Hovercraft heaven


There was a once time of excitement and wonder, when man went to the Moon, business people drank champagne whilst breaking the sound barrier over the Atlantic, and a vast behemoth of a hairdryer powered people between Dover and Calais at breakneck speeds. John Hillman remembers the beauty of Hovercraft.

In 1968 the first commercial hovercraft began operating services from Dover to Calais, with the promise of that passengers could cross the English Channel at superfast speeds in “airline style comfort”; well it was the bright age of Concorde, long before the dark days of budget air travel I suppose.

Hovercraft was an iconic symbol of a new age, when man flew to the moon and we all thought we’d be living on Mars, sustained by food pills and zero gravity by now.

Designed and built by Sir Christopher Cockerell, an engineer and designer who worked on radar systems during World War II the Hovercraft was a symbol of British engineering excellence and innovation.

The Dover to Calais craft made the crossing from Dover to Calais so fast that pilots had to slow down in order to give the cabin crew time to serve drinks to all the passengers, for 30 years these vessels raced across the Channel at 65 knots, carrying 416 passengers, 60 vehicles at a combined weight of 90 tonnes.

Sir Christopher invented the hovercraft after he left his engineering career at Marconi to run a boat-hire service on the Norfolk Broads, after much experimentation his first hovercraft took off across the broads in 1955 weighing 27.6 grams and just 2 ft 6 inches long. He had a futuristic vision of nuclear powered hovercrafts speeding vast numbers of people between Europe and America, but sadly it was never to be.

The Hovercraft at Dover was finally wound up in 2000 after the abolition of duty free and soaring fuel costs made the business unviable. It could survive three metre waves, the winter of discontent, stiff competition from P&O Ferries and even the opening of the Channel Tunnel, but it could not survive those meddling bureaucrats in Brussels.

Today the old Hoverport at Dover remains closed, testament to a bygone era when people looked to the future with hope and excitement, it was a great P&O rival and one the people of Dover still miss to this day.


Image Credit: tz1-1zt

One Response to “Hovercraft heaven”

  1. Dear air cushion enthusiast,

    As you might already know, 2009 will represent an important year for all air cushion interrested as we can celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1st channel crossing of an air cushion vehicle (the SRN1),

    • Visit of the Hovercraft-Museum at Gosport in England, to visit the annual HoverShow : http://www.hovercraft-museum.org .


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