Magazine article Technology and Children

Tabletop Hovercraft

Magazine article Technology and Children

Tabletop Hovercraft

Article excerpt

Grade Level: 2-5

Time: Two 30-minute sessions (one for construction and one for testing)


Wouldn't it be cool to drive to work in Luke Skywalker's landspeeder? Would you settle for an Earth-made hovercraft?

Hovercrafts, or Air Cushion Vehicles (ACV) ride on a cushion of air instead of wheels and can glide over many types of terrain--even water! They can even attain higher speeds than most ships or land vehicles, and use much less power than helicopters of the same weight.

How do they work? It all has to do with friction, and the fact that there's very little of it. A powerful fan forces air under the hull of the hovercraft, creating a high-pressure area called the lift air cushion. This makes the hovercraft float. A flexible fabric skirt is attached to the bottom outside edge of the hovercraft's hull. This creates a wall that traps the lift air, forcing the hovercraft to rise higher and giving it better clearance over any surface obstacles.

Air fans or propellers, water propellers, or water jets provide the forward propulsion, or thrust. Rudders similar to those used on airplanes are used to steer the hovercraft. As the rudders are turned, the thrust air is deflected left or right, forcing the hovercraft to change direction.


design challenge

Apply your knowledge of air pressure, friction, aerodynamics, and vehicle systems. Use the engineering design process to build a working tabletop version of a hovercraft.

materials and tools

Plastic dinner plates, film canisters, balloons (large quantity), modeling clay, pen point or small nail, smooth tables, scissors, spring clothespins, small adjustable fans.


Teacher Note: Before you start this activity, explore some hovercraft websites with your students and discuss the principles of how hovercraft work. Also, make sure your students have had plenty of hands-on experience learning about air pressure, friction, vehicle systems, and general aerodynamics. They should also be familiar with the engineering design process.

To start out, ALL students will make the SAME hovercraft. After their first test of the "generic model," they will design and test their own improvements. They should take engineering notes throughout the entire activity.

Step #1--Build the Hovercraft

* Use a pen tip or nail to poke one small hole in the bottom of your plastic plate; this is your hovercraft's skirt. Also poke a small hole in the film canister (save the lid for another project).

* Turn your plate upside down, then use small strips of clay to attach and seal the film canister (opening side down), over the hole in your plate. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.