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North, South bury hatchet for hovercraft
Schools work together for common goal

20 Jan. 2002

By Jennifer Royer

Since Terre Haute North and South Vigo high schools were formed 25 years ago, they've been the biggest rivals in town.

In everything from sporting events to academic competitions, each tries its best to reign supreme when the two schools meet.

But a group of North and South students and teachers are looking past that rivalry to learn from and help each other in a cooperative project.

Members of technology and drafting classes at both schools are working together to build their own hovercraft as class projects.

They also plan to have their craft up and running by May 4 to compete against each other in the Midwest district hovercraft race at Lazy L Lake in West Terre Haute.

That's where the camaraderie ends, they said.

"Working with them in building their hovercraft is OK," said Marquis Songer, a junior at North. "But when it comes to racing, we're no longer friends."

South club president David Cheesman, a senior, agreed that it's good for the two schools to work together because, "We thought we could be the most productive that way," he said.

"It's a new area for all of us, so we thought if we work together, we could get up to a more competitive level more quickly," he continued. "But then they better watch out!"

Students in Mike Dason's advanced transportation class at North have already built two hovercraft since last spring and are working on their third. South students started a hovercraft club and are in the planning stages of their first hovercraft project.

Both clubs continue to raise money and recruit sponsors to donate materials needed in building the craft.

Ken Martin, manufacturing teacher, and Steve Joseph, drafting teacher, are the South club's sponsors.

"Hopefully this will help both schools produce a better student," Joseph said. "By the two working together more closely they will be able to come up with more good ideas that will benefit everyone. That's better than dividing the city up the middle."

A hovercraft is a lightweight, one-person boat. It has a large propeller, powered by gasoline, that forces air under the skirt of the craft, lifting it off the ground or water. The boat is steered by leaning and moving a rudder.

Lightweight hovercraft may have up to a 12-½ horsepower engine and most are designed to travel at 25 to 30 mph.

North students began sharing their expertise in December with South students so they too, could build a hovercraft.

Dason was introduced to hovercraft by Chris Fitzgerald, owner of Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. in Terre Haute. Neoteric manufactures lightweight hovercraft and distributes them across the world.

Fitzgerald, an Australia native and co-founder of the Hoverclub of America, wanted to stir an interest in hovercraft building and racing in the Wabash Valley. The men decided high school students might be a good place to start.

In addition to the Terre Haute schools, Fitzgerald and Dason were able to interest three Indianapolis high schools, one in Ohio and one in Canada to begin building hovercraft. They are expected to compete in the May 4 race as well, Dason said.

Marketing clubs at both schools also plan to work together to publicize the event, Dason said.

Some of the schools may also compete in the hovercraft nationals to be held in Troy, Ohio, this summer.

"We hope to have three hovercraft going by then," said Eric Whitesell, who has done a lot of work on three of the club's craft.

North students began on their first hovercraft last spring after receiving blueprints for an entry level racing model.

"We had no pictures, no videos or anything, just the blueprints," Dason said. "We had no idea how a hovercraft works and little knowledge on how to do fiberglassing."

Most of a hovercraft's body is made of fiberglass.

North's first hovercraft weighted about 300 pounds – it should only weight 150. But students learned a lot from their mistakes and were able to build their second craft in about a week, Dason said. They're planning to give the first hovercraft a second engine.

They've also begun work on their third craft, which will be driven in the May 4 race.

They've received permission from Olympic bobsledding hopeful and North graduate Bruce Roselli to paint their next hovercraft with the same design on his bobsled.

Both schools plan on putting $1,200 to $1,500 worth of materials in their craft by the time they're completed.

The students have met at both schools to talk about the blueprints, which North drafting students Daniel Hunt, Jason Little and William Langman said were incomplete.

Some information was left out of the blueprints, Hunt said. So the three were chosen to study and complete them. Most of their work was done in their drafting class.

"We thought we'd be able to copy most of it, but we ended up changing a lot," Hunt said. "We got into it a lot more than what we thought."

North students also let South club members drive their hovercraft to get a feel for how they handle and run.

"It doesn't exactly go where you want it to go," Dason said. "It's hard to turn it at times. We just told them all about our trials and tribulations. Now maybe they won't make the same mistakes we did."

Both clubs said it will be no problem getting their hovercraft up and running by the May 4 race. Some of the work will be done during class time, but North students know that a lot of evenings, weekends and some late nights will be put in as well.

South's Cheesman and junior Paul Fonts said they expect to learn teamwork more than anything else from the project. And the group has taken safety into consideration too, electing junior Kyle Rhynd as its safety engineer.

Rhynd has designed a checklist to go over before the driver steps into the craft. It will also be his responsibility to make sure the driver always wears a helmet and a life jacket.

Dason's goal for the North club is to eventually get several classes involved in the hovercraft project each year.

The project not only benefits drafting students, he said, but students can also use the hovercraft to learn about wind velocity in physics class. Life Science students could practice sewing by putting together the hovercraft skirt, Dason said.

In addition to giving students hands-on experiences, Dason said the project teaches problem solving skills most of all.

"The hardest part is working with other people," North's Songer said. "There are times when you just want to kill someone, but you've got to remember that you can always pretty much fix anything."

All Material © 2003-2004 World Hovercraft Organization