Helicopters may be the coolest form of transport in existence. I’ve often daydreamed about getting behind the wheel (or, erm, stick?) and piloting one myself, but it turns out that this isn't possible without vast amounts of fastidious training. Some killjoy rule-maker has decided that letting over-caffeinated, wide-eyed dummies walk up and play with helicopters is a little too dangerous. Ditto, oddly, for blimps. Why, exactly? How much damage can you possibly do in 25 MPH head-on collision in a balloon?
These disappointments notwithstanding, there are abundant opportunities to walk up, sign a lengthy waiver and then drive off in all manner of unusual and awesome vehicles. A few of the more notable vehicles include:
Wicked large fans or propellers create two streams of air: one for forward propulsion and one that inflates the ‘skirt’ giving the craft about a foot of lift off the ground. This lift allows the hovercraft to safely race over all manner of terrain, including land, ice and water, while looking unspeakably cool in the process. My perfect-crime bank-robbing fantasy involves a freak blizzard, a sexy Estonian martial arts master named Ursula and a super-charged hovercraft. While I can't create that scenario on-demand, several companies provide hovercraft tours, and some let you take the controls. Flying Fish outside Sandwich, England, is one place that does.
I didn’t realize how urgently I needed to drive a tank until I saw this video of Vilnius Mayor Artūras Zuokas crushing an illegally parked Mercedes. Now it’s all I can think about, though I can’t seem to find details on when and where the next Hummer convention is being held. In the meantime, I can live out this fantasy, and tick off several other items on my military to-do list, at Drive a Tank in Kasota, Minnesota.
Trying to commute to work in this thing will almost certainly ruin your laptop, but for strict recreation, the Jetlev R200 is pure joy. After eight years of development, with special attention to safety and easy-of-use, the water driven jetpack finally hit the market in June 2011. Two water thrusters can carry a pilot at speeds up to 22 MPH, at a height of three stories (roughly 10 meters). With a price tag of US$99,500, rental at the Jetlev location in Key West is probably your best bet. A package all-day catamaran trip with a 30-minute jetpack flight is US$249. If you need any more convincing, watch their slick promo video.
What trains lack in speed and flash, they more than make up in size, power and historical novelty. Despite what is arguably the most potentially destructive item on this list, opportunities to get inside a steam or diesel engine abound, including South Devon Railway and the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in California.
Is the global recession still getting you down? Well, look on the bright side: if not for a nose dive in new construction, you’d probably never get the chance to drive an earthmover. Rather than let their equipment sit idle, one Las Vegas company opened Dig This Heavy Equipment Playground, putting everyday people at the controls of bulldozers and excavators in an enormous sandbox near the Strip. After a 10-minute training session, you’ll be moving around giant piles of rock, dirt and massive tires with only the subtlest wiggles of the controls.
Now don’t get too excited. They don’t let normal folk anywhere near the controls of those barges on the Mississippi River that are the length of two soccer pitches. However, you can rent and tool around in smaller, ‘pleasure’ barges, outfitted with bedrooms, kitchens, and the like, on canals and rivers all over Europe. They aren’t particularly difficult to pilot and there are few statelier ways to tour places like France and the Netherlands.
What’s the oddest vehicle you’ve ever driven/piloted?