News and Views from Dave Wilson

DIY Hovercraft Project

by on Mar.21, 2015, under Miscellaneous

It’s Spring Break and, as a result, time for a fun project. After Drew saw a video of a similar project on YouTube, we had to try it so today was our day to build a hovercraft! We’re not talking about a water-going, self-propelled vehicle here, though, but the first step in that direction in the form of a leaf-blower-powered platform that can be pushed around. Think hoverboard or something along the lines of a very large air-hockey puck.

Hovercraft - Getting Ready To StartThe original project we saw on YouTube used a plastic coffee can lid in place of the jam jar lid we used in the instructions below. We started with the plastic lid but discovered that it wasn’t strong enough and ripped off within a few minutes of testing the hovercraft. The metal jam jar lid proved a much more robust alternative.

Without further ado, here are the instructions…

Materials List

  • 1 x 8’x4; sheet of 1/2″ plywood
  • A roll of duct tape (of course!)
  • A 6′ diameter circle of thick (6 or 7mil?) plastic sheet.
  • 12 feet of plastic pipe insulation or pool noodles
  • 1 x plastic garden chair
  • 1 x leaf blower. Gas powered is better but electric would work too.
  • 1 x metal jam jar lid
  • 1 x 2 inch bolt with nut and washers
  • Staples
  • 4 x 3/4″ screws (or any length suitable to join 2 1/2″ ply sheets without protruding)
  • 4 x 1 1/2″ screws (or length suitable to attach chair to ply without protruding)


  • Jigsaw
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Staple gun
  • Router and/or sander if you have them, sandpaper and elbow-grease otherwise.


  1. Cut the 8’x4′ into two 4’x4′ pieces and stack them on top of each other to form a single 4’x4′, 1 inch thick platform.
  2. Drill a hole through the exact centre of the sheet and use the bolt to hold the pieces together temporarily.
  3. Use the 4 short screws to attach the sheets firmly together. Make sure that you choose screws which are long enough that the sheets are securely joined but do not protrude through the bottom since this could puncture the skirt plastic later.
  4. Attach a 4′ piece of string to the central bolt and tie a pencil to the end then run it around the sheet to draw a 4′ circle within the 4′ square.
  5. Use the jigsaw to cut out the circle.
  6. Round off the edges of the plywood to remove any sharp pieces. We used a router to round off the edges then a sander to finish the process. Make sure that you clean up both the top and bottom edges.
  7. Measure the diameter of the leaf blower output tube and cut a hole the same diameter about half way between the edge of the plywood and the center. The leaf blower tube should fit snugly but be able to be inserted and removed without too much difficulty. We’re not going to permanently attach the leaf blower so this fit is important (though, if you wanted to duct tape the blower to the platform, I’m sure that would work).
  8. Remove the bolt you used to hold the plywood sheets together in step 2. Don’t forget to do this! If you leave it in place, you’ll have to remove the plastic skirt to get it off later and that wouldn’t be good.
  9. Place the plywood over the top of the plastic sheet so that the centres line up. Be careful not to puncture the plastic!
  10. Fold the plastic up over the edge of the wood and attach with staples about 1 inch in from the circumference of the wood, pulling the plastic towards the center between each staple. We used 1 staple every couple of inches around the entire circumference.
  11. Trim the plastic sheet so that about 1 inch remains between the staple line and the center of the plywood. You should end up with about 2 inches of plastic visible around the whole edge of the plywood with a line of staples in the middle.
  12. Cut 6″ pieces of duct tape and use them to seal the plastic to the plywood. Go round the whole circle twice to make sure that all the staples are covered and that you have a good seal.
  13. Turn the whole assembly over and you should have a reasonably tight sheet if plastic covering the bottom of the plywood circle. It shouldn’t be too loose. Don’t worry about the skirt inflating – it should be fine.
  14. Cover the center area of the plastic sheet with a layer of duct tape. You will end up with a 1 foot square of tape centred over the bolt hole you drilled earlier.
  15. Drill a hole in the middle of the jam jar top and use the bolt with washers to attach this to the underside of the skirt. This holds the skirt up in the middle and allows it to form a ring when inflated.Hovercraft - Jam Jar Lid and Air Vents
  16. Cut 6 holes in the duct tape square around the jam jar lid. Each hole should be about 2 inches in diameter and about an inch or so from the jam jar lid. These are the vents through which air will pour to lift the hovercraft.
  17. Cut the pool noodles or pipe insulation along one long edge and slide the cut over the edge of the plywood to form a bumper around the hovercraft. It should cover the duct tape and edge of the skirt. Use staples to hold it in place on the top of the hovercraft. DO NOT staple it underneath.
  18. Depending upon the size of bumper, you may need to cut a piece off on the underside. You don’t want the bumper to be deeper than the inflated skirt. We had to cut about half of the bumper off after our first test because it was dragging on the ground when the skirt inflated. Here’s what the skirt looks like when it’s being inflated. Notice that the inflated skirt is lower than the bottom of the bumpers.
  19. Screw a plastic lawn chair to the top of the hovercraft taking care not to use screws that will protrude through the bottom of the plywood and puncture the plastic skirt.
  20. Fire up the leaf blower, stick it into the hole on the top of the hovercraft and start sliding around!


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Family Newsletter 2014

by on Dec.14, 2014, under Family

I made it in time for Christmas this year! Click here to read our annual family news update.

The whole Wilson family at Ian and Jenny's house in Windsor.

The whole Wilson family at Ian and Jenny’s house in Windsor.

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Dad’s 80th Birthday

by on Nov.30, 2014, under Family

I’m typing this from Heathrow Airport on my way back to Austin after a lovely week in Scotland to celebrate my Dad’s 80th birthday. The week involved three parties, lots of catching up, visits with old friends and quite a lot of coffee drinking and shortbread eating. It was wonderful to see so many folks I’ve not seen in up to 20 years and also to have some more time with my British nephew and nieces.

Prior to my arrival, friends had organised a surprise party on the Saturday before Dad’s birthday. The surprises continued on Tuesday, his actual birthday, when I arrived, unannounced, at his front door and joined him and friends for his “official” birthday lunch at Ristorante La Vigna, our by-now-traditional venue for all major celebrations held in Lanark. On Saturday, brothers Ian and Alastair, along with their families, flew in for another lunch, this time at the Shieldhall Hotel near Biggar where we spent a very leisurely afternoon eating, drinking and making merry in the lovely country hotel.

I didn’t take too many pictures this week, but here are a few I did grab during the festivities.

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MotoGP 2014 at Circuit of the Americas, Austin

by on May.03, 2014, under Photography

MotoGP 2014 at Circuit of the Americas, Austin was a great event and MotoGP is fast becoming my favourite weekend at the now two-year-old track. Although the attendance and general atmosphere at Formula 1 in November is very significantly higher, the motorcycle events during Red Bull MotoGP Grand Prix of the Americas can’t be beaten from a photographic point-of-view. The dramatic way the riders lean their bikes into each corner and the fact that, in some cases, their faces are visible through the visors, makes for some really great picture opportunities.

This year, I was fortunate to be shooting from trackside but, due to the last minute nature of the access, I hadn’t rented a long lens. I shot everything you see here with one of my own cameras and lenses. The longest combination I own is a 70-200mm with 2x teleconverter on the crop-sensor Nikon D90 giving me a 600mm equivalent. Even trackside, this is about as short as you will want to go to get full frame shots of the bikes in most of the corners but, using the 2x teleconverter, the results I got were nothing like as sharp as the combination of rented 200-400mm and 1.4x teleconverter that I used during last year’s Formula 1 Grand Prix. For side-view, the 70-200mm on its own was fine from many locations because you are so much closer to the action.

Anyway, without further ado, here are a few of my favourite shots from the weekend. This represents a more-or-less random collection of images from the paddock, Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP racing.

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Drew’s Arrow of Light Ceremony

by on Jan.16, 2014, under Family

Drew and his den with the Troop 101 Order of teh Arrow members following the Arrow of Light ceremony.

Tonight, Drew was awarded the “Arrow of Light” – the top achievement that you can earn as a Cub Scout in the USA. It doesn’t seem any time since I took Cameron to his first Tiger Cubs meeting 7 years ago. Since then, I’ve been a clueless hanger-on, an assistant Den Leader, a Den Leader and back to a mere cub parent. I saw Cameron and his den through their Arrow of Light a couple of years ago and now Drew has followed. Thinking back, it’s really scary just how quickly this chapter of our family life has flown by. Cub Scouts may be behind us, but I’m sure there are plenty of new adventures awaiting both Drew and me as he moves on to life as a fully fledged Boy Scout in a couple of weeks.

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2013 Family Newsletter

by on Jan.11, 2014, under Photography

Yes, I know Christmas is long gone but it’s taken me a bit longer than usual to pull together this year’s annual family newsletter. You can find the scoop on most of the things that clan Wilson/Loftin got up to in 2013 if you click this link.

All of us at the Grand Canyon

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5 Day Deal

by on Jan.05, 2014, under Photography

5 Day Deal Complete Photography Bundle

The time has come to let the cat out of the bag on the secret “5 Day Deal” I mentioned last week. “5 Day Deal” is a huge bundle of photography books, educational material, software, presets and discounts that is being offered for 5 days only, starting today. For the price of $89, you receive a bundle of products valued at over $1200 and a discount package worth an additional $400.

When I was first told about this, it felt too good to be true and I figured that it would be a bunch of material of very little interest but that’s not the case. The contributor list is fantastic and the books and videos are definitely top notch. The list includes the following which were highlights for me:

13 eBooks including

12 Videos, courses and software packages including

12 preset, action and texture packages including

Discounts on 11 products including

On top of this, 10% of the purchase price is being donated to charity. You can choose to split your charitable portion evenly between the 6 charities involved or specify a single one of them as the recipient.

The deal lasts until noon on January 10th and, once you have bought the bundle, you have a further two weeks to download the files. Head on over and check it out.

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Do You Like Photographic Secrets?

by on Dec.29, 2013, under Photography

5daydeal-photography-event-facebook-highlightedpost-shareI’m usually rather opposed to promoting things before I’ve actually used them but I’m making an exception here after being clued-in on something rather exciting that’s going to be happening next week. I would offer a lot more information but I’m afraid it’s secret for a few more days so you’ll just have to take my word for it that you need to be on your toes on January 5th and remember to head on over to the 5 Day Deal site for the full details then. Suffice it to say that the event is definitely going to be interesting to any camera user out there. Take a look at the list of people involved in this secret endeavour and that should be enough to convince you it’s going to be something worth following up on.

As I said, the actual content of the event is still under wraps but I can tell you that it will definitely appeal to you if you are

  • Interested in HDR photography,
  • Interested in travel or fashion photography,
  • Want to get better at food photography,
  • Looking to start or grow a photography business, or
  • Wanting to sell photography or photography related products on the internet

For a few more details and a list of the people involved, click the link below.


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“Altered Perspectives” Exhibition

by on Dec.08, 2013, under Photography

"Altered Perspectives"

I’ve just realised that there’s no official announcement of my ongoing “Altered Perspectives” exhibition here on the blog! The show has been hanging in the Nancy Wilson Scanlan Gallery at the Helm Fine Arts Center in St. Stephen’s School since mid-November and will be there until December 20th. We’re having a reception at 2pm next Sunday (December 15th) so, if you are in the area, please drop by and have a look at the pictures.

For people who are unable to make it to Austin, here are the pictures that are hanging. The mix is about 2/3 canvas prints and 1/3 framed paper prints. The largest image is 44″x40″ and the smallest is 5″x7″ though the majority are 16″x20″ or larger.

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United States Grand Prix, 2013

by on Nov.25, 2013, under Miscellaneous

First Lap Procession

First Lap Procession

Another year is nearly over and, with it, Austin’s second Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. From my perspective, this year’s event was every bit as much fun as the 2012 race. With a year of race weekends under their belt, the folks at Circuit of the Americas had ironed out the few kinks that marred last year’s event (and there really were very few considering that the newly built venue was only just usable by the time of the race) and put on a spectacular show – the beer selection was better, the number of food vendors and the variety of food on offer was very much improved and there was even decent cellular data coverage around the track. I was rather amazed to note that there was an AT&T WiFi hotspot up at Turn 11.

The crowds felt larger than last year but perhaps my memory was dulled by the very much smaller crowds for every other race I’ve been to at the track this year. The official gate count put Sunday’s attendance at about 4000 less than last year but, given the huge number of people involved, it certainly didn’t feel significantly less busy this year.

As before, the racing was great but the most spectacular thing about attending a Grand Prix is the amazing atmosphere. 120,000 friendly people gathering from all corners of the globe makes for quite a party.

I’ll be back again next year and will likely book another seat in the Turn 3 bleachers which gave such an excellent view of the S-curve section of the track with its great red, white and blue stripes. If you’re a racing fan and can make it down here, there’s no better place to be than Austin in mid-November!

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