UA, Auburn students compete in hovercraft race

Students who don’t want to wait until football season to see an Alabama-Auburn matchup can catch an airborne take on the Iron Bowl Saturday. The University Hoverbowl Challenge will feature hovercraft races between teams of engineering students from The University of Alabama and Auburn University.

Kent Gano, race director for the Hoverclub of America and Saturday’s Hoverbowl, encouraged students to come out and cheer their school on.

“[They] will be able to see something they haven’t seen before,” he said. “They’ll get to learn about them, talk about them and see how they fun they are.”

Gano said a lot of credit for the event’s genesis and development goes to Hisham Ali, the team leader.

“The concept was to have a college challenge between [Alabama] and Auburn, which is a great idea,” Gano said. “We hope to expand this to different colleges and make it a yearly event.”

An underlying goal of such events, Gano said, was to convince universities to view hovercraft research as an investment on par with solar-powered race cars and other similar engineering projects that currently draw the nation’s interest and funding.

“The students get educated in the mechanics and design theories behind this. It teaches them a lot,” Gano said. “It teaches them a lot of aspects of engineering.”

Mark Wysock, the team’s systems integration and controls leader, said the team hopes the impact of the Hoverbowl will be felt even beyond the College of Engineering.

“The UA hoverteam will provide the College of Engineering with the most interesting and unique design team project for engineering students,” he said. “The Hoverbowl is the beginning of making a large impact on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics [STEM] across the state and the Southeast. We hope that other SEC schools will become involved, and from that, middle and high school students would see a hovercraft and become interested in engineering.”

For Saturday, however, the focus is on three-hour endurance races. Like all Hoverclub of America races, the only stakes are bragging rights.

“That’s all it is, bragging rights, for now,” Gano said. “They’ll be the team to beat next year.”

Wysock said some of the team members might even continue hover-crafting as a hobby after graduating.

“I have learned about hovercraft and gained experience in teamwork and the design process,” he said. “It has been a rewarding experience.”

The event will be at Lake Lurleen State Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is a $3 entrance fee to the park, but there is no additional cost to attend the event. Attendees should bring their own chairs.

More information on the team and its behind-the-scenes work is available at hoverteam.cbhp.ua.edu.