Tutorial : custom hovercraft bag skirt

This tutorial is for anyone who is looking to design a custom hovercraft skirt, whether for RC hovercrafts or "manned hovercrafts". You read it well, this tutorial works for both !

Special thanks to Ian Smith, who created a large part of this tutorial, for giving me the authorization to improve and republish it. If you have a hard time understanding this tutorial, or if you want help with your skirt design, feel free to contact me at diyhovercraft01@gmail.com.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

The least we can say is that designing a hovercraft skirt from scratch can be confusing. Fortunately, to make things easier, the skirt can be divided into several parts, as shown on the pictures below : one piece for each side of the hull. Joined together, these weird parts will give the hovercraft skirt that characteristic cylindrical shape.

To be more precise, this tutorial focuses on "vented bag skirts", which are the best compromise between ease of design and assembly, value for money and efficient operation. First, if you don't know much about hovercrafts skirts, I strongly recommend you to read this page that contains a bit of theory and a list of different skirts with their pros and cons.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial
DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

Supplies list :

For a RC hovercraft skirt

  • trash bags

  • a soldering gun

  • a cutter

  • pencil, graph paper, or drawing software like Geogebra

  • cardboard

For a "manned" hovercraft skirt

  • sewing equipment

  • truck tarpaulin (density of 600g per square metern, must resist to stretching lengthwise and widthwise)

  • something suitable for cutting out this truck tarpaulin (very good scissors or a very good cutter, I guess)

  • large pieces of cardboard to reproduce your skirt templates on

First of all, choose the material for your skirt : for my RC hovercrafts, I use trash bag pieces which can be melted and joined together using a soldering gun, or K-way pieces which can be sewn together. You can use other materials or other fabrics as long as they are resistant enough, airproof and waterproof, while being flexible enough to inflate.

Then, you need to choose what your hovercraft hull will look like. Here are a few examples :

DIY RC hovercraft hull
  • four 90° angles

  • 4 sides

DIY RC hovercraft hull
  • two 90° angles at the rear

  • four 135° angles at the front

  • 6 sides

DIY RC hovercraft hull
  • two 90° angles at the rear

  • six angles at the front (3 different values)

  • 8 sides

Logically, the more complex your hull is, the more work and calculations you will have to do : the red hull, above left, will require only one angle template (only 90° angles), and 4 pieces of skirt, as it has 4 sides. The black one, as it has four different angle values, will require four templates and four times more calculations. And as it has 8 sides, it will require 8 pieces of skirt to cut and join together.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

You can enlarge the following pictures by right-clicking on them and select "open in a new tab" or "display image".

A "vented bag skirt" is set to the hull in two places: on the edges of the hull, and on two strips - polypropylene strips in my case - under the hovercraft. Therefore, you need to set these strips first.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

Take the hovercraft hull upside down. With a pencil, draw two lines parallel to the sides of the hull. They must be separated from the edges of the hull by 30% of the hull width.

With a protractor, draw the bisectors of all the angles of the hull. Like shown on the picture, use these bisectors to reproduce the shape of the hull with a smaller ratio.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

You can now cut the two strips and fold them in the right places to match the lines drew previously. For small models (up to 40 cm hull width), the height of these strips can be 10% of the hull width. For larger models, I suggest limiting this size to a maximum of 4 cm.

You will notice that the strip is not perfectly straight, and that there should be two strips facing each other - this was a quick draft for me, you have to do better :-)

Note that the front and back of the "vented bag skirt" must be kept open to allow air to escape (see this page for more explanations). This is why we don't need skirt attachments for the front nor for the rear.

You now need to draw the shape of your skirt using drawing software like Geogebra or graph paper. Draw it at 1 : 1 scale to avoid mistakes, you have to be as precise as possible to get a good result.

Draw a horizontal line that represents your hovercraft hull. Draw a vertical segment that will depict one of your attaching strips (3 cm height in my case, because my hull is 30 cm large).

Draw a semi-circle, the center of which is exactly below the edge of the hull, and facing the end of the attachment strip.

Join the end of the semi-circle to the end of the attaching strip with an arc.

Sorry to say that I have no specific instructions to position the compass nor to set its spacing, I usually try several times until I get a correct arc. In this case, the compass was positioned at the top of the drawing, right above the center of the semi-circle.

Finally, you obtain a vertical cut of your skirt : this is what your skirt will look like when inflated.

From this single shape, you can design all the corners templates you need, so be sure to save it or copy it. Remember that you will need one template for each angle value on your hull.

Erase the hull but keep the attachment strip.

Draw two horizontal and vertical axes which pass through the center of the semi-circle drawn previously.

Divide the semi-circle into 8 equal circular sectors, each one being 22.5°.

With a compass, measure the length of the arc marked in red. Use this arc length to divide the rest of the skirt. If necessary, add a last dot "manually" at the very end of the skirt, like I did.

On a real hovercraft, where the semi-circle must be around 40 cm in diameter, you can go up to 12 equal circular sectors to get more precision - in that case you will get 15° sectors. Of course, this level of precision is not required for models.

In all cases, it is important to divide the semicircle with an even number, to obtain a correct positioning of your dots.

I will rotate the skirt 90° to the right to continue the process. Draw three horizontal lines like shown and a vertical axis.

In this example, let's say I'm making a template for the rear of the hovercraft, where I have right angles (90°). Whatever the value of the angle on your hull, divide it by two and use this result to draw the diagonal as shown.

Note that the diagonal musn't come too close to your semi-circle, draw your vertical axis accordingly.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

We will continue the tutorial with older drawings. Draw a corner above like shown.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

We begin by drawing the first mark : draw a horizontal line joining the beginning of the skirt to the diagonal drawn previously, and from there draw a right angle to join the horizontal line of the corner.

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Draw a horizontal line above the last dot that was drawn and repeat the process to get your second mark.

The space between two lines, noted X on the drawing, is calculated from the following formula : θ × (π/180) × r.

In this example, θ = 22.5 because we divided the semi-circle in 8 equal sectors, and r = 3 because the semi-circle radius is 3 cm.

Therefore, I get : 22.5 x (π/180) × 3 = 1,2 cm.

Once your mark is drawn, erase the two lines that you used to place it, to make your work easier.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

Repeat this process for every mark.

Pay attention to the last dot that you may have added manually during the previous steps - in that case, the two last lines, at the top of the drawing, will not have the same "X" gap as the others.

Use your compass to measure the distance between the penultimate dot and the last dot on the profile of the skirt, at the bottom left, and use this length as your last "X" gap. The result may contain a very small margin of error, which will have no bad consequence.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

Join the dots, and voilà, you have your template, ready to be reproduced on a piece of cardboard.

As said before, as you need to draw one template for each angle value on the hull, repeat this operation until you have all the templates you need.

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

You can see here the final result of two 45° corners facing each other. When joined together by soldering or sewing, this part of the skirt will have an angle of 90°.

Now that you have all your templates, you need to cut skirts pieces with the right dimensions.

Let's say we have made the template for the rear of a RC hovercraft with a 25 cm hull width. Therefore, we need the top of this piece of skirt to be 25 cm (25,1 cm because you will need a margin when sewing or soldering the pieces together).

Thanks to the template, you don't have to worry about the length at the bottom of the piece, nor the height of the piece - they will be exactly as you need.

Repeat the same operation for all your hull sides.

Just remember to use the correct templates for each different angle value on your hull, and to use the length corresponding to the hull side. If your hull design is complex, you can have two different angle values on the same piece of skirt, as shown on the drawing. Therefore, you will need to use two different templates for the right and left sides of these skirt pieces.

The drawing shows a RC hovercraft hull with its two attachment strips and all its skirt pieces ready to be put together. As you can guess, the longer sides will be sticked on the edges of the hovercraft hull, while the smaller sides of the skirt will be sticked on the attachment strips (except for the front and the rear which have no attachment strips as I explained earlier).

Are you done cutting all your skirt pieces ? Congratulations for following the tutorial so far, you're almost there.

I will demonstrate the following steps with a RC hovercraft skirt made with trash bags. Sorry to say that I don't have pictures to show the sewing of bigger hovercrafts skirts right now, but the principle remains exactly the same.

From here, we need to put the skirt pieces together, either by sewing them or soldering them. Take two pieces of skirt and put one on top of the other so that the corners match.

Take the appropriate cardboard template and set it 1 mm before the corner. With your soldering gun, slowly follow the shape of the cardboard. The two skirt pieces will melt and solder.

Let cool for 20 seconds, then gently remove the skirt pieces that will certainly be sticked both to the workbench and to the cardboard.

In the same way, sew / solder all the corners together to complete the skirt. Then turn it over like a sock, so that the solders are on the inside, for strength and aesthetics.

So ends this tutorial on how to design and assemble a custom skirt, from your own hovercraft hull dimensions.

To check out the final steps and see how to stick this skirt under the hovercraft, you can check this page.

The two videos below show two skirts made with this tutorial - one for a RC hovercraft, the other for a homemade hovercraft, the Rusalka.

To go further, the following drawings and picture can give you ideas to get smoother finishes : instead of having only two 45° pieces, you can get a right angle with four 22.5° pieces, by adding an extra piece of skirt in the middle. Keep in mind that you may need a seam / joining allowance on all pieces. See the full tutorial written by Ian Smith for more details (please note that the first part of this guide is outdated).

DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial
DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial
DIY Hovercraft skirt - tutorial

You now have all the knowledge to design your own vented bag skirt. This tutorial may seem difficult to understand at first but it cannot be simplified more at this point. I personnally learned by doing it a few times and making mistakes at first. Good luck !

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If you have any questions, send me an email at diyhovercraft01@gmail.com.