In this project created by Hope, a member of the Rosie Innovators STEM program for young women in high school, you will make your very own “levitating” hovercraft! This hovercraft flies when air pressure in a balloon is released and produces a cushion of air for the hovercraft to float on. 

A hovercraft is a vehicle that releases strong currents of air underneath it. When the air gets trapped under the hovercraft, it produces a cushion of air for the hovercraft to glide over. Based on Newton’s 3rd Law – Action and Reaction – when this air is pushed down from the hovercraft, it applies a force on the ground which then pushes the hovercraft up – an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, air down, craft up! The hovercraft’s air cushion reduces friction, or the resistance from 2 objects rubbing together, because the hovercraft doesn’t touch the surface. Instead, it flies above it, making the hovercraft amphibious, i.e., able to travel on/between land and water. It’s like a hybrid between a boat, plane, and helicopter! 

Ready to make your hovercraft at home or in your classroom? Gather the materials listed at the right, and follow the instructions below! But be careful – this hovercraft might just blow your socks off! 

Step-By-Step Instructions

Step 1

Cut the milkshake straw to about 3 inches long (or experiment with different lengths).

Step 2

Use putty to seal the straw to the CD by inserting the straw into the center hole of the CD and securing with the putty (make sure no air can escape!). Only about ½ inch of the straw should stick out the bottom.

Step 3

Insert the top side of the straw (longer side) into a balloon and secure it with tape (again, make sure no air can escape!).

Step 4

To fly, blow up the balloon from the ½ inch of straw sticking out on the bottom. When you’re done inflating the balloon, pinch it to hold the air and place the hovercraft upright on a surface. When you’re ready, let go and watch it glide away! 

Step 5

Troubleshooting: If your hovercraft doesn’t fly the first time, don’t worry, this is an important stage in the design process that real life engineers use everyday: testing and modifying. Try experimenting with the amount of air in your balloon, the length of the straw, and the places you have tape or putty (make sure air can only get out through the bottom of the straw. You can test this by blowing up the balloon and clogging the straw with your finger. If you hear air escaping elsewhere, you’ll need to find where it’s leaking and patch it). 

For an advanced challenge, try directing the hovercraft’s flight path by confining it in a walled race track or adding weights to certain sides of the CD!

Real Women in STEM

Resource 1

Mary W. Jackson

Mary W. Jackson, born in Virginia in 1921, was the first African-American female engineer to work at NASA. Like most women at NASA in the 1950s, she began in the “computing” pool, but after completing special math and physics classes at the University of Virginia, she became an official engineer, focusing on the ways the boundary layer of air behaves around airplanes. Despite many achievements, Mary was not promoted to the highest levels at NASA because people treated her unfairly due to her race and gender. So, she became the manager of the Federal Women’s Program and worked to increase the number of women hired as mathematicians, engineers, and scientists. Before retiring, Mary received many awards recognizing her efforts to help women in STEM!

Resource 2

This project was created by Hope, a sophomore at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School. Hope has loved all things STEM since she joined Rosie Riveters in fourth grade. In school, she enjoys advanced math and science classes as she works towards becoming an engineer. In addition to playing flute in both her school orchestra and a local college band, competing on the varsity crew team, and serving her community, she is a member of her school’s engineering and design club and president of the coding club. She loves to merge logic and creativity in STEM, and looks forward to changing the world as a woman in STEM!