Something in the air
Christopher Cockerell studied electronics in the 1930s and, while working for Marconi, contributed to everything from the development of radar to the BBC’s Alexandra Palace television broadcasts. He achieved fame in an entirely different field, however, upon leaving the electronics industry and buying a boat and caravan company in his native East Anglia. A desire to make his hire boats faster led Cockerell to review earlier work in which drag could be reduced by lifting a boat hull out of the water on a cushion of air.
Carrying out his initial work with two tin cans (legend says one coffee, one cat food) and a hairdryer, Cockerell developed a ‘momentum curtain’ that reduced the volume of airflow needed for lift and momentum. An annular ring-shaped air cushion and a practical skirt followed. On 11 June 1959 the SR.N1 ‘Hovercraft’ first hovered. Six weeks later it successfully crossed the English Channel.