Hovering Tigers take on the Tide

hovercraft race

Hovercrafts are still a figment of imagination to many, a vehicle that only exists in movies or in high-tech laboratories. In reality, hovercrafts have been around for more than 50 years, and few know that Auburn University has been building and racing them for a full decade. They are nothing like Hollywood models, and according to Thomas Wills, sophomore in polymer and fiber engineering, “It’s not like anything you’ve ridden before.”

Auburn’s team, the Hovering Tigers, hasn’t raced in recent years, but that changed in April, when a new era of an old rivalry began. The team won the University Hoverbowl Challenge on Lake Lurleen in Tuscaloosa, facing off against the University of Alabama’s new hovercraft team. Auburn’s team members include Wills, Garrett Blackburn, Mary Palmer Cook, and Tom Fitzpatrick, as well as Holland Bankston, Nick Johnson, Alex Avery, Tam Thornton, Sanyam Shirgaonkar and Velislav Stamenov.

“The goal of this race was to get other schools involved, for it to grow,” said Blackburn, team captain and senior in polymer and fiber engineering. He believes the Auburn-Alabama rivalry is an appropriate place to start this trend. “I can see other schools in the SEC joining in.”

Teams from across the country were invited to compete in the race, sponsored by Hoverclub of America, but the Auburn-Alabama rivalry provided a particular interest to locals. “We had a competition,” said Kent Gano, racing director of Hoverclub of America. “I believe the race could be the start of a collegiate division of hovercraft racing.”

Auburn team members put in long hours to iron out the kinks before the race and fit in practice time for drivers to become accustomed to handling the vehicle. Their orange hovercraft, one of two vehicles the team races, is primarily fiberglass, a heavy, but inexpensive material compared to the carbon fiber used for the team’s black hovercraft.

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