Jay Leno has some amazing cars in his collection, but most of them are useless when you take them off the road and plop them in water. The same can't be said, however, about the U.S. Navy's $41-million crown jewel of sea-to-shore hovercrafts, which Leno gets the opportunity to test pilot off the coast of Southern California at Camp Pendleton on "Jay Leno's Garage."
The Navy allows him to steer briefly in open water, though he surrenders the controls to more trained personnel when it comes to docking the vehicle.
At 20,000 horsepower shared across four engines, a total weight of 108 tons and a top speed of 80 miles per hour on water, Leno says that the Navy's Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC), is unlike anything he has steered before.
"I've driven monster trucks, firetrucks — even tanks," he says. " But that's child's play compared to trying to pilot this incredible machine."
That is due in part to the fact he only received 20 minutes of training, a fraction of the 196 hours LCAC pilots undergo before taking over the controls of the 87-foot-long hovercraft. Leno does get a first hand account of how the hovercraft is revolutionizing the way infantry and machines make it safely to land.
"It was designed for high-speed, ship-to-shore maneuvering to get Marine Corps equipment ashore as quickly as possible," U.S. Navy Captain Andrew Amidon explains. "It's the latest generation of craft for assaulting a beach."
From the time LCACs began full production for the Navy in 1987, there have been 91 in service, but the hovercrafts share one weakness with some of the older cars in Leno's garage.
An LCAC can run through a full tank, about 3,600 pounds of fuel, in just five hours. But on a short three-mile mission to dock at the landing ship USS Comstock, fuel isn't biggest challenge for Leno. That turns out to be steering, although thankfully he doesn't make any mistakes.
"Maybe I needed 22 minutes of training," he jokes to the crew. "They let me drive it today — I can see why they won't let me drive it again."