If you decide to buy a hovercraft, you'll find a growing range of options available on the internet and some of them are breaking away from traditional ways of doing things. Up until now the small hovercraft builders have basically copied the design aspects of the large air cushioned craft built in the 60s and 70s by operators aiming to transport high numbers of passengers, which is necessary to turn a profit. The four basic requirements are a hull, which is by necessity rigid, a skirt which is not, some method of controlling direction and an energy source - personal hovercraft specs.
Large craft hulls are made from aluminium or similar alloy having high strength compared to it's weight. It doesn't have to be as strong as you light think, because it is going to be either supported by a cushion of air, or resting on the ground. It doesn't need to be aerodynamically streamlined as it isn't going to be traveling very fast. That kind of construction makes perfect sense when considering the size of some of these craft, but much less sense when building small hovercraft. Reduce size means that other methods can be used for making the hull, such as resin reinforced glass fiber or high density expanded plastics.
A big ACV is controlled exclusively by servo operated ailerons placed in the airflow of the forward thrust fans, which are generally mounted at the rear. As the angle of the aileron is changed, the air flow is re-directed and the air cushioned craft turns in the same direction at a rate depending on the angle. Smaller types use the same principle, but the action is initiated by the operator turning a set of handlebars, which change the angle of the ailerons In addition, the operator must place his body weight towards the side of the vehicle in the direction he wants to travel.
The skirt is perhaps the element that has undergone profound design changes. Not in it's basic function and shape, but in the way it is fabricated and fixed to the craft. Skirt design should be one of your main consideration when planning to buy a hovercraft. A one piece skirt is very expensive to change if it becomes damaged, and so hovercraft manufacturers opting for a one piece design should use very tough materials, such as Kevlar. Other design separate the assembly into small sections that are easily replaced if damaged.
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