Our Hovercraft: The Tesla

Recent Pictures

By the way, here's the Other Completely Different But Also Official Tesla hovercraft site.


In early 1998, a small handful of engineers, artists, adventurers, and fanatics set out to build an autonomous one-seater hovercraft for Engineering Open House.   With plans and much advice in hand from Universal Hovercraft (or their other site), we began the construction process.

Here are various pictures taken during the construction phase.  Seen in the third pic, second row are Brian, Lindsey, Eric, and Greg.  In the next pictures we do some hot wire cutting, make the interior of the duct, and demonstrate our mighty strength.

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These pictures were taken shortly before the hovercraft was painted:

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and these shortly after.  The hovercraft is named "Tesla" and the paint scheme is a deep blue with lightning bolts emanating from the bow and running back along the hull.  The artistic genius who actually pulled it off was Erick Huck, the dashing young man holding a Pepsi in the last picture.  Brian O'Shea is seen sporting a fashionable "flannel and epoxy-covered jeans" look in the second picture.

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The cover and inside of the Technograph (the publication of Engineering Open House)

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Here are a few pictures taken during Engineering Open House during the "everyone crowd around and go ooooh" times where we explain the physics involved and answered questions.  In the first picture are Brian O'Shea and Greg Bell.  In the second picture, you can also spot Arthur Edlestein (the tallest guy, in the back).   He's but one of the many people who donated their time to help with construction and running the show during EOH.  In the last two pictures you can catch glimpses of Lindsey Cooper and Melissa Brosnan, respectively.  In addition to being main members of the team, they offered major moral support.  Without their witty comments and comic relief throughout the building process, I'm sure none of us could have survived.

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After EOH, we got kicked out of our nice big garage-building which we had been borrowing from the Physics Department for far too long.  We needed to find a place to keep the thing, and a way to get it there fast.  The place turned out to be Eric Johnson's garage, and the method of transportation was.... a little less than street legal probably.  So we decided to move when we thought the streets would be clearest: the dead of night!  Matthew Wenger can be seen lurking about in the second picture.   Most probably he was checking to make sure we hadn't been followed by any police officers:

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Then a long time passed, and we repaired some of the minor problems which EOH caused, including a torn runner and skirt.  We took the Tesla out for a run in mid-fall, on water for the first time!  From this day, we deduced that we need a better hole cut in the back of the skirt for water-exit purposes, and we need to tune up the engine because it wasn't performing well anymore. 

Notice, if you will, the trailer which the hovercraft is resting on.  This contraption was rebuilt from a very different vehicle to match the exact specs of our hovercraft.  In the second picture, Matthew and Greg are inspecting the trailer hitch.  In the fourth, they're getting ready to do something potentially dumb.   The next several are of that very thing!
By the third row, we've dried off and Lindsey is preparing to go for a spin.  Even though it's the middle of the day, she's taking no chances by wearing bright colors for safety.  Fourth row features Eric, then Matthew.

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To the trained eye, the skirt might seem a little under-inflated.  In fact, by repairing the thing, we ended up trimming off enough material to unbalance the craft.   That, combined with the poor engine performance and our slightly inefficient air-box positioning, led us to an important decision:

The Tesla will return at "EOH 99: A Millenium of Innovation"!!

We started our own society to make sure we stay on task, and we will receive funding for this and our other EOH project from the Engineering Council.  (Our other project is building a Tesla coil, which is strangely appropriate).

We have a laundry list of things that need fixing, reworking, replacing, and enhancing.   By March, the Tesla will be better than ever!

Updates from the field:

January 1999:
We had a look at the beast, and tried to figure out what was giving it such indigestion.   We cleaned out the carboraetor, we recited magic incantations, we even thought about taking the thing to be repaired.  It turns out the single biggest cause of our cruddy performance was so simple that no one thought much about it: the Tesla had gas.   Bad gas, that is.  You see, we had a healthy amount of fuel both in the tank and in our refill gas can.  And although it had been sitting right along side the Tesla since almost a full year ago, no one thought the stuff might be causing trouble.   It was almost BROWN when we actually checked it out.  Putting some fresh fuel in really helped our engine out, and reminded us to always check the SIMPLE stuff first.

February 11, 1999:
The new skirt material has been ordered, and we're going to try a steeper pitch propeller to get some more power out of our motor (which we feel is not being used at its full potential).  Only three weeks left til EOH!

Pictures from EOH 1999

Pictures from Lake Springfield (March 1999) Warning, 100+ thumbnails here



We would like to thank
Universal Hovercraft,
the Physics Department at U of I,
the News Gazette for actually covering our story,
everyone who kept coming on Saturdays to sand and epoxy with us,
and everyone else who lent a hand.

We would like to anti-thank everyone who said we couldn't do this or otherwise implied that we were a bunch of weirdos who would likely get maimed by our own incompetence.   You all know who you are.  Brian, did you get those letters sent out yet? =)