Platte River Hover-In 2010 at Morse Bluff, NE

We had excellent weather during the two previous Nebraska Platte iver Hover-Ins, and I was hoping to get three in a row for this year’s event. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of putting out a notice that he weather was going to be perfect, based on the weather forecaster’s predictions. Going by any weather predictions is always going to be ffy at best, and they got it wrong, as often seems to be the case. A sunny and warm weekend with temps in the mid to high seventies orphed into something nasty on the Friday evening and it didn'’t let up.

My wife, Anne, and I had arrived at Matt Shaw’s property, in the early afternoon on Friday in warm and sunny conditions. Ben Voigtlaender had followed us down the gravel lane leading to Matt’s campsite. Ben is well known on the hovercraft racing scene where he races a Bill Baker BBV in the F2 class.
We soon had our homebuilt hovercraft down on the sandbar beside the river. Earlier flood waters had piled the sand about thirty inches above the receding water level at Matt’s site, so rather than launch straight into the river, I elected to hover along the sandbar until it petered out into the water a hundred yards further upstream.

We had a fun ride about six miles heading west, and crossing shallow water. I was delighted that the adjustments to the lift fan and the skirt had paid off with an increase in speed of around fifteen mph. We were now able to cruise around at 30mph – not bad considering we only had a 22hp thrust engine.
Back at the campsite, Randy Pratt had arrived from South Dakota, with is UH13P in tow. A little while later, Pat Foley pulled in from Ames, Iowa with his UHsp18. We all headed down to the Bottom Road Bar for food and drinks, and returned to a very quiet campsite.  All the regular weekenders had seen the diabolical weather forecast and headed for home. We were all really disappointed that the usual campfire gatherings were not taking place, as we have always enjoyed the friendly get together with everyone who normally hangs out at Matt’s place in the evenings.

I woke at 2:20 am in my nice warm motel bed to hear the windows being buffeted by very strong winds. Not much later the thunder and lightning and rain fired up. Next morning, Randy told me that hehad counted thirteen storm cells go though. Pat, who was sleeping in his truck, said that the vehicle was swaying so much that he thought he was on the river. Fortunately my craft was still where I had left it. Saturday was a bust. The winds picked up to 15-30mph and although Pat and Randy ventured out with their craft they didn’t like it very much, and were soon back. I knew my limits and didn’t even try to hover. So we stood around chatted, and tried to keep warm.  Did I mention that the temperature plummeted into the low fifties (and felt like twenties after the normal hot days)?

Andy Pittman and his family and friends had arrived during the morning and set themselves up in a RV. Andy had attempted to hover up the Missouri River from Kansas, intending to turn onto the Platte River at Omaha, but had been forced to abandon the attempt after about 150 miles. His wife, Donna, had retrieved him and the craft and towed it the rest of the way to the campsite. It was an impressive feat just making it that far, but I bet he tries again in the future.

Sunday started out cold, foggy and drizzling, but the wind had dropped to 5-8mph. Everyone headed out onto the river to play. Randy and Anne and I headed upstream for a 15 mile run up to Schuyler, NE. Randy had the faster craft, capable of over 40 mph, so as Anne and I cruised along at around 30 mph. Randy would dart off up some side chute and reappear to run us (on one side or the other) before darting off again. Pat and Andy also headed up, taking a different channel.

Pat said, “"The weather was invigorating. Saturday I soaked myself with spray from the start, plus the weather was blustery. Sunday’s run, while misting, was a good run. With ambient temperatures in the 50’s, I stayed behind the windshield and ran the heater to stay warm. One advantage of the water-cooled ea82 1800cc Subaru car engine is the ability to rig a heater core under the dash. The other, is in high wind, the extra power and weight is useful. Otherwise, the air cooled lawn mower engines used to make small hovercraft allow a craft that is far easier to build and operate."

You may be surprised to know that hovercraft can cruise at 30-50 mph using a 22hp thrust engine and are very cheap to build and operate. Larger craft, using light car engines, are capable of speeds of 70 mph or more.
As always, I’d like to thank Matt Shaw for letting us make use of his campsite and property over the long weekend.

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