Hunter Kowald’s Journey to Create the World’s First Functional Hoverboard
BY Zacc Dukowitz23 March 2022
Hunter Kowald first started building flying machines at 10 years old, when he tinkered with a leaf blower so it would make a craft hover in the air.
In college, he majored in mechanical engineering with a mathematics minor, and went on to work in business after graduation.
He only began working seriously on the hoverboard idea about two years ago, though he had been thinking about it since he was young. Once he started the work, he pursued it tirelessly, performing test after test to create the world’s first functional hoverboard.
According to Kowald, when he pursued funding from different manufacturers he was told the physics wouldn’t work and what he was trying to do was impossible.
So he did it himself.
About the SkySurfer
The craft featured in the video above is called the SkySurfer, and you can see why it’s drawn comparisons to the floating platform that the Green Goblin flies around on in the Spiderman movies.
Watch this video to learn more about how the world’s first functional hoverboard came to be, including footage of test failures and the resulting crashes and shattered airframes that came with them.
According to Kowald, it has not been an easy process to make the SkySurfer a reality.
Safety was top of mind as Kowald worked on the SkySurfer. He has had many failed test flights along the road toward creating a working platform. Though painful—not to mention expensive—these failures helped him learn where the weaknesses were in his design.
Using everything learned from these tests, the SkySurfer has several redundancies built in, so that if something fails the craft will not immediately plummet to the ground.
I learned throughout the process of designing this thing . . . [that] I need to make sure I take every step possible that I know that could fail and make sure that it’s covered. If something goes out, something catches fire, it’ll switch over to the other without any latency issues.
– Hunter Kowald
In addition to addressing potential failures, the incredible amount of energy needed to operate the machine was a big challenge for building a model that could actually fly.
It consumes a ton of power to be able to fly in such a small form factor. And that’s the biggest obstacle that everybody else has faced who’s tried to do it. It’s either going to catch on fire or you have to design custom components to be able to crank that much voltage and current into it to be able to get this power. If a motor fails, the tips in the propellers will spin faster than the speed of sound to be able to compensate for that.
– Hunter Kowald
Kowald describes the SkySurfer as the world’s most compact, powerful, and efficient ultralight aircraft. It’s also an eVTOL craft (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing).
Here are the specs for this unique new flying craft, taken from the SkySurfer website:
- Test results show 500lbs lift capacity.
- Custom carbon fiber structure has been tested with a 1.5x safety factor and loaded with 750lbs.
- Electrical redundancy doubles electrical signals and allows the aircraft to monitor its strongest signals.
- Up to two motors can fail and safe landing is possible.
- Separate power systems exist so that one may fail, and safe landing is possible.
- In the event of equipment failure, propeller rotation is capable of increasing to sustain supersonic speeds, breaking the speed of sound. This compensates for the forces lost and allows for immediate landing.
- FAA Standard Aircraft Navigation Lighting.
*These specs are based on a 185lb pilot.
Hoverboard Stunts Across the Country
Although the video featured above was just released last month, Kowald has been doing stunts to show off his hoverboard for almost a year.
In May of 2021, Kowald created a video in which he used the hoverboard to pick up a delivery order from the roof of a McDonalds in Los Angeles and bring it to a friend.
And in June of 2021, he flew his hoverboard in Times Square, drawing lots of attention from people passing by.
The Times Square stunt caught the attention of the producers working on Spiderman: No Way Home, who drew the same comparison with the Green Goblin as, well, almost anyone seeing Kowald fly on the SkySurfer does.
Impressed by the hoverboard, they initially asked Kowald to fly down the red carpet on the SkySurfer dressed as the Green Goblin for the movie’s launch. Due to logistical hurdles this didn’t come to be, but you can learn about the planning that went into the attempt in this video.
Here’s what Kowald has to say about the experience of flying:
. . . When it comes to the actual flying sensation itself, I like to think that it’s pretty much like snowboarding or surfing. It honestly does feel like you’re standing on the ground once you get up there and you’re comfortable with it. The only thing that took me a while to understand was managing the wind . . . I’m in a 500-pound wind tunnel as this air is flowing around me in every direction possible. So I stick my hand out, that’s going to definitely shift it and cause me to twist around.”
– Hunter Kowald
More Videos of People Flying
Want to see more cool tech that allows people to fly? Here are a few videos showcasing people flying in jet suits.
Testing the use of a jet suit for a mountain rescue:
Testing the use of jet suits for boarding ships at sea:
Both of these were made by Gravity Industries, the makers of the jet suits featured in the videos.