Kiwi ingenuity flies again

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What do Hollywood superstar Ashton Kutcher and humble Kiwi bloke Rudy Heeman have in common?

They are both fans of the ‘hoverwing’, a piece of Kiwi ingenuity built by Nelson man Heeman that has put New Zealand’s name on the map, yet again.

Heeman’s Kiwi ‘no 8 wire’ mentality has helped him create the ultimate male fantasy - a flying hovercraft made with parts scavenged from his wife’s car, an old gas bottle from a barbecue, and the control lever from his daughter’s scooter.

The two-passenger hovercraft, dubbed ‘the hoverwing’, is up for sale on New Zealand’s TradeMe auction website, and has attracted strong interest from all over the world - including Kutcher’s personal endorsement on Twitter.

Heeman’s flying machine
Ashton Kutcher, also known as Mr Demi Moore, has more than 1 million followers on his Twitter page. Earlier this week, Kutcher tweeted "I want a hovercraft", followed by the link to video of Heeman’s flying machine on Youtube.

Comments on Heeman’s TradeMe auction page have been overwhelmingly positive, frequently demonstrating tongue-in-cheek Kiwi humour.

"Man this hovercraft is off the hook. If I win it, can it get me to Pandora where the avatars live? Those blue people rock."

"Are you looking for test pilots? I’d like to offer my ex mother-in-law’s services."

"Does this pull the ladies? I’m looking for something that can get me some."

The amusing comments have not kept serious bidders away from the website. Bidding is currently hovering near the NZ$27,000 mark, with more than a week still left on the auction.

Hovercraft goes viral
The Youtube video of a New Zealand journalist trying out Heeman’s hovercraft has gone viral, with links on several technology websites and publications. The video has also appeared on Good Day LA news on Fox Channel 11 in the US.

The unique story of Heeman’s flying machine has appeared in Australian news, the UK, Europe, Asia and other US media outlets, but the quiet Nelson man has so far declined most requests for media appearances, saying that he’s "busy with work".

The "hoverwing"
"I had built the hovercraft seven years ago, but started converting it three years ago. The first test flight was two-and-a-half years ago," Heeman said.

Although he stresses that the hovercraft is a toy, Heeman suggests it could be used by farmers to fly over paddocks, as it would save them from having to open gates.

The machine can fly at speeds of up to 100kp/h at low altitude but, because it’s not classified as a plane under NZ Civil Aviation law, it means the pilot does not need a licence to fly it. However, it does fall under maritime law as the machine is considered a modified boat.

"[The hovercraft] has been called all sorts of things including aircraft, airplane, hovercraft and flying boat. It is, in fact, a WIG (wing in ground effect) in the form of a hovercraft. This machine is fast and furious, it roars like a lion, and is not for the faint-hearted. It’s adrenaline-pumping and exciting."

Heeman admits the project has cost him tens of thousands of dollars. He had to build a new workshop, learn to laminate fibreglass and modify a Subaru car engine to power the hovercraft. He also took the machine out for test-drives, the first few with an 80kg crash-test dummy called "Eric", and later his daughters.

"On my wedding anniversary, I took my wife flying down the Marlborough Sounds."

Flying hovercraft are not a new invention - they are used overseas as a means of transport. Heeman has built and sold hovercraft before, and said he would use the money from the auction to fund other "top secret" projects.
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