Hovercraft Field Trip

Hovercrafts? I never really thought about this land/water vehicle before yesterday. Locally we have a company, Amphibious Marine, designing and manufacturing these amazing crafts. Hovercrafts travel on a cushion of air on land and water, makes no difference, all powered by small horsepower diesel engines. They can travel at speeds up to 40 mph, burning 2.8 gallons of fuel per hour – which is incredibly fuel efficient for anything traveling across the water. Ice rescue, river and shallow water travel are a few uses of the hovercraft.
I had the pleasure and privilege of escorting the identified gifted 5th and 6th graders and a group of 4th graders participating in the STEM program (with a hovercraft unit and project coming up) from Michael T. Simmons to the design and production shop of Amphibious Marine. The owner, Mr. Bryan Phillips, prepared for us a tour worthy of a week of classroom instruction. Mr. Phillips and several employees set up stations for small groups to visit. The first stop showed the history of innovation with a slide show, several videos and all narrated by Bryan’s dad – beginning way back when Bryan was 8 years old and made his first hovercraft. At another station, Bryan Phillips shared how he designs the hovercrafts and all the components on the computer. The production of the actual hovercrafts, our third station, is done by Tyler and Bryon Taylor and a “CNC” robot assisisting in drawing and cutting of components. Everything is done on site by these 3 highly capable people.
The questions the students asked about the science, engineering, and technology of hovercrafts was impressive. Listening while the students and designers talked about friction, displacement, weight vs performance, thrust, horsepower, and testing techniques, I could only marvel at the motivation of the experience. The kids wanted to soak up as much learning as they could, wanted to build on what they already knew, and were in charge of their learning by asking probing and thoughtful questions.
The students learned about science concepts, engineering technology, and the continued work towards creating a better product. Just “getting it done” was not good enough. We witnessed a collaborative approach by all involved. Each person had their own expertise to contribute. Bryan Phillips had been creating hovercrafts virtually all his life. Starting with the most basic at 8 years old, he moved on to buid a hovercraft with a platform and skirt able to move forward in the 8th grade. He attended Western Washington University receiving a degree in Manufacturing and Engineering Technology. While in Bellingham, he built still another hovercraft in the garage. It was a labor of love, taking over a year to complete. This turned out to be the prototype of the hovercrafts being produced by Amphibious Marine today.
While Bryan Phillips does the design and mock up on the computers, Tyler with a degree in Physics and Math from Evergreen State College, refines and assembles the components on the floor. Bryan Taylor with a 2 year welding degree from SPSCC and lots of welding experience does the metal work and helps with design on the floor. Everyone has their role, a system that works to create a top quality product. None of this was lost on the kids. They got the fact that each had their expertise and each was essential. I know that out of our 30+ students, one or two will be motivated to follow their personal dreams with education and hard work.

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