Imagine taking a drive down the road, then turning your street vehicle into a boat. Universal Hovercraft right here in Rockford is doing just that, giving people a smooth transition from land to sea, without flippers. Well I got behind the wheel of a hovercraft to see if I had what it takes to walk on water.
Universal Hovercraft, a diamond in the rough among Rockford's most unique and successful businesses. Think of it as an adult's playground, with expensive toys.
"I would say 80% of our customers right now are recreational based," says Bill Zang, President of Universal Hovercraft. "They're just buying these things to have a lot of fun."
What they're forking out the big ones for? Universal hovercraft is home to the some of the world's top hovercraft. Some that fly, some that glide, but all that ride both in and out of the water.
"We're selling the BMW of hovercraft," Zang says. "So we're selling something that's very nice, very user friendly, and very quiet and fuel efficient."
Bill Zang and his crew run the business that his uncle started it in 1967, making trips to Australia, California and Hawaii to train buyers on how to use it properly. They were more recently were featured on MTV, Velocity TV and the Discovery Channel. I stopped by to take one for a spin. My ride, The Renegade. The most popular recreational hovercraft they sell.
"What we've done with The Renegade here is over simplified everything here, so that a normal person can get in and within just a few minutes they can be driving it and having fun," Zang says.
A quick lesson taught me how it works, with back fans and the bottom skirt to lift the vehicle. Sort of like a jet ski, four wheeler and car, all in one.
And since I've been told my driving skills are less than stellar, why not try the water?
We hit the water. It was smooth sailing, with the transition from land to water completely seamless. Bill drove for a bit, then handed me the wheel. It was easy to maneuver and to spin, it was like a car on a sheet of ice. Grab the throttle and hold on tight.
Universal hovercraft continues to expand, and will soon ship its next hovercraft to the west coast in a few weeks, hoping to sell more hovercraft next year, making it one of the most successful and sought after hovercraft in the world, all made right here in the Forest City.
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