different question: My daughter wants to know what is the difference between watts and amps and volts. I’m sure this comes up later, but I can’t even give a simple answer! Help!

  67. Aurora says:

    So glad you got the materials! ๐Ÿ™‚ You’ll get a new switch shortly…send us a photo of the kids doing science when you get a good one.

  68. Robin Scharnick says:

    You are so awesome. I received my propellers I ordered today. Along with a couple of extras!! That was very nice. I thought I’d let you know, just so you don’t waste a bunch of them… the reed switch didn’t make it. He was in a hundred pieces by the time he reached me. The gears for the jigglebot are great though. Thanks a bunch. My kids are loving this science!!

  69. Aurora says:

    Not if your battery wires reach that far. I think you will need a couple of wires – I can’t believe I omitted this in my shopping list! Sorry!!

  70. Jeanna says:

    Thank-you Aurora! Great tip on how to make wire. The battery clip does have wires attached. In the video it looks like we need to attach additional lengths of red wire to the black and red wires on the clip, and then to the motor. Is the extra red wire necessary? Thanks again!

  71. Aurora says:

    Hmmm… good point. We simply taped the battery to the top popsicle stick, and the battery clip should have had a wire on it – I didn’t realize they sold them without the wires! In a pinch, you can always ‘make’ wire out of thin strips of aluminum foil covered with masking tape.

    I’ll update the materials list for you. Thanks!

  72. Jeanna says:

    I’d like to suggest that the shopping list for this project be updated for those who are acquiring the materials on their own rather than purchasing the kit. I do not see that the extra wire (the wire not on the battery clip), the battery “C” holder nor the extra piece of styrofoam on the shopping list. Since we did not happen to have extra wire at home, we were not able to complete this project without making another trip to the store. Thank-you!

  73. C Jordan says:

    We have had fun doing hands-on experiments. My kids have all kinds of questions that I do not know how to answer. It would be helpful to me as the “teacher” to have a link to read information ahead of time. Then I would be more prepared for some of the questions. Or to be able to say, this follows the Law of Gravity because….
    I had a very boring Physics teacher and zoned out many years ago. I would like to learn more too.
    Thank you,

  74. Aurora says:

    You can certainly glue it to the gear – that’s not the problem. Usually there’s an air leak around the base (which means more sanding!) Put the hovercraft on a flat table and get down so your eye at level with the bottom surface and look for gaps. There should be NONE. Use your sandpaper at the corners to ‘lower’ the craft’s surface so it’s as close to the edge of the table as possible. Does that help?

    And yes, you can always hold the battery in your hand and run longer wires to the hovercraft – it will pop right up if you do that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  75. Aleyne Brown says:

    Everyone is talking about taking the gear off the top motor. We just hot glued the propeller to the end of the gear. Did we make a mistake by doing this?

    We are also having trouble getting it to hover. I switched the wires, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. I will try a different battery, but I wonder if it is too heavy to hover. Does the weight of the bottom foam piece effect its hovering ability?

  76. Wesley says:

    Our hovercraft is so cool! We used big foam trays and used two motors on the bottom for hovering. My kids couldn’t figure out how to wire it up at first, but then after looking at the electricity experiments on switches and motors in Unit 9, they were able to work it out themselves! Thanks Aurora for making science such a blast for my kids.

  77. Aurora says:

    Hmmm… sometimes if the battery isn’t fresh, it won’t get enough power to the motor to hover the vehicle. What happens when you take the battery off the hovercraft and hold it (with the wires still attached)? Does it hover now? If so, then it’s a battery juice problem OR an air leak issue. Watch as it tries to hover to see if it’s dragging a corner (use sandpaper) or has any cracks that air might escape out the bottom. There’s troubleshooting at the end of the video… let me know how it goes so I can help more if needed. ๐Ÿ™‚

  78. Jamie Shepherd says:

    My son figured it out. There was too much glue on the switch and it wasnโ€™t going over all the way. The motor is working and we reversed the wires when we saw that the propellers werenโ€™t moving the right direction. We still have some problems with the craft hovering. We think it might be too heavy. Any suggestions there?

  79. Jamie Shepherd says:

    We built the Hover Craft and it looks cool, but it wonโ€™t turn on. The battery is good. Is there trouble shooting for this somewhere?

  80. Bethany Pellerin says:

    We just built ours. Check out our blog


    We had so much fun. I was never really into science myself. But I think this site may have converted me. I love it. I am learning just as much as my kids. They LOVED this craft. You should hear them bragging to everyone!

    We really only had one small issue, trying to get the gear off the motor. We ended up using the back side of hammer and a small crowbar…it worked! Everything worked just like the video. AMAZING!

    Also I was having a hard time finding the little propellers. Then I checked the mail and Aurora sent them to us. Thank you so much.

    We can’t say enough about how much fun we are having and how much learning is going on! Can’t wait for the next unit!!

    Happy Kids with the Hovercraft Project!

  81. Kim Bauer says:

    The kids love the program! And I love it because they can work on their own and I KNOW they are learning. We have been following the syllabus verbatim for right now and are on the Acceleration and Velocity experiments. My son worked for about 30 minutes ahead of time to set up the fishing line. He had to rethink it when my husband almost โ€œclothes linedโ€ himself. But in the end, he found a great spot. The kids did the balloon races this morning and had a blast.

    We made the hovercraft last week and were totally thrilled that it really worked. Just having the motor turn on was a thrill in itself. Then, to see it hover was another thrill. My daughter and her friend turned it into an art project by painting it. When I get some extra time to download and sort my photos, I will send over a few shots.

    In hindsight, I am really glad I ordered the kit with everything in it. Anything to make the process go smoothly is really great.

    Thanks again for making such an awesome program!


  82. Aurora says:

    You’ll want the lightest motor you can find that still has the same thrust. The motor you substituted is heavier, so this may be part of the problem. You can usually snip down a propeller using sharp scissors if you think it’s too big for the motor(s).

    Try taking the 9V battery off the hovercraft and run longer wires from the 9V to the hovercraft itself – does it hover now? If so, then weight and/or the skirt is usually the issue. Triple-check the skirt and make sure it’s not dragging a corner or leaking air. Let me know how it goes.

  83. Michelle Guillette says:


    We built our hovercraft, and all the motors spun, but it couldn’t get off the table. We tried switching the wires on the thruster motor, but it didn’t work. We use a propeller which was larger than 3 inches since that was all we could get…. Radio Shack was out of the 273-258 motor also, so we substituted a 273-223. Could either of these factors lead to the negative results we obtained?



  84. Alice Denney says:

    cool experiment looks cool i’ll try it it out

  85. Caery Tessin says:

    Thanks, Aurora!

  86. Aurora says:

    Yes, you’re right! As a gift from me, I do send you propellers for the hovercraft and a gear for the Jigglebot robot (which you’ll get to in Unit 10: Lesson 2 on Robotics), and those are usually sent to you during your second month of enrollment. If you can’t wait, you can always order propellers here.

    If you think you’re going to have trouble finding the foam parts also, then I’d recommend ordering the prepackaged kit from us, as this kit also includes a foam part for enabling it able to work on water as well.

  87. Caery Tessin says:

    We are starting our e-science lessons Monday, and I am SO excited!! When I joined with your trial offer this month, you mentioned that you would send us the hard to find experiment items as a bonus part of our membership. As I read over the shopping list for the hovercraft, I am wondering if the propellers and foam hamburger containers might be among the “hard to find”. If so, how quickly after my trial period will those materials and/or any others be sent?
    Thank you for all that you have already done to create science excitement in our home!!

  88. Aurora says:

    You can still order the hovercraft as a kit – if you want all the parts listed in this experiment sent to you (except the 9V battery), I can give you a discount for being an eScience member, and I’ll even throw in the video on DVD. Use this link to order the parts for the Hovercraft (this link includes the discount).

  89. Marianne says:

    Micah made the hovercraft, which you can see here:

    He is now experimenting with the laser. Thanks so much for your valuable resource, Marianne

  90. Aurora says:

    Hmmm… it seems Home Training Tools keeps changing the type of propeller they sell. Sometimes it’s an airplane propeller, other times it’s a water (boat) propeller. Ok – we’ll send you the one we have in the experiment video when you send us a SASE (include two stamps) and $3 per propeller. Just be sure to let us know how many you want. The props we have work for both air AND water, so you can use it with the Waterbot, Hovercraft, and more!

  91. Aurora says:

    Yes we do. Send me an email with your mailing address and I’ll send you the details.

  92. M Vanderkolk says:

    Hi Aurora,
    Do you send parts to Australia?

  93. Aurora says:

    Yes, if you can find a local burger place (we have ‘Bullwinkle’s’ and ‘Franks’ in my town), they often use foam containers for take-out. Hope this helps!

  94. Debra Thomson says:

    Do you know of places (like, fast food places or something?) that have foam hamburger containers? Thank you!
    -Stephanie T.

  95. Aurora says:

    You can leverage it off by inserting a popsicle stick or tip of a screwdriver between the motor and the gear and gently working it up the shaft. Go slow so you don’t tear the motor apart!

  96. Kate Bechard says:

    Ok, I’m having trouble getting the gear off the motor. Any tips? I’m using a pliers and pulling on the gear but it’s not budging. Help!

  97. Aurora says:

    Sure- and this offer is open to anyone wanting the propellers

  98. Kate Bechard says:

    Oh, wonderful. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I get that out to you!

  99. Aurora says:

    If you send a SASE (use two stamps) to us with a check ($3 per propeller), we’ll send it right to you. (We’re not really set up to handle small orders like this, but we’ll make an exception here.) Send to: Supercharged Science, 585 Luneta Drive, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405. Now you don’t need to spend time driving around searching for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  100. Kate Bechard says:

    Any ideas as to where to get the 3″ 3 blade propellers? I already have the rest of the needed items…
    Thanks much!

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