Mean Machines Amphibious Craft: Friday March 9

mean machines: amphibians (3/10) 19.30–20.00

Mean Machines is a show with a mission: to hunt down the most exciting mechanical beasts on the planet. Taking viewers inside the biggest, baddest, strongest and fastest machines around, the series provides the low-down on what truly makes a mean machine. In this evening’s episode, we hunt down the meanest machines on both land and water – the amphibians. From life-savers to war veterans, and from sports cars to ice dozers, we search for the ultimate all-terrain vehicles.

In Southern California, one man had a dream: to make a car that wasn’t just great on the road, but could also drive on the water. Meet the Watercar – the world’s fastest amphibious vehicle, capable of speeds up to 80 kph on water. The man behind the wheel of this incredible car is also its inventor, Dave March. Self-made millionaire Dave built the Watercar in his garage, and has spent many thousands of hours and dollars ensuring that he gets what he wants. “I want to be known as having the world’s fastest amphibious vehicle,” he says.

But amphibious vehicles are nothing new. In the 1960s, they were touted to be the transport of the future, though most prototypes turned out to be letdowns – inefficient on land, embarrassing on water. Dave even tried restoring one, but he soon realised that fulfilling his dream would mean starting the project from scratch.

So how do you turn a car into a Watercar? Dave has been experimenting with various models, but the principles are always the same. The first principle is to make it lightweight. With his first vehicle, Dave took the fibreglass frame from a 2002 Camero and placed it on top of a skeleton of light gauge, stainless steel and square tubing. The next step is to make sure the car can plane –skim across the surface of the water. For this, the front end of the vehicle must stay up, so Dave decided to position a ripping fast engine in the boot. But to get such a big engine inside, he had to make some special modifications, redesigning the car’s layout.

The final problem faced during such a conversion is what to do with the wheels. As Dave puts it, the wheels would act “like parachutes in the water,” so they need to be moved. His solution is like something from a James Bond movie –at the press of a button when the car hits the water, up come the wheels and the vehicle cruises along, as if nothing had happened. For being fast, for looking sexy, and for going everywhere, the Watercar is a true mean machine.

The next amphibian in tonight’s programme may not be as sleek as the Watercar, but it just might save your life. Canada’s busiest coastguard station gets more than 500 SOS rescue calls a year, but with some the most treacherous tidal waters in the world surrounding the city of Vancouver, the coastguard cannot rely on any ordinary boat. In this place, only one machine will get these medics where they are needed in time –the hovercraft.

This particular machine is the AP1-88/100 rescue hovercraft. Part boat, part plane, it weighs 71 tonnes and is nearly 30 metres long, yet has a top speed of 100 kph. The craft floats over a meter and a half above the ground, and can move over water, beaches and even stray logs without any problems. But the technology behind this monster is deceptively simple. Essentially, all you need to make a hovercraft is a fan to push air down, an airbag to trap that air and push the craft up, and propellers to push the craft forward. Driven forward by these propellers, the hovercraft rests on a huge air pocket, and flies over anything in its path.

With no friction between the hovercraft and the ground, and with no hull, keel or rudder, it is very easy to get the vehicle to skim over almost any surface. What is not so easy, however, is getting the thing to stop!

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