Military may use Utah-built hovercraft as target

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- A hovercraft built with more than 10,000 hours of student labor could one day be used for target practice by pilots training at Utah's Hill Air Force Base.

Weber State University students built the remote-controlled craft over two years beginning in 2008. WSU professor of computer and electronics engineering Bill Clapp tells the Standard-Examiner of Ogden that the 6-by-10-foot craft has a seven-horsepower lift motor and a 23-horsepower motor to propel it.

Clapp says the goal was to develop a less-expensive training tool for the military. The hovercraft costs about $10,000. Currently the military uses trailers hauled behind $300,000 trucks as targets.

Clapp told The Associated Press that Hill AFB officials have monitored the hovercraft's development and provided input along the way.

"It's a solution to a problem they've had for years," Clapp said.

Hill officials also watched a recent speed test at the Bonneville Salt Flats where the hovercraft clocked a record 55 miles per hour, the professor said.

"It was a milestone for us," Clapp said. "It's something that we've been working toward for two years, to prove a hovercraft can go fast enough and be a viable target."

A larger propeller has been ordered and crews hope a retest will get the speed up to 75 mph.

Clapp's son, Andrew Clapp, has worked on the project since its start. As a student, it's beneficial to have a hand in developing a product that not only works, but is being marketed to a real consumer, he said.

"It's given me some real-life experience," Andrew Clapp said. "I am actually designing something."

Bill Clapp said he's enjoyed watching his son and other students learn and develop their skills.

"The most rewarding part is watching the students get so passionate," the professor said.


(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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