Creative Geniuses (not)

“Are you sure this is gonna work?” asked my friend Jake. I nodded and rolled my extended finger as a gesture for him to keep going. He was using a mounted router to carve a piece of two by six into a propeller.

“Just follow the profile I drew on the butt end and it’ll be fine.” said. The profile was a curve shape, convex on the top and concave on the bottom. The leading edge was rounded and the trailing edge wedged down to a sharp edge. The profile was reversed on the other end of the board, with about six inches in the middle of the span left unshaped. This would be the hub of the five foot long board. Once Jake had the shape routed into the wood, I picked up an electric sander and smoothed out the airfoil shape and rounded all of the corners. I’d drilled a half-inch hole into the center of the board and I slid the board onto a piece of rounded steel bar. I then set that on a wooden jig that supported each end of the bar to make a balancer. It took an hour of messing around until I finally had a propeller that was balanced. The next step was to wrap the whole thing with fiberglass cloth and then apply resin to it all. I carefully scraped all of the excess resin I could off the prop and left it in the sunshine to cure.

The next day I put it back on the balancer, and sure enough, the fiberglass had unbalanced the propeller again. Usinf fine grit sandpaper, I hand sanded the back side of the heavy blade until once again the unit was in balance. Jake stood by as I bolted a hub from a lawnmower blade to the center of our creation and then attached it to the vertical shaft of a lawnmower engine. The motor was bolted to a square metal frame with legs. It looked like a table without the table top. Topping off the little gas tank, I pointed to the peculiar looking device and told Jake, “Go ahead. Start ‘er up!” 

Jake looked at me with suspicious eyes. “Screw that, man. This is your idea, you start it up.”

“What are you, a chicken?” I taunted.

“As a matter of fact, yes.” he replied.

I shrugged and put a knee on the side frame and grabbed the recoil handle. I gave it a yank and the motor sputtered but failed to catch. I did this five more times with the same result. “Oh, crap.” said Jake. He impatiently moved me aside, cracked the throttle open part way and yanked the cord. The motor coughed to life and sat there idling roughly. Jake made a carburetor adjustment and the motor smoothed out. He stepped away and we stood there looking at the contraption. The balance was good, if it hadn’t been, the frame and motor would be shaking crazily and would probably tip over. But it just sat there blowing dust from the dirt driveway into a cloud that quickly swelled to about fifty feet across. We were both fanning the air and coughing on the inhaled dirt. “So, uh, now what?” asked Jake.

I told him to sit on top of the frame and add throttle to see if it would lift off the ground. “Go ahead, man. It’ll be fine.” I said.

Jake again looked suspicious, but he climbed on top of the thing and slowly pushed the throttle open. The motor growled and increased its speed until Jake had it wide open. Besides making the cloud of dust and dirt bigger, nothing happened. “It’s not working.” he yelled over the engine noise.

I shrugged, disappointed. I wasn’t surprised by the failure, but I’d hoped that it might at least seem to try to lift. Jake hopped off. Free of his weight, the still running contraption flew three feet into the air and flipped over upside down. The impact broke off the spark plug atop the old motor and it died.  Jake and I looked at each other and started laughing. 

After strolling over to a neaby fast food joint for a couple of burgers and a drink, we again stood by our creation and woindered what we could do with it. Jake suggested that we make a hover car out of it. “We need to make some kind of skirt for it. Enclose the prop except for an intake on the top.” he mused aloud. The idea was okay with me, so we looked around and found some quarter inch plywood and built a box around the frame. We drilled about 20 holes near the center on the top near the motor to allow air to be pulled in by the prop. It would exhaust from the bottom, hopefully lifting the whole thing in the process. Of course, we didn’t expect it to work, but we were having fun making the stupid thing. With the box made and a new sparkplug installed, Jake hopped on top and sat with the motor between his splayed legs. He was too close to the motor to get any pull on the recoil starter, so I gave it a yank while Jake worked the throttle. It took a few pulls but the engine cought. Jake let it idle for a few seconds, looked at me and grinned, and opened the throttle. 

Almost immediately the silly box rose up an inch or so and Jake and the box skated off to the side at an alarming rate. He slammed into the side of the house and was thrown off. The box bounced from the wall, and riderless it went cruising across the driveway and the lawn, slowly rotating as it moved. In no time at all the unmanned craft was in the middle of the street, a couple of cars had to slam on their brakes to keep from colliding with it. The box zipped across the road, struck the curb and flipped over where it lay like a turtle on its back. A turtle with a propeller sticking out of its stomach that is. We had to listen to the angry taunts from the people on the street we frightened, but we both said ‘sorry!’ and collected up our project and carted it back by the house.

“We need to make a way to control it.” said Jake.

I looked at him. “We need to take it apart.” I said. Jake thought a minute and then nodded. We found a new use for the motor. We built a generator from an alternator and regulator from the junkyard, and attached an old car battery. Jake took it up to a cabin he had on the side of Mt. Hood. It had no plumbing or power, and the little setup gave him lights and powered a stereo. Surprisingly, it lasted a few years before the motor finally gave up the ghost.