13 October 2009

Hovercraft Works Well Over Arctic Terrain

Scientists and explorers are discovering the utility of hovercraft for Arctic research and exploration. Equally adapt over snow, ice, water, mud, or dry land, the versatile craft allow you to keep going over ever-changing surface conditions.
Two polar scientists hot on the trail of an arctic mystery have a new tool for exploration: a hovercraft, specially outfitted for week-long trips over the ice with scientific instruments and solar panels.

Their quarry is a nearly 22,000 square-mile patch of disturbed Arctic sea floor that could be evidence of a massive asteroid strike. John Hall, a now-retired geoscientist, discovered the anomaly during his late-’60s graduate work aboard Fletcher’s Ice Island, a huge berg U.S. scientists inhabited for several decades.

Since then, no scientific vessel has been back over the area to collect more data. The massive icebreakers that have crunched through the Arctic since the 1990s can’t reach the spot, said Yngve Kristofferson, a scientist and explorer at the University of Bergen in Norway.

...“The neat thing with a hovercraft is that you drive with the same ease over 10 centimeter-thick ice as you do with five meter thick ice,” Kristofferson told Wired.com.

Despite their futuristic reputation, hovercraft have been commercially available for decades. The concept is actually quite simple. A big engine or turbine pumps air into a rubber skirt that allows the vehicle to tread lightly on whatever it’s touching. The R/H Sabvabaa, for example, weighs six tons but exerts no more pressure on any patch of ice than a seagull standing on one leg would by standing on it. The rest of the power from the engine is devoted to propulsion, allowing the craft to skip along at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. _Wired
Survival-oriented readers who anticipate the coming of a new Ice Age, will be particularly interested in the versatility of hovercraft travel.

Or consider the world after an EMP attack. Bridges over rivers would often become impassable due to congestion with undrivable vehicles. Major super-highways would become very long parking lots. Even if one could cross bridges and follow highways, in those conditions it might be wiser to bypass them -- for the sake of safety.

An ideal vehicle would be capable of all terrain travel, as well as running submerged, and intermediate distance flight. Hovercraft cannot fly and they cannot run submerged, but it takes time to design all the proper features into a craft -- and to develop the materials that allow such designs to function well.

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