Branding entrepreneur Mike Loftus established MLE Merchandising & Sign Solutions, Inc., in Elmhurst, IL, in 2002. In less than two decades, he has built the company to a strong regional presence, with over $40 million annually in revenues and more than 100 employees in 14 states. A resident of Elmhurst, a suburb of Chicago just 10 miles from the shores of Lake Michigan, Mike Loftus is passionate about boating. He has owned a number of boats, including ski boats, houseboats, a pontoon boat, and a hovercraft.
First put to practical use in 1959, the concept underlying hovercraft has been traced back to at least the early 1700s. The hovercraft is a highly adaptable vehicle that is capable of traveling across water, land, or ice, while floating on a cushion of air it produces with powerful fans directed straight downward. Additional fans blow air toward the rear of the vehicle, providing forward thrust, and rudders in the path of that airflow give the craft maneuverability.
While they are capable of traveling over land, hovercraft are more commonly used for over-water use in four main applications: as ferryboats, as military landing craft, as inshore search-and-rescue vessels, and as personal watercraft. Probably the most well-known use of hovercraft was as a ferry across the English Channel from 1968 to 2000, when the service was discontinued because it could not compete financially with the English Channel Tunnel.
Hovercraft are very versatile, with the capability of launching from land or water and traveling over nearly any surface. Because they have little contact with the surface over which they are riding, they can achieve very high speeds, but that lack of contact also makes maneuvering more difficult and makes them vulnerable to high winds. Becoming a good hovercraft pilot requires a great deal more training than is necessary with boats or cars, and hovercraft are more costly to purchase and maintain.
In the final analysis, though, hovercraft are not seen more in regular use because their largest potential customer, the military, has not found a use for them beyond as landing craft.