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travelling on a cushion of air East Anglia,

Photograph of a hovercraft painted black and silver, with ‘Westland SR-N1’ displayed on its side.
The world’s first hovercraft, the Westland SR-N1, 1959. Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

In the 19th century it was recognised that ships wasted a great deal of energy on the friction between the hull and the water. Experiments were conducted on reducing this friction by creating a stream of air bubbles on which the hull could rest - all with little success.

In the 1950s Christopher Cockerell (1910-99) left his job as a research engineer at the Marconi Company and acquired a shipyard on the Norfolk Broads near Lowestoft, where he returned to the problem of friction between water and hull. Cockerell improved on the earlier work, creating a craft that rested on a stable cushion of air.

In 1956 the research branch of the Ministry of Supply took an interest in the project. This support enabled a prototype of the hovercraft called SR-N1 to be completed in 1959, and in July of that year it successfully crossed the English Channel. Hovercraft have been successfully used as ferries, assault craft and survey vessels.

Science Museum

East Anglia
Lowestoft, Norfolkshire
Key Individuals
Christopher Cockerell,