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Page last updated at 15:18 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 16:18 UK
History of the hovercraft

Southsea's hovercraft
Southsea's hovercraft is the world's last remaining passenger service

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.

After fine-tuning his designs, Sir Christopher Cockerell secured funding to build a hovercraft. Saunders Roe, the flying boat firm in 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 water on 25 July 1959, crossing the English Channel from Calais to Dover in two hours with Christopher Cockerell onboard.

Sir Christopher Cockerell's 'hover' theory

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.

Memories of early hovercraft pilots

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 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.

A recent acquisition by the museum is an historic two-seater craft found in Devon built by Hover Air in 1969 - they were the first light-production hovercraft in the world.

Hovercraft Princess Margaret
Hovercraft Princess Margaret made its last trip to Calais in 2000

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 Jacobs, one of the museum's trustees 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."

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