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13 November 2014

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You are in: Hampshire > History > Local History > Hovercraft history

The Hovercraft setting off from Southsea

The Hovercraft setting off from Southsea

Hovercraft history

Hover enthusiasts and pilots are marking the 50th anniversary in style this summer. They are celebrating the great British invention that was designed and built around the shores of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

2009 is the 50th anniversary of the launch in the Solent of the SRN 1 - an experimental Hovercraft, 29 feet long, 24 feet wide and developed by one of Britain's greatest inventors - Sir Christopher Cockerell.

The SRN1

To mark the anniversary, the Hovercraft Museum based in Lee-on-Solent is hosting a Hovershow from 24 - 27 July which promises to be the biggest collection of hovercraft ever gathered in one place.

Craft are coming from around the world including the 1969 400mph French Aerotrain, the Hover scooter from the Sydney Olympics and the Canadian Canair used to take kids to school in the winter when roads and lakes froze up.

Also on show will be some 'workhorse' hovercraft - like the 300 tonne giant SRN4 channel craft which was the world's biggest hover car ferry.

The RNLI and Gosport's Rescue Hovercraft and the National Hover rescue teams will highlight how hovercraft are valuable as emergency vehicles.

The weekend will also provide a chance to learn more about the history of Sir Christopher Cockerell's invention as well as the future generation of hovercraft like the new light personal craft built by HovPod at Southampton. 


The Hovercraft began its life in 1955 when inventor Sir Christopher Cockerell tested out his idea for a floating/flying craft by putting a cat food tin inside a coffee tin.

To test his 'hover' theory the inventor then blew a jet of air through the gap between the two tins to create a cushion of air and the Hovercraft was born.

Hovercraft inventor, Sir Christopher Cockerell

Hovercraft inventor, Sir Christopher Cockerell

After fine-tuning his designs, Sir Christopher Cockerell secured funding to build a Hovercraft.  Saunders Roe, the flying boat firm at Cowes on the Isle of Wight was given the contract.

It took them eight months to build the 20ft craft which first took to the seas on 25th July 1959, crossing the English Channel from Calais to Dover in two hours with Christopher Cockerell onboard.

The Hovercraft was a revolution in sea travel.  In the 1960's the fleet of craft could be seen plying the English Channel and The Solent between Portsmouth and Ryde and Southampton and Cowes.

However the passenger hovercraft were hit by the rise in fuel prices in the 1970s and the Hovertravel service between Southsea and Ryde is now the only passenger Hovercraft service left in Britain.


The Hovercraft Museum at Lee on Solent has conserved around 100 hovercraft built over the past 50 years.

The Museum Trust, based at HMS Daedalus, is home to a collection of around 100 of these incredible craft from the mammoth SRN4 Cross Channel Hovercraft down to some of the first radio controlled models used to prove the hovercraft concept.

Run by a team of volunteers who restore and maintain the craft as well as the largest library of documents, film and photos of hovercraft in the world.

The enormous SRN4 Hovercraft

The enormous SRN4 Hovercraft

The trustees have been collecting craft for 21 years and are hoping to make a permanent museum at Daedalus, Lee On Solent, the site where all the military trials and tests of the hovercraft were made from 1959 to 1981.

Warwick Jacobs, one of the museum's trustees told us about a recent acquisition - a historic two-seater craft found in Devon built by Hover Air in 1969 - they were the first light-production Hovercraft in the world.

The Hovercraft, is thought to be one of a pair that went down the Nile in an expedition in 1969 with Ranulph Fiennes, the world famous explorer as Warwick explains:

"It was one of the first Hovercraft taken down through Africa on the White Nile, down to the Blue Nile.  There were two craft that did it and unfortunately one didn't come back, that's still down there in Lake Victoria and is used for scaring off Hippopotamuses!"

"Not only is it historic for the expedition it's one of the first manufactured craft of its type, the first that anyone could buy off the shelf in its history, so it's like one of the first cars ever built in the world."

Hovershow 2009 24th to 27th July 2009.  Building 40, Daedalus Site, Argus Gate, Chark Lane, Lee-on-the -Solent, Hampshire  PO13 9NY 023 9255 2090

last updated: 09/07/2009 at 16:31
created: 28/03/2008

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