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History Of The Hovercraft

Updated on January 26, 2015

The Hovercraft - A Great British Invention

The Hovercraft is a unique vehicle, that allows travel over water, flat land and marshland, with the hovercraft floating above the ground on a cushion of air. This is something that no other vehicle can do, and best of all it's a British invention.

This page will help you learn about the history of the Hovercraft, and see pictures and videos of these amazing craft in action.

I am particularly interested in the Hovercraft, not only because it's British and that they are amazing to watch, but the Hovercraft was created close to where I grew up and where I now live, so this unique mode of transport is something that was often in the news when I was growing up and always excited me.

Experiments with vehicles that could hover were undertaken in the early 1900s according to Wikipedia, and in 1915 Dagobert Müller from Austria built the world's first air-cushion vehicle.

It was not until the 1950s however that the first modern hovercraft was designed by Sir Christopher Cockerell, using the movement of air to create the hover effect.

The photograph above is of one of the craft operated by Hovertravel who operate the only active public hovercraft service in the UK, from Southsea to the Isle Of Wight.

Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are Copyright Tony Payne and are not for use without permission.

The SR-N1 Hovercraft completing it's first crossing of the English Channel in 1959
The SR-N1 Hovercraft completing it's first crossing of the English Channel in 1959

The Hovercraft Became Big News In 1959

The first crossing of the English Channel by Hovercraft was in 1959.

Although the concept of a vehicle that floats over land and sea had been thought of before, Sir Christopher Cockerell was the first person to design what we now know as the hovercaft, and in 1958 he contracted the Saunders-Roe company of Cowes, on the Isle of Wight on the south of England to build his prototype hovercraft. Thus the SR.N1 (Saunders-Roe Nautical 1) was born, heralding a new era of transport.

(Photograph from James's Hovercraft Site)

SR-N1 Hovercraft Makes A Historic Crossing

SR-N1 Hovercraft lands at Dover having completed the first crossing of the English Channel by hovercraft in a time of 2 hours
SR-N1 Hovercraft lands at Dover having completed the first crossing of the English Channel by hovercraft in a time of 2 hours

On 25th July 1959, with Christopher Cockerel piloting it, the SR-N1 hovercraft completed the first journey across the English Channel by hovercraft, going from Calais to Dover in a time of 2 hours.

This date was very significant, not only in the history of transport, but also in the history of Dover, as it was 50 years to the day after the first flight across the channel was made by Louis Bleriot, 25th July 1909.

Although the SR-N1 was not a very practical vehicle, it proved that hovercraft technology could and did work, and this quickly led to more advanced designs for passenger carrying hovercraft as well as hovercraft designed for military purposes.

You can learn more about the building of the SR-N1 and it's history at James's Hovercraft Site.

Hovertravel Freedom 90 - This service carries passengers between Southsea and Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

Hovertravel Freedom 90
Hovertravel Freedom 90
Hovercraft Museum Lee On Solent Hampshire
Hovercraft Museum Lee On Solent Hampshire

The Hovercraft Museum at Lee On Solent

It's the only Hovercraft Museum in the world.

If you love hovercraft and are interested in seeing a collection of them, you couldn't find a better place than the Hovercraft Museum which is located in Lee On Solent, Hampshire, on the south coast of England.

The museum was built on the site of the former Royal Navy base HMS Daedelus and is home to over 60 hovercraft, and has annual Open Days when many of the working craft can be seen in action. See their web site for more information on dates and the hovercraft that are in the collection.

Video Guide To The Hovercraft Museum

How A Hovercraft Works - The principle of the hovercraft is really very simple

This is a diagram of how a hovercraft works
This is a diagram of how a hovercraft works

The Propellers (1) are used to propel the hovercraft forward, but also used to drive the fans (3) through which air is sucked (2), forcing the skirt (4) to billow out, and the hovercraft to float above the ground.

Because they hover, Hovercraft are able to cross virtually any flat terrain, including water, sand, swamp and marshland, something that no other vehicle can do.

They can also land practically anywhere, not requiring a port or jetty to be constructed.

SRN4 "Princess Margaret" - Taken at the Hovercraft Museum Lee On Solent.

SRN4 "Princess Margaret"
SRN4 "Princess Margaret"

Hoverspeed operated a fleet of SRN4 hovercraft that took passengers and their cars from Dover in Kent across to Bolougne and Calais in France from 1981 to 2000, when they were replaced by a fleet of fast Sea-Cats.

The service closed in 2005, the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 reducing the demand for ferry traffic across the English Channel.

Three of the six SRN4 hovercraft that were built are now at the Hovercraft Museum in Lee On Solent.

Hoverspeed SRN4 "Sir Christopher" - In service on the Dover to Bolougne route in 1983.

Hoverspeed SRN4 "Sir Christopher" taken in Dover.
Hoverspeed SRN4 "Sir Christopher" taken in Dover.

Travelling on the SRN4 hovercraft was a memorable experience indeed, and one to not be forgotten.

Prior to the Hoverspeed vehicle and passenger hovercraft service, it was often necessary to queue up for hours to begin the long boarding process of a cross channel ferry, which then took an hour and a half to make the crossing from Dover to Calais or Boulogne.

The journey was sometimes rather uncomfortable, if the seas were rough, compounded by the smell of diesel from the trucks that were being carried in the body of the ferry.

Then on arrival in France, the process of unloading and going through customs seemed to take hours.

The hovercraft experience was completely different, and although the largest of the SRN4's could carry 418 passengers and 60 cars, the boarding onto the single deck was completed in a matter of minutes.

The car deck was in the middle of the hovercraft, and on getting out of your car, stewardesses directed you to the side doors, where you entered a seating area along either side of the vehicle, with seats much like those on an aircraft.

When it was time to depart, the four mighty Rolls Royce engines were powered up, the craft lifted what seemed like six feet off the ground, and then slid down the concrete ramp into the water.

The hovercraft maintained a slow speed within Dover harbour, but once outside the engines were throttled up, and the hovercraft with it's load skimmed across the channel, with a sensation that felt similar to what can only be described as driving along a cobbled street at 30 miles per hour.

Once in France, the hovercraft slid up the ramp, the engines cut, the vehicle lowered to the ground, the front was opened, and the cars drove out. Passing through customs was relatively fast, and visitors to France were swiftly able to drive off to their destinations.

The photograph shows my son in Dover just before we boarded our hovercraft for Bologne.

The Last Hovercraft - A documentary video of the last crossing of the English Channel by SRN4 in October 2000

Hovertravel Freedom 90 approaching the Hovercraft Museum at Lee on Solent
Hovertravel Freedom 90 approaching the Hovercraft Museum at Lee on Solent
Hovertravel Freedom 90 crossing the beach at the Hovercraft Museum, Lee On Solent
Hovertravel Freedom 90 crossing the beach at the Hovercraft Museum, Lee On Solent

Hovercraft Toys - For Boys of All Ages (and that includes Dad!)

Open Day At The Hovercraft Museum - The Hovercraft Museum is in Leigh On The Solent in Hampshire, England.

Hovertravel Freedom 90 just arrived at the Hovercraft Museum, Lee On Solent
Hovertravel Freedom 90 just arrived at the Hovercraft Museum, Lee On Solent

Hovertravel "Island Express" approaching the ramp at Southsea

Hovertravel "Island Express" approaching the ramp at Southsea
Hovertravel "Island Express" approaching the ramp at Southsea

Ride The Hovercraft From Southsea To Ryde

Hovertravel operate a daily passenger service to the Isle Of Wight.

Hovertravel operates a daily passenger service from Southsea in Hampshire to Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

From the Hovertravel website:

Hovertravel provides the fastest Isle of Wight ferry service across the Solent and is the world's longest running and only commercial hovercraft operator in Europe. Our passenger ferry service takes you directly to the shore at Southsea or Ryde in just 10 minutes. Easy onward travel connections are available with our Hoverbus to Portsmouth, bus and train connections at Ryde plus large car parks at both terminals.

If you are driving to the Southsea terminus, just set your SatNav/GPS device to the following address:

Southsea, Clarence Esplanade, Southsea, Portsmouth. PO5 3AD.

Hovertravel "Island Express" on the ramp at Southsea

Hovertravel "Island Express" on the ramp at Southsea
Hovertravel "Island Express" on the ramp at Southsea

U.S. Navy Hovercraft

U.S Navy LCAC Leaving Assault Ship - LCAC stands for Landing Craft Air Cushion

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    • TonyPayne profile image
      Author

      Tony Payne 3 years ago from Southampton, UK

      At least my ride was fairly comfortable, albeit similar to driving over cobbles at 35mph, but I can imagine in a rough sea the craft would take off and then wallow as the air under the skirt was lost. I struggle on a ferry, so for me it might well have been hell.

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 3 years ago from Kent, UK

      "The journey was sometimes rather uncomfortable"!!! It was a nightmare, I tell you, a nightmare! I can still remember jolting across the Channel when it was rough. And they had the cheek to call it a "flight".

    • jmchaconne profile image

      jmchaconne 3 years ago

      This is an unusual and very interesting lens topic. I especially enjoyed the great images. I was an army officer and aviator, and commercial helicopter pilot. I've always wanted to get my hands on the controls of a hovercraft, but never succeeded. Thanks for a great lens.

    • TonyPayne profile image
      Author

      Tony Payne 4 years ago from Southampton, UK

      @CrossCreations: The internet has made a huge difference to the information we have available hasn't it.

    • CrossCreations profile image

      Carolan Ross 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      WOW! Very very cool hovercraft info, Tony. Once long ago my sons wanted to build one for a science fair project, but we never got it off the ground. This info might have made a difference.

    • jamesgreenseo lm profile image

      jamesgreenseo lm 4 years ago

      Love it!

    • profile image

      ConvenientCalendar 4 years ago

      That is some history!

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 4 years ago from Australia

      I remember hovercrafting on Sydney Harbour a very long time ago. Wonderful to read your passionate history on hovercrafts.

    • BowWowBear profile image

      BowWowBear 4 years ago

      Great mode of transport! Didn't even think of this for my quest search. Wish I had! Thanks for sharing all the videos and resources!

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 4 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      Congrats on the feature!! :D

    • Jo-Jackson profile image

      Jo-Jackson 4 years ago

      Loved this page. I remember going on a hovercraft to the Isle of Wight as a child.

    • madoc profile image

      madoc 4 years ago

      It is good to revisit your lens and discover even more information about hovercraft. We have had a way too long ice fishing season here in Wisconsin. First warm day, DNR was issuing warnings against dangers of boating. I'm sure there is a market for hover-crafting here as a safer all-season vehicle.. There are people who own both snowmobiles AND Squidoos. They could save money by using one vehicle. But they'd have to be towable...

    • FloridaDino profile image

      FloridaDino 4 years ago

      hovercrafts are pretty cool, nice background lens...I agree with geosum, we need individual sized hovercrafts!

    • geosum profile image

      geosum 4 years ago

      Great history lesson. Would like to try a personal-sized one.

    • TonyPayne profile image
      Author

      Tony Payne 4 years ago from Southampton, UK

      @DataRet: But it was in England that the first successful tests were performed (I do believe) that led to the production of the hovercraft as a mode of transport.

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 4 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I've never been on a hovercraft, but always thought it was an interesting concept and would be a fun thing to do. I enjoyed learning more about their history.

    • blessedmomto7 profile image

      blessedmomto7 4 years ago

      The Hovercraft is pretty cool! I found your lens on the HQ Getting Around Squidoo Style list!

    • Wilfcat profile image

      Wilf Catt 4 years ago from Leicester, England

      Very interesting page. I wasn't aware that there is a Hovercraft Museum in the country. As a child I was taken on the Pegwell Bay - Calais crossing. I shall try to visit as I also want to see Hythe pier railway.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      Thanks. I'd like to have the pleasure of riding on a hovercraft.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Very interesting.

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 4 years ago from Concord VA

      Very interesting info. I'd like to ride a hovercraft. :)

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 4 years ago from Arkansas USA

      What a great page! Hovercrafts are fascinating. I love the picture of your son!

    • Expat Mamasita profile image

      Expat Mamasita 4 years ago from Slovakia

      I have happy memories travelling to France via hovercraft in the 70's.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Interesting, I wouldnt mind a small one to run up and down our local river.

    • profile image

      cmadden 4 years ago

      Now I want a ride on one!

    • GregoryMoore profile image

      Gregory Moore 4 years ago from Louisville, KY

      These are so cool. Well done.

    • DataRet profile image

      DataRet 5 years ago

      Hovercraft is a Russian invention. The first test of the boat called L-1, constructed by Vladimir Levkov were held in 1934

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 5 years ago

      While I have never had the pleasure of riding in one I can see the enormous fun it must be. Fabulous lens and great invention. The Brits have given the world some wonderful stuff. Blessed by Skiesgreen 2012-2. Hugs

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 5 years ago from Templeton, CA

      In 1989 a friend of my husband's took our family members for a ride on a small Hovercraft on Lake Washington. I didn't realize they could be big enough to ferry 60 cars. Amazing. What I do know about them is that they make a lot of noise.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Just dropping back by to see what a double purple star looked like. lol

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 5 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      What an informative page about hovercraft history! Great images and a super collection of hovercraft resources, too.

    • jeremybritain profile image

      jeremybritain 5 years ago

      Great lens - I very much enjoyed reading this. I only went on a hovercraft once - Calais to Dover - what a blast! Ha - couldn't resist...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      SWEET lens! I love learning about new things, especially when the information is laid-out so well. Your lenses are fluid and very easy to navigate through, which definitely keeps my attention. Great job! ( ... And thanks for your recent visit and blessing -- very grateful!)

    • Hypersapien2 profile image

      Hypersapien2 5 years ago from U.S.

      This is a great and very informative lens! I enjoyed it very much!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Really well written page, fascinating information. I think hovercraft are wonderful.

    • cardiffcroupier profile image

      cardiffcroupier 5 years ago

      Living in Gosport and Portsmouth almost all my life I love watching the Hovertravel craft down at Clarence Pier. You can actually get a great view from the beach itself and they like to get up close and personal.

      I think that the Hovertravel service is now actually the only commercial hovercraft service in Europe now, not just the UK. Don't quote me though as I can not find the source at the moment.

      My first lens is all about visiting Portsmouth, it was something I have yet to include.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      How majestic the hovercraft here look. I am used to seeing the small hovercraft like Jay Paul uses in Swamp People. The hover craft you depict are like cargo carriers. Wow. I love all your images. Amazing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      cover all about Hovercraft. images, videos are nice.

    • madoc profile image

      madoc 5 years ago

      ...just gliding laong, singing a song...

      I used ot build hoversleds out of balsa wood when I was a kid. Now I'm thinking of a kit hovercraft. If they'll let me use it in Wisconsin...

    • Write4U LM profile image

      Write4U LM 5 years ago

      I did not know that this great vehicle was a British invention. Thanks for this great information. Giving you a SquidLike.

    • Aquavel profile image

      Aquavel 5 years ago

      This is quite amazing - the info, images, and vids! Looks like the Hovercraft was the Hollywood model for the movies involving exploration on other planets! I find the pictures of the Hovercraft on the sand fascinating!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I did not realize that the Hovercraft had been around for so long. I enjoyed reading this history of the Hovercraft and sure appreciate your sprinkling your magic angel dust my way this morning.

    • JanezKranjski profile image

      JanezKranjski 5 years ago

      That russian hovercraft is just massive. I would really like to take a ride on that one.

    • profile image

      fullofshoes 5 years ago

      I got a huge kick out of this lens. It's great. I have always wanted to have a ride in a hovercraft!!

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I've always been fascinated by the hovercraft. I've traveled just once, many years ago via a service from Bombay to Goa. I believe the service was discontinued and I'm not sure what the reason was. You've created a very informative resource here on the history of the hovercraft. Blessings!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 5 years ago

      An awesome vehicle, especially here on the beach.

    • Anthony Altorenna profile image

      Anthony Altorenna 5 years ago from Connecticut

      I've never seen a hovercraft, except for photos and television shows. This is a super lens, filled with detailed information on the evolution of the hovercraft from concept to a highly efficient mode of transportation. Exceptionally well done!

    • rewards4life info profile image

      rewards4life info 5 years ago

      I remember travelling on the SRN4 hovercraft when I was a child and like you say it really was a memorable experience. The excitement of driving in to this super modern machine was everything a little boy dreamt of, and yes it did cut down the rather laborious task of crossing on the ferry. Loved the pictures and the diagram of how a hovercraft works was a nice touch, not quite sure why the Russians need such a big hovercraft though. Fantastic lens another fine job, be rude to leave without a deserved blessing.

    • traveller27 profile image

      traveller27 5 years ago

      Super lens Tony - blessed by a travelling angel.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      What an outstanding article on hovercraft history Poddys. I am surprised that I had not stumbled onto this informative historic article earlier. Love your images of hovercraft they are absolutely super.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I travelled from Devon to Belgium on the Hovercraft about 40 years ago, boy, you are really bringing back memories from my childhood. :) Great lens.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I love Hovercraft. They are faster so it takes us less now to go from island to island.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      Very nice job of covering the history of the hovercraft. ~Blessings to you

    • profile image

      Helene-Malmsio 6 years ago

      I've always been fascinated by the hovercraft - great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Totally cool, tons of interesting information Tony. Rick has always loved these and wanted one, me, I think I will just catch a ride with WordPresss LOL

      ~ Blessed by a Squidoo Angel ~

    • Harshitha LM profile image

      Harshitha LM 6 years ago

      Very interesting. I would love to catch a ride on one.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 6 years ago

      Tony, pretty awesome vehicle and even more awesome lens.

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

      Wonderful hovercraft resource. Blessed by a passing Travel Angel (who now wants to go on a hovercraft!)

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 6 years ago

      What an excellent lens. Squid Angel Blessings to you

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 6 years ago

      Nicely done & great tribute to retired vessels. ***Angel blessed*** during the Squid Angels (not so laborious) Labor Day Bus Trip 2011 quest :)

    • Lenskeeper profile image

      Lenskeeper 6 years ago

      I think Hovercrafts are really cool. Thanks for sharing your lens.

    • squidoopets profile image

      Darcie French 6 years ago from Abbotsford, BC

      When I was going through an intense spiritual experience, I remember trying to drive the car felt like what a hovercraft might feel like to drive - not really connected. My husband drove for a few months until I adjusted :)

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 6 years ago

      Found this topic of Hovercraft very interesting. I always enjoy your writing.

      I road hovercraft only once, in 1990, on my first trip to Europe and UK. It was such a rainy-foggy day that I really could not see much - then suddenly this astounding craft zoomed up to the beach. I was thrilled.

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 6 years ago

      Although I love the Hovercraft, I remember actually being on one was as you say uncomfortable when the sea was rough, I don't think you could move around much. I think when the Channel Tunnel opened they lost the premium customers prepared to pay more for a faster crossing. (caught up with you on level 68 for a while at least)

    • profile image

      JHFSEO 6 years ago

      This lens rocks and so do you! Awesome hovercraft footage. l love the shot of the transport hovercraft next to the personal units. Personal hovercrafting is a blast. Congrats on the Purple Star, too!

    • justholidays profile image

      justholidays 6 years ago

      Hovercraft, jetfoil and catamarans are the good memories I cherish from my travels to England. Not that I've ever been in the Hovercraft - it was only available for French-British traffic, I think but like the two other boats, it was entire part of the folklore as travelling to England was indeed a huge step upon the Channel.

      Then they disappeared.

      I'd rather see the Channel tunnel close for good and all those boats on the sea once again. They weren't just fun for travellers, they were also part of the landscape when on holidays on the Coast.

      They were also educational items for the kids as, they looked at them from the beaches and asked what were those boats, then you could let them know the difference between all of them, their speed, their strengths, their weaknesses... And both kids and adults could dream.

      Now, there's almost nothing left for our pleasure, just wind turbines and oil tankers :(

      Excellent lens, blessed by a nostalgic passing angel who's about to come to England for the first time in 10 years :)

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 6 years ago

      Congratulations on your purple star!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is soooo cool, I have been on a virtual hovercraft ride with you and now am ready for the real thing! Wonderfully done with a wealth of information and your personal observations add to the fun. Congratulations on that well earned Purple Star shining here so beautifully!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 6 years ago from Vermont

      Hovercraft are so cool. I wish I'd had a chance to have a ride on one.

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 6 years ago from East Central Florida

      We got to ride a hovercraft on our one and ony trip to England and Europe. It was a great trip across, though it was very gray, rainy and overcast, so the pics I took didn't turn out.

      BIG congratulations on your Purple Star, Tony!

    • nebby profile image

      nebby 6 years ago from USA

      I always thought that hovercrafts were so cool. I haven't had the chance to ride one but would love to.and if I had a lot of money I'd love to own a personal hovercraft - now that would be fun. Congrats on your shiny purple star

    • profile image

      SandyPeaks 6 years ago

      Remember seeing one being tested on a Portsmouth beach in 1963 - finally got to travel in one around 30 years later!

    • pkmcruk profile image

      pkmcr 6 years ago from Cheshire UK

      Fascinating lens and well deserved Purple Star. It is certainly a unique way to travel and one which I recall needs a very strong stomach :-)

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 6 years ago

      A hovercraft would sure make the trip to Catalina Island more pleasant. Congratulations on your purple star!

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 6 years ago

      These are so cool. I would love to catch a ride on one. Congratulations on your PS, you deserve it!

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 6 years ago from England

      I remember my grandparents taking me down to Lee On Solent to see the hovercrafts on a wet, windy, afternoon. Nice lens... blessed by a Squid Angel ;)

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 6 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      I wouldn't mind a ride! Very good lens, Poddys. Interesting to see how the hovercraft work.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Cracking hovercraft lens

    • profile image

      Clipart 6 years ago

      Very cool. Hubby wants one of those toys!

    • funwithtrains lm profile image

      funwithtrains lm 6 years ago

      Very cool lens, Tony! Hope all is great with you! Best, Rob