UA Hovercraft Team Ready to Race Rival, Others

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A team of University of Alabama engineering students are set to race in the University Hoverbowl Challenge Saturday, April 27 at Lake Lurleen State Park just outside Tuscaloosa.

The race, hosted by the Hoverclub of America, will pit The University of Alabama Hoverteam against the Hovering Tigers, a team of engineering students from cross-state, athletic rival Auburn University, along with amateur hovercraft racers from across North America.

Racing starts at 10 a.m. and should end about 4 p.m. The event is free, but admission to the state park is $3.

Hovercrafts are amphibious vehicles that ride on a small cushion of air capable of traveling over most relatively smooth surfaces. For the race at Lake Lurleen, the hovercrafts will glide over the lake and its shore.

The University Hoverbowl Challenge is the first race in the Alabama sponsored by Hoverclub of America, a nonprofit organization that promotes the hover sport, and it formed when a group of five seniors studying aerospace engineering at UA decided to build a hovercraft for their senior design project, said Hisham Ali, senior aerospace student from Muscle Shoals.

The students needed a competition to test their hovercraft, so Ali contacted the Hoverclub about competing in a race, but races are usually held in the summer, too late for the students who needed to complete their project by the end of spring semester. Ali contacted peers at Auburn, which has had a hovercraft team for several years, about a race. They worked with Hoverclub to host a race at Lake Lurleen after studying several sites around the state.

“We put this race together to have a design event, but I’d like for this to become permanent,” Ali said.

Kent Gano, racing director for the club, said the race is a way to promote the hover sport to college students. “I’m always behind students who want to do projects like this,” Gano said. “It’s a big event for the club.”

The UA seniors designed and built their hovercraft from scratch using parts either bought or built by the team along with donated pieces. Using computer-aided design software and 3-D printing, the team designed the craft from what they learned studying in the College of Engineering, said Dillon Malone, a team member from Robertsdale.

“We have no template, so we’re learning as we go,” Malone said. “What we know now, we taught ourselves or learned it through our education.”

For more information about the race, visit the event website.

The team is advised by Dr. Thomas Zeiler, associate professor of aerospace engineering and mechanics. Support of the team is provided by the College of Engineering, the department of aerospace engineering and mechanics, the UA Student Government Association, the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, the Hoverclub of America, and the Design Industry Workroom along with support from individuals.

Team members include:

  • Hisham Ali, a senior in aerospace engineering from Muscle Shoals
  • Michael Bradshaw, a senior in aerospace engineering from Memphis, Tenn.
  • Alex Few, a junior in aerospace engineering from Birmingham
  • Alan Hawkins, a senior in aerospace engineering from Albertville
  • Logan Hopper, a senior in mechanical engineering from Fortville, Ind.
  • Nikolaus Luhrs, a freshman in electrical engineering and physics from Orangevale, Calif.
  • Brent LaForte, a junior in aerospace engineering from Sparta, Tenn.
  • Dillon Malone, a senior in aerospace engineering from Robertsdale
  • Mitchell Spryn, a sophomore in electrical engineering and physics from Williamsburg, Va.
  • Matthew Warren, a freshman in aerospace engineering and physics from Pelham
  • Jacob Wilroy, a sophomore in aerospace engineering from Prattville
  • Mark Wysock, a senior aerospace engineering from Huntsville

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,900 students and more than 110 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Mitchell and Truman scholars.


Adam Jones, engineering public relations, 205/348-6444,