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1966: Hovercraft deal opens show

VIDEO : Report on the hovershow

The world's first hovershow has opened with news of a Ministry of Defence order worth 1m.

The Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, opened the exhibition today (Wednesday) at Browndown near Gosport in Hampshire. It is expected to attract up to 4,000 official visitors by closing time on Sunday.

The show is intended to promote export sales of hovercraft. The government order is for two new prototypes, a fast patrol boat capable of 75 knots and a logistics support craft.

Visitors to the Hovershow so far include representatives of overseas shipping lines and ferry operators, but the vast majority are military or naval experts.

Results of British military service trials of hovercraft in the Far East and Canada have been very encouraging. The MoD has confirmed the cross-Channel SRN-6 hovercraft will be used to equip an army unit for service in the Far East in 1968.

Civilian freighter

The SRN-6 model is currently operating on the cross-Channel Ramsgate to Calais route. A bigger craft, the SRN-4, capable of carrying cars, is due to come into service on the Channel in 1968.

Hovercraft manufacturers BHC already have plans to build a 4,000 ton freight-carrying hovercraft, capable of speeds of up to 50 knots.

While it has been designed for use as a fast destroyer or anti-submarine frigate, there is potential to develop a civilian freighter version for other passenger routes.

The SRN-6 - currently the largest craft in operation - cannot compete on price with ferries. But a larger version, would be able to undercut shipping on speed and air freight on cost.

Another innovative project on show at Browndown is the hovertrain, which uses air pads to run on an elevated monorail. The model which has been designed by a team at Imperial College London is capable of top speeds of 300mph (483kph).

In Context

Christopher Cockerell invented the hovercraft in 1956. He was knighted in 1969 and died, aged 88 in 1999.

The cross-Channel hovercraft service ended in October 2000 after 32 years. It became uneconomic because of a combination of high maintenance costs, the abolition of duty free sales and the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

The world's first car-carrying hovercraft made their debut in 1968. The same craft, the Princesses Anne and Margaret, have since ferried 80 million passengers and more than 11 million cars across the Channel.

A hovercraft service still operates from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight.

Perhaps the most lasting legacy of the hover technology is the hover lawn mower, such as the Flymo.

Forty years on from the first hovercraft show, the Hovercraft Museum, based at the former military hovercraft base at Lee-on-the-Solent, is planning to open to the public on 1/2 September with 70 craft on display.

Hovercraft Facts

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