Airboat Devevelopment History

If you live in the Everglades or Okeefenokee Swamp area of Florida or between Florida and Georgia or the Bayou areas of Louisiana, you probably use the waterways, canals and bogs, the same way those who live in cities use the roadways.

Instead of a car, though, you probably use an airboat to get around. They are the best way to handle that chore as they:

1. Draw absolutely little or no water2. Do not use an outboard so there's nothing that can be fouled beneath the boat 3. Have flat, broad bottoms4. Can carry a surprisingly large amount of equipment and passengers and are stable platforms 5. Are unique among marine platforms6. Use unique drive and steering

These attributes are the beauties of the airboat, a hybrid design that combines the attributes an standard airplane propeller and rudder with a shallow-draft boat.

In the Everglades, for example, this type of transportation is a necessity because the water, even in open channels seldom very deep. The interesting feature of the Everglades National Park is that it is not a swamp, as it seems or a large bog. It is actually a very shallow river whose depth is seldom over 1 foot in most places and much of the time the water is just below the sawgrass that inhabits much of the park. It gives the Everglades the unique look of a swamp, but it really is not.

The Everglades sits on top of the and provides for much of the northern and central Florida aquifer which is shale on the sides and by bedrock below. This makes it necessary for the Everglades to flow on through porous sand and rock, as that lies above the bedrock and absorbs much of the river's flow, leaving little on top. Most traditional rivers have banks and are deep and you can actually use a standard boat on them.

The airboat was a development of the boom in Florida development that began after World War II in the last century. Until that time, much of Florida was a series of tourist camps and tent cities with primitive roads connecting them. The major cities, Tallahasee, Miami, Daytona and so on were pretty much surrounded by farmlands and citrus groves.

The buildout and opening of Florida to development meant that people had to get around areas that didn't lend themselves to traditional means. Cars and trucks couldn't navigate the fens and bogs they would become stuck in and they would then sink out of site. Traditional boats usually were hung up or had their hulls torn out by hidden obstructions, rocks, logs and sandbars.

This was solved by an enterprising boater who saw a natural marriage of shallow-draft craft with flat hulls that could maneuver in very shallow water at high speed.

They did, at first, try outboard engines. The problems happened right away, as the screws just fouled in the mud and plant detritis or due to the lack of depth. There just wasn't enough water under the keel and shear pins snapped by the dozen.

Enter the enterprising skipper who decided to try a different method of propulsion. Having a small airplane motor handy, he had to develop all of the pieces needed to put and airboat together.

He developed the mounting rack for the engine, along with its fuel feed. It just seemed right because it meant that the boat had an elevated fan pushing it, but there were other problems, such as keeping the skipper and passengers from being sucked into the blade and becoming fish kibble. Equally as important, the airplane engine to which the prop would be attached required a prop of a certain size and pitch and that meant the protective cage also had to keep the prop in good shape.

Finally, there was the question of moving to the left and right and how the skipper could accomplish this and still see over the rapidly spinning airplane prop. This was accomplished by a high-center control seat that also controlled the rudder pedals and throttle and reverse controls. The front of the craft carried stowage and either one or two bench seats.