Technologies rarely die, like old soldiers they just fade away. These days, apart from Hovertravel's cross-Solent service, hovercraft are confined to niche roles in the Military and Search & Rescue services.
The Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-the-Solent recalls the glory days back in the sixties and seventies, when we all believed that this great "British invention" was the way of the future.
SRN4 Princess Anne
This was largely down to the man who claimed to have invented them, Sir Christopher Cockerell, a great self-publicist and advocate of hovercraft. In fact the principles behind ground-effect vehicles had been known since the early eighteenth century, and the first practical examples were built in 1930s.
Cockerell's contribution was the annular ring which delivered a wall of air around the edge of the vehicle trapping a cushion of air underneath it. This increased the hover height to around six inches (15 cm); an improvement, but still not enough to be practical. It was only the addition of a flexible rubber skirt developed by Cecil Latimer-Needham and others, that led to the technology really taking off, so to speak.
For opening times, admission prices, etc. please see the official site, detailed below.
SRN4 Princess Margaret
Sadly SRN1, Saunders Roe's prototype hovercraft, is languishing in the Science Museum's Large Object store at the former RNAY Wroughton just outside Swindon. It is not accessible to the public.
SRN4 Princess Anne
The Hovercraft Museum, however, does have a collection of over 50 craft, including the world's oldest running hovercraft, SRN6 025 built in 1965.
Also on-site, although not owned by the museum, are the last two surviving SRN4 car ferries, the world's largest hovercraft. The government agency that owns them is currently (2016) threatening to scrap them to make way for a housing development. Please sign this petition to help save at least one of these magnificent beasts for the nation.