Hanover has a hovercraft, and it’s up for auction

The city hovercraft will no longer hover.

Then again, he never did a lot of hovering to begin with. This is one of the reasons Hanover dumps her.

The city of Hanover is auctioning off its hovercraft – that’s right, Hanover has a hovercraft in its fleet of rescue equipment – which a local family donated to the city four years ago but never was deployed on duty and the fire department felt it was too long to train personnel to operate.

Part boat, part airplane, part helicopter, part snowmobile, and ridden with motorcycle-type handlebars, the hovercraft initially seemed like a good piece of equipment to use for water rescues on the Connecticut River.

However, it turned out that the cost in time and effort to maintain the machine outweighed its potential benefits, according to Hanover Fire Department Chief Martin McMillan.

The White Fiberglass Model 1874 Neoteric Hovertrek 2004 was donated to the city by Cam and Heidi Eldred in 2017. It was occasionally used in exercises on the Connecticut River, but it remained largely on a trailer in the premises of the police and the fire brigade. on Lyme Road.

“We played with it and practiced on it, but we thought it wasn’t something we would use regularly,” Chief McMillan said on Wednesday as he deployed the hovercraft to the field behind the barracks. firefighters and emergency personnel for a visitor to inspect. “The specific skills to make it work are learned skills that take a long time to learn. “

The racetrack-shaped vehicle, which resembles a flying saucer and blows air downward to create an air cushion underneath, is currently on sale on the Municibid website, which auctions equipment municipal to the public. Wednesday at noon, with 48 hours to go to auction close, the listing counted 32 bids with the highest at $ 4,950.

The chief steward, so to speak, of the fire department hovercraft was Jay Whitehair, a veteran firefighter and advanced emergency medical technician, who was dispatched to Neoteric headquarters in Terre Haute, Indiana, he years ago to learn how to pilot the ship and train other members of the service in its use.

“It can be a little tricky,” Whitehair said of piloting the hovercraft, who added that it took “about six hours in the saddle” to learn the basics of how it works.

For starters, there are no brakes – stopping or resting requires spinning “reverse thrust buckets” on the tail and turning the vehicle a certain angle in order to counter its upward movement. ‘before. The hovercraft, which resembles a snowmobile, reaches a top speed of 50 mph when flying over smooth surfaces; it can reach 70 mph “with a tailwind,” Whitehair said.

“Our group was trying to keep it at around 30mph,” he noted, adding that “even at 30mph it can be a bit annoying”.

Initially, the fire department, which responds to water incidents covering a 10-mile stretch of the Connecticut River, viewed the hovercraft as useful for winter rescue calls when the river is frozen or during winter seasons. transition when the surface of the river is broken with pieces of ice.

But Chief McMillan said the department’s other equipment, such as a Marsars ice sled, Marine 1 lifeboat, and rope gun, proved to be sufficient assets for any emergencies the department would encounter on the river. .

Only “five or six” of the 20 members of the department were trained on the hovercraft, and planning the training sessions was difficult, McMillan said.

“There is only a short time to train staff on something that you can use once every 20 years,” he said.

The Municibid listing describes the running condition of the hovercraft as “fair / good” with a trailer included, but also notes that it “has cosmetic damage” and “requires repair of the fiberglass on the bottom and a thorough mechanical check as well as an adjustment ”.

The list also cautions that “the use of a hovercraft is a learned skill. Inexperienced (untrained) pilots can put themselves or others at risk of injury or death.

Certainly, a hovercraft is not cheap.

The Neoteric website states that a “recreational hovercraft” will cost between $ 19,500 to $ 36,000, a “rescue hovercraft” from $ 28,000 to $ 79,000, and a “commercial hovercraft” will cost between $ 36,000 and $ 36,000. $ 90,000.

McMillan said the engine was rebuilt in 2019 and that a new “skirt” – a piece of fabric that wraps around the base of the vehicle to capture the push of air from a fan under the body to provide a lift – added this year.

Additionally, he warned, there is an “associated cost” to owning a hovercraft.

“It’s like a plane,” said Chief McMillan. “Each hour of operation requires one hour of maintenance.

Cam Eldred, whose family once owned Miller Auto in Lebanon and who is now a film producer in Los Angeles, said he purchased the hovercraft – which had been a demonstration model – around 2008 in order to travel to a cottage that his family owns on the lake. Papineau in Quebec and the shore in winter when the lake is frozen.

He said piloting the craft requires both skills in understanding aerodynamics and knowing how to sit or stand, as the wrong position can upset balance. And a slip can lead to an uncomfortable experience.

“If you inadvertently deploy one of the reverse thrusters it will cause you to spin,” warned Eldred, who nonetheless called piloting the craft “fun.”