I picked up our Hovertrek kit on Feb. 28, and spent the next 6 weeks putting it together. I took my time, working on average an hour or two per day (usually less). I thoroughly enjoyed the process of assembling the hovercraft and learned a few things along the way, too. It was also a good opportunity to teach my eldest son Travis about hand tools and fasteners and also some basic aerodynamics. The boys all wanted to pop some rivets but didn't quite have the hand strength to finish them. My wife sometimes felt that she was a hovercraft widow as I spent a lot of evenings working out in the shop, but we anticipated that and I'm sure she'll make up for that when she learns to drive it and discovers how much fun it is.
The skirt retention strip was the first thing to be completed. I had never used a pop rivet gun before although I had done some buck riveting when I was in college during a sheet metal class but that was a long time ago. The retention strip went on with no problem. At this point the hovercraft body reminded me of a big white fiberglass whirlpool tub since no parts were attached except for the engine module. My shop work area was pretty full of boxes and bags of parts waiting to find their proper location on the craft. I decided to proceed by first assembling the things that looked pretty easy to do such as the headlights and navigation lights. I didn't hook up any wiring as this looked like the most challenging part and I left the electrical wiring to be finished last. One important thing I learned quickly was not to trust the markings for hole locations on the body as gospel, and to measure carefully, think about it, fit the part, and then measure again before drilling any holes in the body.
Next I attached the forward grab handles and the windshield to the hovercraft. The windshield went on very nicely. I had searched for clecos at various places and never could find any but I found that I didn't need them anyway because placing a rivet in the hole works just as well to hold things in place temporarily. Neoteric makes putting the hovercraft together so easy by pre-drilling certain parts and marking the body with drill locations (to be used as guides). Also the instruction manual and videotapes gave me all the reference information I needed to figure things out, and when I couldn't figure something out or had a question, I'd take a photo and email it to Chris and usually get a reply the next day with a solution.
The rear stainless grab handles went on next. I made the mistake of drilling both holes first, instead of drilling the first hole, then holding the handle up and marking the location for the second hole, but as luck would have it the handle covered over my mistake and the handles went on perfectly.
Next I turned my attention to the front seat rails. I must not have been concentrating too well that day because I made the same mistake twice in a row. I had the left rail riveted in place with marine sealant under it, when I realized it was 3 inches too far forward. I think I was looking at the picture in the manual upside down, so … drilled out my rivets, cleaned up the sealant mess and drilled my holes again repeated the entire process, then realized the rail was 1 inch too far to the right. D’OH! So… drilled out the rivets… you get the picture. Third time was a charm and that was pretty much the last major mistake I made on the hovercraft project. Fortunately all holes except for one were covered up by the rail, and the one that was exposed was fixed with some epoxy and white touch up paint. Did I mention that was my last mistake? Actually I had one more. I had to drill and tap the holes in the front seat frame for the roller wheels. I thought I'd done a pretty nice job having never tapped a hole before, but when I put the seat frame in the hovercraft, the center rollers were 3/8 inch too high. (I'd drilled the holes too low in the frame.) To remedy that, I used a 3/8 spacer under the seat frame instead of trying to re drill the holes in the frame (which I thought would be a bit risky). Anyway it's all good now.
Next to go on were the reverse thrust buckets. The only challenge was to determine exactly where to drill for the foot since the main thing is to make sure they align properly when the buckets are fully reversed and that the starboard bucket doesn't drag on the body. I felt lucky because it came out really well, but like most things I took my time and didn't rush anything. The bucket actuators went on next, making careful note that the wire hole is up one side and down on the other.
I attached the front seat cushions temporarily to get a feel for how they would look, but took them off shortly so I could work on the controls and potentiometer brackets under the front seat. I felt like I had gone as far as I could without pulling the engine module out, and I'd been putting that part off as long as possible, so I borrowed an engine hoist from my father in law and without much difficulty disconnected the engine mount bolts and pulled the engine/bell assembly from the hovercraft. While the engine was removed I was able to install the air splitter/divider which was bonded with goop and riveted to the hull floor. At that time I also glued in some rubber strips that go around the engine opening. After the goop dried the next day, I sanded the leading edge and prepared to install the thrust duct and reinstall the engine module into the hovercraft. Putting the engine back in the hovercraft was for me, the most challenging part of the whole thing. I had a lot of difficulty getting things lined up, probably due to the engine hoist legs getting in the way of the trailer axle (excuses, excuses). Anyway after a lot of sweat and tears, it all went in nicely. The thrust duct mated up with the back of the engine bell housing and I was glad to be done with that part. If I have to take the engine out again I'm going to make sure I have access to an overhead type lift.
Next was the instrument panel. I was really worried about screwing this up as I wasn't sure how well a 3 inch hole saw would react to my fiberglass instrument panel. One mistake and it's pretty well blown, but as it turned out my fears were for nothing. All the holes were drilled out without any event and the instruments fitted in like a glove. Next were the glove boxes. I had to cut a large hole in the side of the hovercraft body (14 inches wide by 4 inches high). Again I measured very carefully making sure that my lines were level. I used my rotozip tool to cut the rough hole. Then, I filed the finished edges all the while testing the glove box for a fit. It went in like a glove (sorry for the pun). A little marine sealant around the edges and six rivets later I had an awesome looking glove box. After repeating the process on the starboard side, it was really starting to look like a hovercraft!
Next came the exhaust system. That was a bit of a challenge but not too bad. I accidentally buried one of the well nuts into the hull floor, but with a little luck I was able to fish it out with some needle nose pliers while my wife looked on holding the flash light! Finally the exhaust system went in nicely after that. I figured it was a good time to attach the two skirts that go under the exhaust because it didn't look like I'd have much clearance left to get them in once the exhaust was in place. (It’s good to think things through).
Next on the list was the battery box, fuel tanks and rear seat frame. I enjoyed doing the mechanical type work (drilling, riveting, measuring, bolting etc.) I was really dreading hooking up the electrical system knowing how many wires there were, so for the time being I contented myself with doing all the mechanical jobs while I could. The rear seat frame went in without a hitch. There was the hidden marine horn which goes inside the port duct and the Neoteric placard which covers up the rivets. Many a time I had to have an arm stuck all the way into an air hole in order to reach something, which leaves you with that itchy feeling at the end of the day, (which after a while I stopped noticing). The front seat controls were put together and then the fire extinguisher, the bilge pump, the actuator computers (which I figured out you have to countersink the holes for the bolts or the seat won't fit properly). The fuel system is a snap to hook up since it comes with neat quick disconnects. One hose clamp and it was done. (Lets face it Neoteric does a lot of the work for you - thankfully).
Next was the soldering of potentiometer wires and assembling the brackets in place with the cables from the brake levers. I studied the videotape really hard on that one and as is usually the case it's a lot easier than you first think. I hooked up the rudder cable and throttle and choke cables to the handlebars and after plenty of adjusting, the carburetors were nicely sync'd up. I was dreading the thought of having to adjust the length of the throttle cables and re-soldering the ferules (since they mentioned on the hovercraft video that it might be necessary), but as luck turned out, it wasn't.
Well by this time there was nothing left to do but dig out my huge bag of electrical wires and get it all figured out. And like everything it wasn't nearly as bad as I anticipated. The wires are color coded, marked with labels and clearly explained in the manual and videotape; also they are cut to the correct length which further helps you deduce what goes where. After a while I had all the instruments and switches wired up and all the wires run through the loom in the port duct. A couple days later the entire electrical system was finished and guess what? I ended up with one 4 inch long red wire left over! My wife and I had a good laugh about that one because I always seem to end up with a few bits left over with no idea where they were supposed to go. Anyway all instruments and electricals were properly working, so I imagine it was some kind of jumper wire for an optional switch that wasn't supposed to be in my kit!?
The last thing to do was install the thrust duct and the hovercraft was ready for its maiden flight. Oh yeah, and some skirts would help there, too. I installed the hovercraft skirts which turned out to be easier than I thought using a nice little piece of laminate flooring to tap them into the retention slots with a rubber mallet. There was a myriad of other little details which I'm sure I've left out, but what I've described gives an overall idea of what to expect when assembling a Hovertrek from a Neoteric Hovercraft kit. I had initially thought about unloading the Hovertrek from its trailer to work on it, but I quickly found out that the trailer provides the perfect platform on which to work on the hovercraft. I just needed a short step stool to get in and out of the craft. Throughout the assembly process I was continually impressed with the degree of quality and expertise that has gone into the design and construction of the hovercraft and the selection of parts and materials, which were top notch. Everything was provided - from the glue, bonding goop and catalyst right down to the last rivet, not to mention the extra fuses, rivets, spark plugs and wire ties which I found in the provided tool kit. Very professional!
After the wire ties were attached to the skirts (all 132 of them!) I was ready to gas it up and start the engine. I took it out in my back yard (actually a 2 acre grassy field), applied the choke and turned the key. The engine roared to life immediately. After letting it warm up a bit I applied throttle and lifted off for my first hovering experience in the craft. It all worked beautifully. What an awesome machine! But trust me, a two acre field is way too small to do much hovering. As soon as I would get going I'd have to start turning, anyway I didn't hit any fences or trees, which is always a good thing. The hovercraft is now registered with the BMV and tomorrow Travis and I are taking it down to a large lake nearby for a good break-in hover. After we get some experience operating the craft we'll have some more stories to tell. Thanks Chris and Neoteric for making such a spectacular hovercraft!