by Jeni Bone
Wing in ground effect, or WIG as it’s known in the realm of hovercrafts, is something Michael Fane from Australian Hovercraft is proficient in and something he says is the future of transport.
'When I was 22, I built little hovercraft. I went in to mining, then over to Asia and worked around the region. By the time I was 35 I built Lady Bernie, finished in 1989. We sea trialled it to Rottnest Island in the highest seas, carrying eight plus Captain and it was very efficient.'
With a background in Accounting and Business Law, Fane is also a mechanical fitter by trade with a private pilot’s license, electrical workers license, cockswain ticket, and is a registered CPA and registered tax agent.
The Wing In Ground-effect vehicle is a vehicle that cruises little more than a few feet over flat surfaces, most often water. It can be seen as a transition between a hovercraft and an aircraft. WIGs are also classified as Ground Effect Vehicles, or Sea Skimmers.
This seamless ground to water to air craft is something that has consumed Fane for decades. Based in WA, his company has completed for commercial use the flagship in the range, the Velocity 30 which is capable of operating in a confined harbour and on open seas.
'It can go from A to B over reefs and sand bars in shallow water and people can see everything! Added to that, with my model, there's no sea sickness, no matter what the sea conditions are.'
Fane continues: 'With my WIG we take off as hovercraft, leave the water at 45 knots with 30 passengers, or 90 in the case of Hoverflight 90, and can go 75 knots with engines running at 60% with a 700 nm range fully loaded – about the same as a Catalina seaplane. Like the Catalina, if we only carry fuel up to a tonne with passengers or half a tonne with their luggage on board, but if we put 3 tonnes of fuel our range extends to 2,5000nm.'
There is already a market. Hovercraft is currently in use by Broome Hovercraft which has been operating for about 30 years and was designed and made by Airlift in Queensland. There is one in use around the Isle of Wight and one used to be operating across the English Channel, 'before it wore out'.
The average cruise speed is 25 knots, even though they can do 60, says Fane. 'But you have to consider the passengers and the sea states and waves. If you go airborne, it can be dangerous.
The hovercraft has been endorsed by Lloyds and has IMO approval.
Fane is confident there is a massive market. 'Tourism, transportation between islands, luxury tenders and regular transport. The military, rescue and patrol would be another application.'
The current model Velocity 30 uses 375 HP Caterpillar engine and 8 foot seven blade Pitch in motion 700 RPM Propeller and is marketed as 'super silent'. At 14.45 metres long 5 metres wide it accommodates 30 seats and cruises at 25 to 30 knots. The price is UAD$900,000.
Says Fane: 'It has directional control similar to a good handling boat. Most hovercraft do not have this control at low speeds and thus avoid harbours and hover onto concrete pads or land only. Many hovercraft have to gain speed before entering water as they will not gain enough speed to hover over the water hump from a water start.
Transferring passengers to boats at sea is simple and easy operation for this 30 passenger seat craft. 'We can build for superyacht tender, coastal patrol, airport rescue, military service, or any commercial operation specified.'
On open oceans, the craft is totally stable, asserts Fane. 'On one trip to Rottnest Island our cruise speed varied between 22 and 25 knots up to 30 knots for short periods as per our GPS. Seas were one metre.
Noise and impact on the environment are minimal, states Fane. 'The propeller is so silent in operation, the birds and seals to not change behaviour as we pass close by. This is possibly the only hovercraft manufactured in the world today that does not disturbed wildlife. Passengers travel on the outside deck at speed and are able to talk to each other.'
This silence is the result of years of Research and Development into both silent propellers, sound absorbing ducts and lift fans. 'A paint with micro ceramic tubes is on all surfaces in the engine room preventing transmitting of sound and heat.'
The new Build Velocity 30 Hovercraft will be 17 metres long 7 metres wide with additional props and space within, and a price of around AUD$2 million.
'Hovercraft is the future for environmental tours and for high speed passenger transport Hoverflight is the answer. For the same speed and same payload, it uses one third of the fuel.'
What Fane is now waiting on is investment for manufacturing. Given the shortage of skilled labour in WA and a lack of factory sites on the watersedge, he is considering relocating interstate or offshore to mass produce these craft.
More at www.australianhovercraft.com