The History of The Hovercraft
The hovercraft was originally invented in England by Sir Christopher Cockerill in the mid 1950s. Cockerill was a fascinating character, born in 1910 near Cambridge, where he studied engineering at university, he had previously worked on the invention of radar for the Marconi Company. He joined Marconi in 1935, not leaving until 1950, when he purchased a small boat building company. Whilst at Marconi, he patented a total of 36 ideas.
His first experiments in hovercraft design involved a hair dryer and coffee tins, which expanded into the development of model hovercraft. At first unable to interest the private sector, he persevered. In 1958, his efforts bore fruit, when the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) funded and placed an order with the Saunders-Roe company for the manufacture of the first, full-size, hovercraft, the SR-N1, (i.e. the Saunders-Roe Nautical One). Saunders-Roe, based at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, was renowned for building flying boats.
The SR-N1 was first unveiled to the public on 11th June 1959, when it was officially launched on the Solent. Measuring 29 feet long and 24 feet across and nicknamed the “man-made flying saucer”, it was capable of carrying four men at a top speed of 28 mph. It made history when, on 25th July 1959, with Sir Christopher Cockerill on-board as one of a three man crew, it crossed from the French port of Calais to Dover in Kent, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Louis Bleriot’s first flight across the English Channel in 1909.
Further research into the design of passenger carrying hovercraft led to the largely experimental SR-N2 and SR-N3 craft, although the SR-N2 did serve as a ferry between the UK mainland and the Isle of Wight.
A landmark in hovercraft history came with the introduction of the SR-N4. The SR-N4, which first began life in 1965, was built by the British Hovercraft Corporation (BHC). BHC came into being in 1966, with the merger of Saunders-Roe with Vickers Supermarine, which, although most famous for the Spitfire fighter plane of World War 2, had a long tradition of building sea planes and flying-boats.
The SR-N4, otherwise known as the Mountbatten Class, first entered scheduled passenger service across the English Channel on 1st August 1968, on the Dover to Boulogne route, completing the journey in approximately 35 minutes. The SR-N4 craft typically carried 254 passengers and 30 cars and were, at the time, the largest passenger hovercraft in service. They were not withdrawn from service until 1st October 2000.
The SR-N4 craft which made the inaugural journey in 1968 was the “Princess Margaret”, which is now on display at the Hovercraft Museum, along with many other historical hovercraft.
The basics of how a hovercraft works
The hovercraft is an air cushion vehicle (ACV) which means that it rides on a cushion of air produced by one or more fans, depending upon the size of the hovercraft. The air is trapped underneath the hull of the hovercraft by a flexible skirt which gradually inflates to form the cushion. Since the air can’t escape, the resulting cushion raises the hovercraft off the ground. Forward thrust is provided by a ducted fan powered by an engine, which is sometimes the same one used to provide the lift. The number of engines and propulsion fans required depends upon the nature and size of the hovercraft. More on the principals of how a hovercraft works.
What makes the hovercraft so special is its’ ability to glide over any flat surface, enabling it to negotiate land, mud, grass, sand, snow, ice, swamps, shallow and deep water and sandbanks safely and at speed. Terrain which would otherwise be considered simply too dangerous to attempt to navigate, such as swamps, fast flowing rivers and frozen lakes, can all be taken in your stride. This makes the hovercraft operationally very versatile and ideally suited for patrol and rescue missions, exploration, survey and resupply work in areas inaccessible by any other means.
Nowadays, anyone with an adventurous spirit can experience the fun of owning their own small personal recreational hovercraft, (without having to try and build one themselves!) and there are even hovercraft clubs in the UK and around the World which cater for enthusiasts.
Small personal recreational hovercraft vary in sophistication and in quality, in terms of the materials and components used and in the standard of build and range from DIY kits to production models, of which there are a number of manufacturers. (Please see the Affiliate Disclosure.)
A particularly well designed, well built and reliable example of a personal hovercraft, which stands out from the crowd, is the Hov-Pod which, whilst being an excellent leisure craft, is capable of performing in a range of roles required by commercial, voluntary and governmental organisations. Capable of carrying up to 4 people, the all-round quality of the machine is self evident.
It looks well built and robust and it lives up to expectation, with a hull uniquely constructed in HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) making it exceptionally strong, whilst being lightweight. This was specifically chosen in preference to fibreglass, commonly used by other manufacturers and which can crack. To discover more about the Hov-Pod and the specific roles it can perform, choose from the following options:
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