Ever since the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came out, fans across the country have awaited a flying vehicle that doesn’t produce CO2 emissions. While a flying car powered by magic really isn’t feasible (unfortunately), members of the Human-Powered Flight Club of the University College London’s Student Union (HPFC UCLU) are in the process of developing the next best thing: a hovercraft powered by pedaling. Dubbed the Steam Boat Willy, the craft recently completed a test run across the Thames River, and was even displayed at the UK Hovershow this July.
The Steam Boat Willy resembles a paddle boat crossed with an inflatable raft, and does not use steam (as it’s name would have you believe), but pressurized air. Drivers sit down and place their feet upon the pedals. Once pedalling begins, the raft will inflate, the propeller at the back of the craft will rotate and a lift fan in the front starts to spin. Once the raft fully inflates, air is ejected from the bottom of the craft, allowing it to glide along like a traditional hovercraft.
The Steam Boat Willy is a work in progress, and the HPFC UCLU has been making modifications since they began working on the craft a few years ago. The hovercraft joins a constantly growing number of human-powered devices, like the Schweeb monorail or knee brace that creates electricity from human movement.
But while Steam Boat Willy’s developers may have high hopes for the craft, as of right now, its practicality seems limited. As seen in this YouTube video, steering the device seems quite difficult, while pedaling requires a fair amount of effort from the driver. Using a bike on land and a kayak or paddleboat in water seems to be a more effective and just as eco-friendly method of travel. Still, we applaud any effort to create vehicles that don’t derive their power from fossil fuels.