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UKZN students show off flying, floating machines

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Durban - University of KwaZulu-Natal engineering students are set to go places - overland, on water or even both, as they put the finishing touches to projects including building a hovercraft, an electric trike and an amphibious vehicle.

The fourth-year students have been been burning the midnight oil before the university’s mechanical engineering open day on Friday, a chance to put theory into practice for marks - and to make a whole lot of noise. We visited the workshop where the young engineers were putting the final touches to their machines.

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879 26.10.2016 Final year engineering students Kai Broughton, Duran Martin, Nino Wunderlin and Dylan Williams stand near their Hover Craft for dispay. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Duran Martin, 22, one of the brains behind the hovercraft project, said they had been set the task of coming up with a multi-purpose, off-road and flying vehicle.

The design went through various stages and once the students had ditched the suspension and gearbox, they ended up with a hovercraft.

Kai Broughton, 23, said the craft had a 37kW Rotax 50 two-stroke engine which could theoretically take it up to 100km/h, as well as a 7.3kW four-stroke lawnmower engine to hover.

It weighs about 200kg and can hover up to a metre above the ground with an 80kg pilot on board. It can also be flown by remote control.

It uses the ground effect phenomenon for low-altitude flight. This is when air creates ‘lift’, keeping a vehicle with wings afloat, close to the ground. The wings took some serious thought. They are made of aluminium tubes with plywood ribs and are covered in polyester fabric, in the style of a vintage aircraft.

Martin said they had been determined to meet the deadline and did not want to disappoint their sponsors and professors.

He said: “We knew it was going to be a lot of work. A lot of people thought we would not be able to do it.”

The group was adamant the craft would be able to float by Friday and fly by next week. Nino Wunderlin, 22, said they had little sleep over the past three days, hurrying to finish the project. Some of the students said they planned to study for their Master’s in 2017 and hoped to work eventually in the aerospace industry.

Final-year engineering students Sohail Ebrahim, Matthew Jo Mathew, Yogesh Sanpersad and Clydene Reddy with their electric tricycle. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng / INLSA

The open day is not only about gee-whizz flying or floating vehicles; more down-to-earth exhibits will be on show too, including an electrically powered trike.

The trike, which has an aluminium frame, was designed for use on the campus. It has a two-kilowatt motor in the centre of one of the wheels, with pedals providing back-up power, which mathew Jo Mathew, 21, said helped with the hills.

Clydene Reddy, 23, said vehicles such as this trike reduced dependency on carbon fuel and were a good way to exercise.

Reddy said the trike would be useful to people in South Africa and that transport was evolving towards small electricity-powered vehicles.

‘Hard work’

Lareesan Naidoo, 22, who has been building an amphibious vehicle with three other students over two semesters, said it had been “hard work”, eased somewhat by the support of his mechanic father, Jason Naidoo.

The Phoenix resident said they started with modelling of the vehicle in the first semester, using computer programs. The physical construction of the vehicle started in the second semester.

The vehicle, which weighs 600kg including the driver, has two motors: a 900cc jetski motor for water propulsion and a 250cc motorcycle engine to power the wheels.

“The front and rear suspensions are made of steel for strength,” he said.

The body is made of fibreglass, aluminium, and rubber, among other materials. It has a theoretical speed of about 60km/h, and was built on a budget of R20 000.

The day is open to the public from noon to 4pm at the Unite School of Engineering building, Howard College campus. Entry is through Gate 8.

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