Mechanical Engineering Group Manufactures SA’s First WIG HovercraftGeneral

Left: The WIG hovercraft team, Mr Kai Broughton, Mr Duran Martin, Mr Dylan Williams and Mr Nino Wunderlin, with their hovercraft in progress. Right: What the WIG hovercraft will look like once completed.Left: The WIG hovercraft team, Mr Kai Broughton, Mr Duran Martin, Mr Dylan Williams and Mr Nino Wunderlin, with their hovercraft in progress. Right: What the WIG hovercraft will look like once completed.

An undergraduate final year project group in Mechanical Engineering is building South Africa’s first Wing-In-Ground Effect (WIG) Flying Hovercraft - the Typhoon.

The group, comprising Mr Kai Broughton, Mr Nino Wunderlin, Mr Duran Martin and Mr Dylan Williams, has been working all year on the proof-of-concept, full scale prototype and will demonstrate it at UKZN’s Engineering Open Day on 28 October. The vehicle makes use of a hovercraft base for amphibious surface operation and will utilise the ground effect phenomenon for low altitude flight. 

Supervisor Professor Glen Bright initiated the project as a flying off-road vehicle.

‘After some research, the students then convinced me to adjust the project slightly to make it a WIG Flying Hovercraft,’ said Bright.

A WIG craft is a combination of a marine craft and aircraft which takes advantage of the ground effect phenomenon experienced by an aircraft when they fly in close proximity to the ground, explained the team. The effect is the enhanced lift and reduced drag a wing experiences when it is travelling within one wing span of the ground, resulting in an enhanced lift-to-drag ratio and a greater flight efficiency.

Their research led them to investigate flying hovercraft created overseas by the addition of wings and a tail onto a conventional hovercraft to achieve ground effect flight.  The group has attempted to improve on the ground effect flight technology in the full-scale prototype they have designed and manufactured.

The creation of such a vehicle in South Africa could have niche applications in several fields including recreation, commercial and transport, and could also be used to reach otherwise inaccessible areas for purposes of search and rescue, exploration or conservation.

‘The benefit of this type of vehicle to these industries include air and amphibious operation, cost effective and fuel-efficient transportation, access to remote areas, good ride quality and safe operation,’ said Broughton. ‘They are faster than boats and cheaper than aircrafts, and there is no need to have a flying licence to operate one.’

The aim of this prototype is to prove that ground effect flight is achievable with a hovercraft, and to demonstrate its potential for the already mentioned applications.

However, the project has not been without its challenges, especially those of time, cost and team capacity. Hovercraft design has also presented challenges in the form of drag at takeoff (from water) and the selection of an ideal hovercraft base vehicle. The group has managed to manufacture the prototype at a fraction of the cost of commercially available hovercraft.

Christine Cuénod