Chicago startup pitches revolutionary new hovercraft design

It could turn out to be one of the coolest vehicles on Earth, even if it floats nine inches above it.

A startup company in Chicago has come up with a revolutionary new hovercraft design that features as much style as substance.

Rather than the industrial look of most hovercrafts, the Mercier-Jones was inspired by high performance supercars and speedboats, with sleek bodywork that falls somewhere in between, reflecting its amphibious nature, says company CEO and Michael Mercier.

A lifelong hovercraft enthusiast who built his first in 9th grade using plans ordered from an ad in Boy’s Life magazine, mechanical engineer Mercier teamed up with his cousin Chris Jones to try to reinvent the wheel-less vehicle.

The key to this was replacing the large vertical propeller typically fitted at the rear of a hovercraft for propulsion and steering with two small electric fans located on the sides of the vehicle where the front wheels of a car would be found. Moveable vanes direct thrust toe the front, rear and side for directional control and braking. A third horizontal fan in the engine bay provides lift by filling up the skirt at the bottom of the vehicle with a cushion of air. Mercier says the layout should make it as easy to control as a car.

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Power comes from a 40 hp two-cylinder gasoline generator that provides a constant flow of electricity to the fans, similar to the way a diesel locomotive or many plug-in hybrid cars work. A battery pack adds an extra buffer of power for quick bursts of during acceleration.

With a weight of about 800 pounds, Mercier says the largely composite tandem two-seater should be able to reach 80 mph on smooth surfaces and accelerate from 0 to 50 mph in less than 10 seconds. The target price for a production version is $30,000, which would make it competitive with traditional hovercraft on the market as well as the $40,000 Gibbs Quadski amphibious ATV.

Right now, however, the Mercier-Jones only exists in the virtual world, as the company is still raising money to build a full-size prototype. Mercier says they are close to reaching their funding goal and hope to have a vehicle ready for testing as early as June of this year.

That’s just in time for boating season. Or is it off-roading season? With a vehicle like this, it doesn’t really matter.