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Floating on Air
Neoteric owner keeps the world hovering - and coming back for more

Terre Haute Journal of Business
July 2003

By Todd Berry

Mention "hovercraft" to the average person, and thoughts of James Bond spring to mind.

Fast! Sleek! Graceful! Expensive! Unattainable!

No necessarily so, according to Neoteric Hovercraft President Chris Fitzgerald. Anyone can own a hovercraft for between $12,000 and $24,000 - and he would be more than happy to take the order.

Fitzgerald first became involved in the unusual field of hovercraft in the early 1960s, and has found it to be the toughest job he would ever love.

From co-judging an episode of The Learning Channel's Junkyard Wars to creating a set of dragon shaped hovercraft for Disney World's Epcot Center, he has been involved in every stage of the science/sport.

However, it is not an easy business.

"It's a tough business to survive in, and hardly anyone survives in it," Fitzgerald said. "It takes great cunning to make it. Competition's fierce in the United States. There have always been about ten different people competing for a very small market. The total U.S. market's about three hundred units, and thirty percent of that is exported."

So, his method of getting hovercraft in the national and international consciousness has had to be as innovative as the vehicle itself: sponsor major events and combine them with symposia that would advance the technology for future development.

"The last World Championship we had in Terre Haute was really the biggest and best of all time," he said, "but it was put together very well, because we managed to get total community support.

"We got everyone involved, from the bank to ISU to Rose-Hulman. And that made that event possible. It made possible to give everyone contemplating coming the confidence that if they get here, there's going to be something great. Most of these people pay their own way to get to any competition."

More competition is coming to the Wabash Valley.

"We're having the Hoosier Hovercraft Championship here in mid-September."

Other events are also planned worldwide:

Berlin 2004: The decision as made at the recent world competition in Terre Haute to hold the next Championship [in Berlin, Germany.]

HoverWorld Expo, Canberra, Australia 12/28/04 to 01/07/05: In this race, which [will commemorate] the World's First Hovercraft Race held in Canberra in 1964, Fitzgerald plans to introduce a new type of hovercraft racing - endurance racing - to improve the future development of [hovercraft], and also will offer a $10,000 prize to the racer who can reach the speed of 95 mph. Currently, most hovercraft can reach only 85 mph.

Malaysia 2006: This year's site will be chosen by the Prime Minister of Malaysia. This will be a World Hovercraft Federation event.

The scope of these world events showcases the global interest in these wonderful machines.

"Right now, we just shipped a hovercraft to Finland; we have an order for Vladivostok in Russia, one to Korea, one to Great Britain, one to Australia, one to a Sultan King in Malaysia, one to Mexico - it's everywhere."

But what kind of people buy these unusual craft, and where can they be used?

"All of my customers have what I call a 'neoteric spirit.' They're people [who are] the first with something new. They don't care what their friends think and, in fact, rejoice in the fact that their friends might think they're a bit weird. They're hard to find - they're very few. I think that probably the greatest thing about the United States is that there are a lot of those people here.

"My gut feeling is that I think that the nature of the United States, the way it was formed and the type of immigrants that it attracted - it attracted a disproportionate number of people with this DNA type. So this is the place to be, where people will write you a check for … something they've never seen before … and that's the only way you can get businesses like this to evolve. You've got to have those kinds of people."

Individuals tend to want the craft to show off something unusual to their friends, or to go for a leisurely cruise on one of America's great rivers. Fitzgerald sees our own Wabash River as a terrific opportunity.

"Terre Haute is a classic U.S. city. What happens here happens everywhere, but you have a river, which is virtually totally unused in proportion to other things. That river is a perfect resource for hovercraft: it's sometimes shallow, it always has a current, sometimes there's hardly any water in it and sometimes it's full of water and you can cruise into the fields. I've gone 10 miles from Terre Haute without every being on the river by going through all the farm fields."

According to Fitzgerald, the hovercraft is one of the more environmentally friendly means of travel and recreation.

"The hovercraft opens up all of these fabulous river systems in the U.S. for cruising, and it won't harm the environment. The hovercraft's footprint pressure [ecological footprint] is one thirtieth that of the human foot. So that's another big advantage to hovercraft: they're a very soft, gentle vehicle. They make noise, but as far as the wildlife is concerned, it really doesn't disturb them. I've had animals on the bank, and I've gone right up to them with the engine running, but they don't run away until I reach out to them."

In addition to sport and recreation, hovercraft also have a wide variety of applications for flood, ice, snow [and water rescue] as well as certain military possibilities. Fitzgerald illustrated how the Neoteric spirit principle applies to these settings.

"Now, you might think that I'm selling this [hovercraft] to the [U.S.] Justice Department, for example - but I'm not. I'm selling it to an officer in the Justice Department who thinks this is something they should be investigating. He just convinces his boss that they should subscribe to this. I look for that 'champion.' If I go into a fire department and I don't find that champion in the department, this is doomed. It won't work. You have to have that fellow who will take it under his wing.

"A good example," Fitzgerald continued, "Is Sgt. Bill Weiss from the Anchorage Airport. He just decided that the hovercraft would be really good for Cook Inlet, which is a treacherous body of water around the airport. They purchased the unit, and it proved itself in a very short time, and then they purchased another unit. He's the champion there. He's just convincing the airport that they should buy this. He's a neoteric spirit."

Fitzgerald already has some hovercraft deployed for Homeland Security.

"We have two hovercraft involved in Homeland Security. We shipped one to the El Centro Border Patrol - the U.S. Justice Department, or Homeland Defense now, and another one to Yuma. We have two in Texas on the Rio Grande, with the National Parks Service; national parks rangers also serve a homeland defense role, because they patrol the rivers. And there's a whole northern frontier - a lot of its lakes are frozen in the winter."

Elaborating on the military possibilities, Fitzgerald said, "The U.S. government is the largest operator of military hovercraft, second to none. They don't call them hovercraft. They call them landing craft air cushions [LCAC]. They're used in military conflicts for landing tanks and troops on beaches. There doesn't appear to be a requirement for small military craft, but there must be. Look at South America - it's all rivers. They could be spawning/training grounds for terrorists, and on a hovercraft for high speed travel [unlike in a boat], you're not worried about the speed or the current or the depth of the water, or anything else."

Whatever your hovercraft requirements, Neoteric Hovercraft, 1649 Tippecanoe Street, will try to accommodate you.

Neoteric Hovercraft, Inc.
1649 Tippecanoe Street Terre Haute, Indiana USA 47807-2394
Telephone: 1-812-234-1120 / 1-800-285-3761 Fax: 877-640-8507

www.neoterichovercraft.com / www.rescuehovercraft.com
E-mail: hovermail@neoterichovercraft.com
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