History of the Hovercraft: The Origin of the Hoverclub of America,
The Hoverclub of America, Inc. is dedicated
to bringing together people with a common interest, to providing
a forum for the dissemination of hovercraft information and
to organizing hovercraft events. It is one of many such clubs
around the world and has its own unique history.
The Hoverclub of America was originally the National Association
for Air Cushion Vehicle Enthusiasts (NAACVE), incorporated
by Jan Eglen and Woodrow Nasser of Terre Haute, Indiana USA
in 1967. The list of charter members included several pioneers
of ground effect machines, air cushion vehicles and hovercraft,
such as Dr. William Bertelsen, Frank Dobson, Col. Melville
Beardsley, Allan Ford, W. Nixon, Dr. Alfred Skolnick and Thomas
Sweeney. Eglen himself pioneered the forming of hovercraft
bodies from thermoplastic "Marbon," or ABS. His two-seater,
twin-engine hovercraft was called the Hoverbug.
Due to his involvement in his hovercraft manufacturing business,
Eglen turned the hovercraft club over to Rodney McKeighan
of Rochester, Michigan in 1974. McKeighan renamed the club
the American Hovercraft Association (AHA). The new hovercraft
association published a monthly newsletter, which advertised
future hovercraft events such as the Wabash Valley Rally and
Seminar in Terre Haute, Indiana (June 7, 1975) and the Dayton,
Ohio Air Fair (July 26-27, 1975.)
The tremendous, unpaid workload necessary for the hovercraft
club and newsletter to succeed proved difficult for McKeighan
to sustain. The association faltered, and the last issue of
the American Hovercraft Association's newsletter, Vol. 2 No.
3, was published in March 1975.
Formation of the Hoverclub of America
Chris Fitzgerald moved to Terre Haute from Australia in
1975 to establish Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc. At that time,
Jan Eglen agreed to let Fitzgerald use the Hoverbug factory
as a home base for his fledgling hovercraft manufacturing
Fitzgerald had traveled the world on a Rotary Foundation
Scholarship in pursuit "all things hovercraft." During his
travels, he discovered that hovercraft were called by as many
as fifteen different names: Ground Effect Machines (GEMs), Air Cushion
Vehicles (ACV), Hovercraft, Surface Effect Ships (SES), Ram Wings, Surface
Skimmers, Captured Air Bubble Craft, Hovertrains, Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), Air Car, Captured Air Bubble Vehicle, Wing in Ground Effect (WiG), Ram Wing, Hoverpad and Levapad.
He believed the profusion of different names for the hovercraft
created much confusion and difficulty when trying to introduce
the hovercraft concept. Fitzgerald introduced several ideas
for reviving the hovercraft organization. He felt that in
order to revitalize the hovercraft association and to successfully
promote this obscure new sport, one name only should be utilized:
Fitzgerald also believed that it would be beneficial to
all hovercraft enthusiasts to be self-regulated so that government
organizations would not feel the need to get involved. The
hovercraft club would need to establish its own standards
for safety, monitored by its own inspectors. He felt that
speaking with one voice as a self-regulated club would be
an advantage in handling future issues such as noise levels,
hovercraft insurance, and restricting areas of operation.
In May 1976 Chris Fitzgerald called upon former club members
and Terre Haute attorney Woodrow Nasser to help him incorporate
the Hoverclub of America. The new Hoverclub of America updated
and modified the articles of incorporation of the NAACVE to
meet the needs of the new club's members. On May 15, Fitzgerald
traveled to Indianapolis on a Greyhound Bus and walked to
the State Building to file the corporation papers and the
Hoverclub of America, Inc. became official. The Hoverclub
was registered as a 501(c)7 not-for-profit corporation.
On May 29, he conducted a meeting of American Hovercraft
Association membership at their hover rally in Fairbanks Park,
Terre Haute, for the purpose of officially reorganizing the
AHA and renaming it the Hoverclub of America, Inc. Six national
directors were nominated and elected to serve for one year:
Dennis Benson and Paul Esterle of Venture Aero Marine; Mike
Clare of Windcraft, Inc.; Mike Kiester, a hovercraft enthusiast;
Chris Fitzgerald of Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc.; and Woodrow
Nasser and Jan Eglen of Eglen Hovercraft, Inc. The officers
elected that day were Paul Esterle, President; Chris Fitzgerald,
Vice President; Mike Kiester, Secretary/Editor; and Dennis
The Hoverclub of America published its first newsletter,
Volume 1, No 1, on June 4, 1976. It consisted of three pages
and was written by Paul Esterle and Dennis Benson, who also
drove from Akron, Ohio to Rodney McKeighan's home in Michigan
to obtain the American Hovercraft Association mailing list
of approximately 100 - 150 members.
Although many individuals were instrumental in the Hoverclub
of America's survival, Esterle and Benson carried nearly the
entire load from 1976 to 1980. Paul used his computer skills
to maintain and expand the mailing list to more than double
its initial size, while Dennis and his wife wrote, produced
and mailed all the newsletters and handled all the secretarial
responsibilities. Their work was done voluntarily and with
little recognition. In 1980, Paul suffered health problems
and the Bensons found the workload more than they could bear
on their own. Consequently, the newsletter changed hands.
In February 1980, Chris Fitzgerald and his friend Laura
Elmore took on the task of publishing the Hoverclub of America
newsletter. Chris gathered and wrote most of the articles
and Laura served as editor and photographer. This was in the
days before the advent of desktop publishing, so long hours
were spent at the drawing board doing paste-ups.
In order to increase readership, the pair decided to redesign
the format of the Hoverclub Newsletter and rename it Hovernews.
After the first year, club member Rossanne Adams volunteered
to take over the editing, paste-ups and secretarial duties.
She persevered from 1982 through 1984, when family matters
drew her away.
During the time Chris, Laura and Rossanne produced the Hovernews,
the Hoverclub of America grew to more than 600 members, and
actually accumulated several thousand dollars in capital.
In 1984, yet another volunteer, Juanita Morris, kept the
Hovernews going until Sarajane Mahler assumed the responsibility.
It should be mentioned that each of the members writing, producing
and distributing the Hovernews were at the same time
actually managing the Hoverclub, doing the mailings, banking,
keeping records updated, and organizing and managing all the
hover rallies, including the National rallies in Terre Haute.
Fitzgerald alone logged up to 50 hours per month for a number
of years to help keep the club prospering. Volunteers Steve
and Mary Auten donated their time and computer expertise to
produce the mailing labels during this period.
In November 1985, Sarajane's husband, Al, agreed to serve
as Hovernews editor for a fee; this led to Sarajane
also receiving compensation. This was the first time in the
history of the Hoverclub that secretarial and editorial services
were remunerated, thus paving the way for its continual stability.
Today, with the advent of technology, the Hoverclub of America
has grown increasingly more complex. In spite of this complexity,
David and Sherri Galka of Foley, Alabama successfully maintain
it. Numerous other club members and volunteers assist the
Galkas. Together they have made the Hoverclub of America,
Inc. an organization that successfully facilitates the needs
of its members.
National and World Rallies
By 1984 the US National Rally, held annually in Terre Haute
as an adjunct to the Banks of the Wabash Festival, was attracting
as many as 3,000 spectators and numerous community leaders.
In spite of this success, it was difficult to gain the support
of city officials, so Chris Fitzgerald, the event's Chief
of Operations, decided to seek a new site for the event. Since
the rallies were - and continue to be - a huge undertaking,
the full cooperation of the hosting city is crucial.
Indianapolis, Indiana seemed like a logical venue, since
it was a city of more than a million people and the home of
the Indianapolis 500, one of the most famous auto races in
the world. Indianapolis also had an accessible river running
right through the city.
This in mind, Fitzgerald called upon and gained the backing
of Lieutenant Governor John Mutz, who put him in touch with
the head of the White River Park Commission. The 1985 National
Rally, planned with much bureaucratic resistance, was held
in conjunction with a massive Labor Day fireworks display
sponsored by an Indianapolis radio station. More than 100,000
spectators attended, in addition to approximately 50 Hoverclub
members and 30 hovercraft.
In 1986 the city's health department closed the river to
all boating activities, which put the Hoverclub back to square
As the 1986 rally approached, Steve Lenz of Oshkosh Wisconsin's
Sawdust Daze Festival offered to support the national event.
Since he had persuaded city officials to extensively modify
their Menomonee Park to make it an exciting racecourse, the
club's decision was an easy one. The National Rally took place
on the shores of Lake Winnebago on July 4, 1986. Even though
the customary effort was put forth, the club member attendance
was paltry. Those who did come surmised that the Fourth of
July holiday was a big family weekend, and not a good choice
for future rallies.
After so many attempts in so many venues, Fitzgerald began
to realize that for a hover rally to be viable, the venue
must be a place where a club member lives - one who is willing
and able to "champion" the cause. This Champion must have
a positive attitude, organizational skills, and the ability
to make connections with the city and county officials. In
addition, the rally site should be located in the central
part of the United Stated in order to facilitate the Hoverclub's
All these characteristics seemed to express themselves in
Scott Brownlee of Tipp City, Ohio who proposed using the Miami
River Park in Troy, Ohio. Fitzgerald drove to Troy with a
hovercraft, so that he and Brownlee could survey the site
and plot a racecourse. The site was deemed suitable and the
Hoverclub's 1987 National Rally was held in conjunction with
the town's Strawberry Festival. The event was well attended.
With Brownlee's willingness to handle the massive workload,
the event ran smoothly and planning began for Troy, Ohio to
host the 1989 World Hovercraft Championship. Franz Berndt
Sr., President of the World Hovercraft Federation, traveled
from Germany and deemed both the former Indianapolis, Indiana
site, as well as the Troy, Ohio site acceptable. Since Scott
Brownlee agreed to not only spearhead the event, but also
to help finance a great deal of it, the Troy site was chosen.
Brownlee financed insurance, containers for the overseas hovercraft,
and numerous other items crucial to the event such as the
awards, the official programs, and billeting for the foreign
participants. Had it not been for Scott's support, the World
Hovercraft Championship Race would not have been possible.
Chris Fitzgerald and Bob Windt traveled to Europe to promote
the event, visiting four countries in two weeks. Fitzgerald
created the brochure that was mailed throughout the world
by Sara Mahler. Creating the brochure necessitated the actual
structuring of the event. The comprehensive brochure listed
the events, the venues, the awards, and accommodation information;
it included the registration form, the history of the event,
and promoted future events. Al Maher served as one of the
event's safety marshals and Sara organized the registration
The 1989 World Hovercraft Championship was a tremendous
success, with 70 hovercraft from 13 countries represented.
It established Troy, Ohio as a permanent site for the US National
Al Maher became seriously ill in 1989 and Terry Chapman,
a member of the Board of Directors, suggested that Dave and
Sherri Galka replace the Mahlers as editor and secretary,
respectively. As such, they also managed all the Hoverclub
publications and sales, maintained membership, organized the
teleconferencing for Board of Directors meetings and managed
the club's website. At the rallies, the Galkas are in charge
of registration and safety inspections; they also compile
race results, promote new memberships, and arrange the Hoverclub's
annual meeting where new officers are appointed and elected
for the Board of Directors.
Due to family demands, Scott Brownlee's involvement began
to wane after a few years and Terry Chapman assumed the site
management responsibilities. Upon Chapman's move from nearby
Dayton to Toledo, Ohio, Graham Spencer took charge.
In 2001, Hoverclub of America members were instrumental
in bringing the World Hovercraft Championship back to the
United States for the first time since 1989. Hoverclub member
Kent Gano, who is also the World Hovercraft Federation's Vice-President
representing the Americas, pushed hard for the Hoverclub to
host World Hovercraft Championship 2002.
Gano had originally settled on DuQuoin, Illinois as a suitable
site for the event, and members of the Southern Illinois University
school hovercraft program agreed to help with the event's
organization. However, with only one year left to plan and
stage the event, the volunteer organizers had not succeeded
in raising any sponsorship funds and problems with the race
site and the city began to surface.
Nick Jokay, President of the Hoosier Hovercraft Championship,
met with David Patterson, Executive Director of the Terre
Haute, Indiana Convention and Visitors Bureau to request that
his organization contribute $20,000 in seed money for WHC2002.
On the basis of the availability of these funds, Chris Fitzgerald
agreed to serve as WHC2002 Chairman and to organize the event.
A suitable site was found and the Hoverclub was persuaded
to move its attention from DuQuoin to Terre Haute.
The Championship was expanded into World Hovercraft Week
2002, which encompassed the Canadian Air Cushion Technology
Society's (CACTS) 27th International Conference on Air Cushion
Technology, the 1st World Symposium on Hovercraft Rescue,
the world's largest hovercraft cruise, and the Hovercraft
World Speed Record Challenge. Participants from 17 nations
attended WHC2002, and the rest is history.
Membership & Finances
The Hoverclub of America is comprised of 650 members with
diverse backgrounds and occupations, ranging from airline
pilots to backyard hovercraft builders to students. The majority
are males who are intrigued by any type of unique mechanical
transport, although their families are usually involved either
directly or indirectly. Hoverclub events provide them with
a forum for the exchange of new hovercraft developments, organized,
safe racing and cruising experiences and the camaraderie of
membership in the unique family atmosphere enjoyed by hovercrafters.
The Hoverclub offers Individual membership for $30 per year
and Family/Group membership for $40 per year, as well as other
levels of membership. Residents of Canada and Mexico are strongly
represented in the membership, as are many other nations.
Tracking the actual membership is a complex process due
to the irregular manner in which some members pay. The Treasurer's
calculations are based on the total number of memberships
purchased during the club's financial year, which ends in
December. Since some members may pay more and some may pay
less than the required annual dues, some may be counted as
a member-and-a-half, while some may only be half a member.
Although this system may seem odd, it was established at the
club's beginning and for the sake of tracking trends must
Parallel to this system is Dave and Sherri Galka's method,
which involves counting the copies of Hovernews that
are mailed bi-monthly. Their numbers are usually higher due
to the fact that some copies are complimentary, and some go
to members whose membership has not been paid in full.
The Future of the Hoverclub of America
The following graph illustrates that the Hoverclub's strongest
group of renewing members are its long-term members. In other
words, the newer the member, the less likely the renewal of
Basis: Graph is calculated from annual membership
deposits. These include Individual, Family, School, and Three-Year
memberships as well as partial and overpayments.
Therefore, some issues need to be addressed by the Board
of Directors. How can the Hoverclub both attract and retain
members? Also, considering the fact that the club has gone
from having a cash reserve during the '80's growth period,
to simply breaking even, how can it best support itself and
achieve future growth?
Fitzgerald notes that although the British Hovercraft Club
has fewer members than the Hoverclub of America, it appears
to be more successful. Its membership is stable, it has a
much greater number of participants in a greater number of
races, and it successfully acquires commercial sponsors. Is
the British Hovercraft Club more successful because it has
been in existence longer? Does the smaller geographic area
of the country make events more feasible because members are
in close proximity to each other? Or does the BP Challenge
to Youth Hovercraft Program, originally sponsored by British
Petroleum in conjunction with the schools, serve to increase
general awareness of hovercraft, thus stimulating club membership?
In 1993 several Hoverclub of America members discussed the
factors contributing to the British Hovercraft Club's success.
The general consensus was that Youth Hovercraft Program was
probably the key factor. During the banquet at the 1993 annual
rally in Terre Haute, Indiana, member Jeff Titus proposed
that the Hoverclub introduce a new classification of hovercraft,
entry level, to their race line-ups. He recommended that plans
be drawn up for an inexpensive, simple hovercraft that could
be promoted for school hovercraft projects, so that young
people could be exposed to the world of hovercraft. Bob Windt
agreed to create a set of plans, with the proceeds from their
sales to be donated to the Hoverclub.
For the next five years, member Nick Jokay along with Chris
Fitzgerald worked with a public relations firm to generate
a flier to be mailed to high schools in Indiana and Ohio.
The purpose of this project was to test the market for a school
hovercraft program and to secure a sponsor. The results were
positive, and the entry level class did stimulate new interest
in hovercraft. During recent years, 14 high schools and even
some colleges have participated in hovercraft races.
Fitzgerald surmises that what the club needs now is to use
the Indiana/Ohio model to stimulate interest throughout the
United States, and to gain sponsorship for school hovercraft
programs. Once again, a capable champion is needed to take
the project to the next level, in order that the Hoverclub
of America may grow and thrive.
As the Hoverclub of America, Inc. continues to evolve, a
name change is taking place. Due to a groundswell within the
club membership, and hearkening back to Chris Fitzgerald's
early belief in the importance of using the word 'hovercraft,'
the Hoverclub of America is gradually evolving into the Hovercraft
Club of America, Inc.