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Transportation

What Happened To Passenger Hovercraft? (bbc.com) 69

An anonymous reader writes: Although much has been written about hoverboards lately, hovercraft have largely faded from public imagination, BBC News reports. The Bond-esque 1960s sensation proved too noisy to roam inland rivers regularly, while too small to compete at sea with a new generation of conventional mega-ferries and high-speed car-carrying catamarans. Military aside, only a 10-minute English route and a Sino-Russian river border crossing keep hopes air-cushioned nowadays, while civilian operators wait for electric propulsion to become practical, aiming to reduce airplane-like noise levels and excessive fuel costs with new technology.
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What Happened To Passenger Hovercraft?

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  • I'm a Florida tourist, you insensitive clod!

    • Err, those are typically not hovercraft, but airboats [wikipedia.org], which work a wee bit differently.

      (...though I can see the appeal of a hovercraft in mega-swampy areas like the Everglades...)

      • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @07:06PM (#50897231)

        Airboats are still incredibly noisy.

        I rode on one in Louisiana and IIRC it was basically a flat bottomed aluminum boat with a Chevy 454 V8 bolted to a stand in the boat with an actual airplane propeller attached. We all wore shooting muffs.

        It was a pretty fun ride, though. On wide expanses of water, I'd swear it didn't turn per se, but sort of turned sideways until you'd built up enough thrust in the new direction to stop going the old direction. And it worked in water so shallow I couldn't believe it was floating by any definition. We sort of stopped in one shallow spot and I asked the guy "What happens if it gets stuck?" And he said "Well, we have to get out and push" which was fine, other than the 6 alligators I could count within about a 30 foot radius of the boat.

        The whole experience had a touch of "Southern Comfort" (IMDB it) to it. We called a tourist place looking for a ride and the operator said it was out of season for him, but he said something like "Call Pierre Thibideaux, he'll probably take you out" and sure enough we drove to some remote spot on the bayou and this guy with a French accent was waiting with an airboat. Great guy, but of course having seen "Southern Comfort" I was a little worried where we might end up.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Hey, that reminds me of "Southern Comfort"... have you seen it?

        • Our office did hovercrafting for our Christmas outing/dinner - these kind of single seater hovercrafts [britishhovercraft.com]. They were far more physically demanding than any of us imagined. Like you say, when you turned them, the just kept going the same direction, but at right angles to the direction of travel. The trick was to lean into the turn and use the friction of the skirt to change the direction of travel. You basically knelt in the them and used your weight to steer.

      • i guess part of the problem with hovercraft is they are kind of fragile. the everglades is loaded with stumps hidden among the sawgrass that will tear the hovercraft's skirt open, then pffft your air cushion is leaking out and you are sinking.
    • I'm a Florida tourist, you insensitive clod!

      Thank god. I was hoping someone would mention Florida so I could post this:

      http://www.rawstory.com/2015/1... [rawstory.com]

  • I blame SeaSpray.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have fond memories as a teenager riding the hovercraft from Southampton to the Isle of Wight and back for summer holiday fun. Fun, fun, fun. If one was stood aft upon take off, the spray generated by the fans was enormous and you received a good soaking, which was pleasant on a warm summer day. It would douse your fags, though...

  • by spaceyhackerlady ( 462530 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @06:34PM (#50897035)

    Never a good start...

  • and relatively cheaper per transported cargo.
    • About a decade ago, a local boat builder / operator bought a 60 foot commercial hovercraft to make 80 - 90 mile runs between various small towns. It was hoped it would be less expensive and much faster than the Alaska State Ferries. Was basically a flop. The thing kept breaking down - and this was with a group of people that were capable of building 100 foot aluminum boats. It was noisy. The ride was rough. It was expensive and basically had no cargo capacity.

      Plain ol boats won out....

    • Perhaps the main reason the hovercraft never took off is a more prosaic one - limited ability to operate in bad weather and rough seas. I have happy memories of sitting in an ever-lengthening queue in an English Channel ferry port for the best part of a day because of high winds and wave heights.

    • And faster. A hovercraft used to be one of the fastest means of transport over water. The hovercraft I know (the one across the channel) is effectively replaced by a large catamaran. This catamaran is much faster than the regular ferry and can transport more cargo than the hovercraft.
      • That was a while ago, The cross channel catamarans have long gone too, replaced by a train. I believe catamarans still operate on the Irish Sea though.
        • The cross channel catamarans have long gone too, replaced by a train.

          What they make floating trains now? Where does the track go? Huh?

          • The cross channel catamarans have long gone too, replaced by a train.

            What they make floating trains now? Where does the track go? Huh?

            In a tunnel.

  • That's silly. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @06:39PM (#50897065)
    What happened to passenger hovercraft? That's obvious; the flexibility they provide (amphibious, require little infrastructure) obviously doesn't offset their inherent disadvantages (lack of carrying capacity, poor fuel efficiency, etc) except for military applications. What I want to know is what happened to the hydrofoil? I got to ride on one from H.K. to Macao at a very young age; I remember being mildly disturbed at the speeds we were traveling at... I've never heard a peep about them, however.
    • Deciding to answer my own question, I came up with this [wikipedia.org]; who'd have figured?!
    • by Thud457 ( 234763 )
      hydrofoils?!
      pish posh.
      whatever happened to wing-in-ground effect craft? They could be quite large with a correspondingly large cargo capacity.
    • Re:That's silly. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @07:05PM (#50897225)

      What happened to passenger hovercraft? That's obvious; the flexibility they provide (amphibious, require little infrastructure) obviously doesn't offset their inherent disadvantages (lack of carrying capacity, poor fuel efficiency, etc) except for military applications. What I want to know is what happened to the hydrofoil? I got to ride on one from H.K. to Macao at a very young age; I remember being mildly disturbed at the speeds we were traveling at... I've never heard a peep about them, however.

      Turns out they have their own disadvantages. Seasickness and reliability were a big problem with the last attempt to provide hydrofoil service in Hawaii... though it's been over 30 years since then, so maybe they are better now. Even fast catamarans couldn't succeed in Hawaii, though I think their problems were more political than technical.

      http://beatofhawaii.com/hawaii... [beatofhawaii.com]

    • They still exist and I rode one a couple of years ago. It feels just like being on a plane.
      https://www.turbojet.com.hk/en... [turbojet.com.hk]
    • Hydrofoils never caught on because with the technology of the day unless you were traveling stupid proof route, in fairly nice weather with a pretty decent depth they were extremely dangerous. Hit a sand bar or a whale or some other fairly solid object and your ship takes a nose dive at 50 knots. That could (perhaps should) change today with GPS, sonar, radar & computer systems which could nowadays decrease the chances of such incidents or at least blunt their impact but there are still cost/maintenan

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      There is regularly scheduled hydrofoil service between Athens and a handful of Greek islands. The ride is fast, but a little noisy. The boats are disturbingly powerful for their size. Being on one of them is the only time I've felt jerk (the time derivative of acceleration) in anything larger than a small motorboat. They are also very sensitive to water conditions ---you don't want to ride in them when it isn't nice and calm.

      info -- http://www.aegeanflyingdolphin... [aegeanflyingdolphins.gr]

      video of a Flying Dolphin approaching

    • I did HK-Macau one way on hovercraft and one way on hydrofoil. Victoria Harbor is one place where arguably the hovercraft is a better solution, given the amount of submerged and semi-submerged debris in the water. I believe there was an accident recently when a hydrofoil hit something, forget if there were casualties or not.

      Hydrofoils have come a long way though; look at what they do with sailboats now!

    • What happened to passenger hovercraft? That's obvious; the flexibility they provide (amphibious, require little infrastructure) obviously doesn't offset their inherent disadvantages (lack of carrying capacity, poor fuel efficiency, etc) except for military applications.

      As this is /., I'll get into some of the technical details. The resistance a hovercraft encounters is basically energy transferred to the water and dissipated as waves. The slower the hovercraft is moving, the greater this wave resistance.

    • The ex-Top Gear hosts showed their excitement for the craft by attempting to Revive it with better technology (portable Van for commuters) - and in a later episode a race though a city.

      Although - they may have crushed any hopes that the technology would catch on by mocking the noise & mess they create in front of a "high-class" restaurant.

      While driving in the race Clarkson indirectly showed how dangerous the craft can be - tight turns and short stops were impossible. Of course his buffoonery amplified

  • Tom Scott explains (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 09, 2015 @06:44PM (#50897089)

    Great video describing the downturn of the hovercraft and concorde etc - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYH1lPm41-0

  • Did it, once. (Score:5, Informative)

    by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Monday November 09, 2015 @06:52PM (#50897137)

    I rode on a hovercraft once - over the English channel from France to England. It was an interesting experience. Not worth repeating. It was extremely noisy. I would rather take a slower route.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I did too - I loved it. And we took our car too. An hour after disembarking, the car stopped and wouldn't restart ... and then it did. And then it stopped. And started again.

      Then later in the day, it recovered and all was well for the rest of the holiday. We figured the fuel tank had been shaken and stirred, and all the crap in there had decided to take a holiday down the fuel pipe to visit the engine...

    • I thought it was great and would love to do it again. Certainly a lot bumpier than the turbo jet that runs between Hong Kong and Macau - that just felt like a really fast ferry.

  • ...while civilian operators wait for electric propulsion to become practical

    I expect they'll have a long, long wait.

  • In the early 1990s one could travel between Hong Kong and Kowloon by hovercraft. It was an interesting change of pace, but I could see how it couldn't compete against the Star Ferry.

  • As long as this world has Lamborghinis and Jackie Chan, it is not a safe world for hovercraft.
  • by gsslay ( 807818 ) on Tuesday November 10, 2015 @06:54AM (#50899533)

    What kind of world has it become that "Bond-esque" gets a capital letter, but English and Sino-Russian don't?

  • Hovercraft have to LIFT their cargo. It's a stupendous waste of energy compared to other methods (floating their cargo, etc.). Only aircraft, hovercraft and things like cranes actually are required to lift their cargo and all take huge amounts of engineering and energy to do so.

    For a quick sojourn across some water, it's a pointless waste of time and effort to lift the load up and then move it around, by blowing air at the floor - no matter how you skirt it. Helicopters are the only equivalent but they h

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