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Thursday, June 3, 1999 Published at 09:40 GMT 10:40 UK


Hovercraft 'genius' dies

The first hovercraft was launched in 1959

The inventor of the hovercraft, Sir Christopher Cockerell, has died on the 40th anniversary of its launch.

The BBC's Ian Ferguson: "He is described as a gentleman and a genius"
He died peacefully in his sleep early on Tuesday at a Southampton nursing home, said close friend Warwick Jacobs.

Sir Christopher was president of the Hovercraft Society. He was 88 and due to celebrate his 89th birthday on Friday.

Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the clockwork radio, said that Sir Christopher was "one of our greatest pioneers".

"I don't think that he got the recognition that was his due. Some 600 million people have travelled by hovercraft - that is an amazing number of people to benefit from an invention," he told The Daily Telegraph.

'Tremendous energy'

[ image: Sir Christopher Cockerell also helped invent radar]
Sir Christopher Cockerell also helped invent radar
A prolific inventor, Sir Christopher had 90 patents registered to his name and was still inventing up to five years ago.

Mr Jacobs, a member of the Hovercraft Society, said he was "a gentleman and a genius".

"Everyone will remember Sir Christopher not only for his modesty, but for his intelligence and his inquisitiveness.

"If he had a problem he would work away until he had solved it. He approached every problem with tremendous energy.

"From his workshop window he could watch the current generation of hovercraft being built and doing their trials."

Engineering degree

Sir Christopher Cockerell: "Hovercraft have glamour"
Sir Christopher was the son of Sir Sydney Cockerell, the curator of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge, and the acclaimed manuscript illuminator Florence Kingsford.

He went to Gresham's School and read engineering at Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

He was employed by electronics giant Marconi for 15 years after graduating, and was on the team that developed radar.

Before World War II he worked on the aerial for the first television station at Alexandra Palace in north London and the drive unit for the first BBC mobile transmitter.

In 1950 he and his wife bought a small boat-building business on the Norfolk Broads, where he began to formulate his ideas for the hovercraft.

Sir Christopher won the government over to his creation with a demonstration in a basement room at Whitehall, where the gathered experts were forced to dodge a small craft buzzing around inches above the floor.

The invention was considered initially only for military use, only being released for civilian use in 1959. The first prototype crossed the English Channel that year.

Sir Christopher was knighted in 1969.

His wife Margaret died three years ago and is survived by two daughters. A private family funeral is to take place in the Southampton area on Friday.

International event

Meanwhile thousands of people have been in Gosport, Hampshire, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first launch of a hovercraft.

The SR.N1 made its first trip at Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1959.

The hovercraft is now used in a variety of roles, from military transportation to ferrying cars and passengers across the Channel.

The anniversary celebrations have attracted hovercraft and their owners from several countries, including Switzerland and France.

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