World's first hovercraft, 1959.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The first known design for a hovercraft was made by Emmanuel Swedenborg as far back as 1716, but dismised as impractical. Sir John Thornycroft produced models in the 1870s, but as the internal combustion engine had not yet been invented, he lacked a suitable power source. The Westland 'SR-N1' was an experimental craft invented by Sir Christopher Cockerell (1910-1999) an engineer who had acquired a small shipyard on the Norfolk Broads near Lowestoft. He used a curtain of high-presure air ejected downwards from the rim of the craft to 'float' the hull. Cushion, curtain and forward thrust were provided by a single piston engine. Hovercraft have been succesfully utilised as ferries, asault craft, and survey vesels.