TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — The inaugural University Hovercraft Challenge on Saturday turned into a disappointing day for the new Alabama hovercraft team.
The team not only lost to their cross-state rival, Auburn University, but barely got to compete. Equipment failure limited the team to completing one lap of a one-hour endurance race on land and water.
The Hovering Tigers of Auburn also had drive-shaft issues, but not until it had completed 24 laps to win the competition.
"A slight drive-shaft misalignment kept us from being able to run our main craft," said Mark Wysock, Alabama aerospace engineering student from Huntsville.
The team, which five aerospace engineering students formed 11 months ago, brought a backup hovercraft. Some Hoverclub of America members helped the team remedy engine and skirt problems to get the backup craft on the course, but after completing one lap, the throttle cable broke.
Jeff Thompson, a faculty adviser for the Auburn team, which is an outreach of Department of Polymer & Fiber Engineering, said drive shaft misalignments are common problems for hovercraft, and they were compounded by high winds during Saturday's race.
As for Alabama's technical difficulties, Thompson said his first Auburn team had almost identical problems at its first race, including skirt issues, drive issues and a broken throttle cable.
It was valuable experience for both teams, he said, as Auburn hadn't raced in three years.
"I think we started a tradition," Thompson said of the chances of the race occurring next year. "The kids had such a good time, very enthusiastic. We're going to make this a tradition and get more colleges involved."
The Hoverclub of America, the sanctioning body for hovercraft racing, has indicated it wants to start a collegiate division.
It was the first and last college race for Wysock and his fellow seniors who started the team as their year-long senior engineering project. The team will be back with new members after the founders graduate.
"The race was a great learning experience for our team," Wysock said, "and will help our rising seniors and underclassmen be better prepared to compete next year."