This morning involved an early start and by half past seven all three of us were in the car, heading off down the road. The reason for this exodus was that 30% had bought TP and me a Hovercraft Experience for Christmas and today was the day we would get to experience well … err … hovercrafting … or whatever the appropriate verb is.
An hour's drive found us on a rural Industrial Estate a few miles North of Coventry, looking at green fields, a small lake, a scruffy modern interpretation of a Nissen Hut and a few Hovercraft abandoned on the sward.
Now, before we go any further, I need to go on the record by saying that the experience was thoroughly enjoyable and it is fair to say that I would leap at the opportunity to have another go in one of these inherently wayward vehicles. They are an absolute scream once you have got to grips with the fact that there is minimal contact between the vehicle and the land/water and as a consequence getting them to steer takes some novel skills. It is fair to say that they are like nothing I have ever driven before.
The basic approach is to kneel in the craft as far forward as possible. The controls are unbelievable basic; there is a set of handlebars for steering and a throttle lever. That is it. No dials, no trim levers, nothing but left, right and faster …
… so I was somewhat surprised when our instructor casually dropped in to his lecture that one "flies" a hovercraft. Really? Flies? I think not!
After a few basic instructions TP and I were soon let loose in the craft. After all the instructions can be summarised as follows:-
Forward: Simply increase the throttle until the craft rises and moves forward. The greater the amount of throttle the faster it goes.
Braking: Simply release the throttle and the craft will loose it's cushion of air and come to a halt. It is not a good idea to release the throttle at full speed, a controlled approach is recommended.
Turning: Kneeling well forward in the craft, simply turn the handlebars to their full extent. At the same time ensure that you move your entire body as far over in the direction that you wish to turn. The handlebars alter the direction of the air flow from the fan at the rear and shifting your body weight increases the drag on the skirt and allows the craft to grip the ground and turn. Basically; if you don't lean, it won't turn and the more throttle you apply in the turn the easier the manoeuvre is.
That, basically, is it. The above instructions will not make you a hovercraft genius but it should allow you to steer one across a field. With nothing more that the above we were soon kneeling in the craft and completing slaloms and full power turns. It was great fun and the taster session culminated with being let loose around a course for a couple of laps. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I would definitely like to take the more advanced course where one is allowed to take the craft on water as well as the land.
Now going back to the point I made earlier, the Instructor informed us that one flies a hovercraft. I have to say that I consider that something of an exaggeration. To me flying is something that involves complicated machinery, countless hours of practice, examinations, tests and medicals. Flying does not involve turning up in a field in Leicestershire, getting 5 minutes instruction and then being allowed to blat about a field in a fibreglass shell with a 1000 cc air conditioning motor and a fan blade strapped to the back of it.
It was great fun but the most I am going to accept is that you Pilot a hovercraft.