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
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
Both clubs continue to raise money and recruit
sponsors to donate materials needed in building
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
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
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
Both schools plan on putting $1,200 to $1,500
worth of materials in their craft by the time they're
The students have met at both schools to talk
about the blueprints, which North drafting students
Daniel Hunt, Jason Little and William Langman said
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
"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
North students also let South club members drive
their hovercraft to get a feel for how they handle
"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
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."