25 July 1959: First hovercraft crosses the English Channel

This day in 1959 saw the first hovercraft cross the English Channel. By 1968, regular services were taking passengers and cars across in 35 minutes.

In the 1920s and 1930s, engineers in the US, Finland and the Soviet Union were looking for ways to build faster boats. Much of the energy needed to move a boat is consumed by the friction created in dragging a hull through water, so one idea was to create a design that would allow the vessel to travel inches above the surface on a layer of air, thus reducing the friction.

But while a few prototypes were built, no one could crack the problem of generating a consistent supply of air in a practical way. World War II then ended the research. It wasn't until the 1950s that Sir Christopher Cockerell, an inventor who owned a boat firm, came up with a solution: a ring of high-pressure air trapped within a cushion.

This reduced the power needed to stay above the water, and allowed the craft to deal with waves and to travel on land. After first approaching the armed forces, Cockerell got government funding to develop a civilian version, the SR-N1.

On 11 June 1959, the first successful tests took place. A few weeks later, the SR-N1 crossed the Channel. There was an explosion of interest and several firms developed improved versions. By 1968 regular services were taking passengers and cars from England to France in 35 minutes.

But rising fuel costs in the 1970s meant conventional ferries remained dominant. The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 replaced the hovercraft as the quickest cross-Channel route. In 2000, services on the Channel were wound up.

However, the hovercraft's manoeuvrability and speed mean that it is still used by coastguards in Britain and Europe, as well as by armed forces around the world.

Recommended

The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash
Personal finance

The best offers for switching banks – get up to £200 free cash

Looking to move bank accounts? You can now bag as much as £200 for switching current accounts from two major banks
1 Dec 2022
UK stock market opening times: when will the stock market close for Christmas?
Stockmarkets

UK stock market opening times: when will the stock market close for Christmas?

Here is everything you need to know about UK stock market opening times during the Christmas period of 2022.
1 Dec 2022
December Premium Bond winners: NS&I reveals the jackpot winners
Savings

December Premium Bond winners: NS&I reveals the jackpot winners

NS&I Premium Bond winners announced – how to check if you are winner.
1 Dec 2022
Best regular savings accounts – December 2022
Savings

Best regular savings accounts – December 2022

You can earn an attractive rate on the best regular savings accounts. We tell you the best on the market to take advantage of right now
1 Dec 2022

Most Popular

Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?
Personal finance

Fan heater vs oil heater – which is cheaper?

Sales of portable heaters have soared, as households look to cut their energy costs. But which is better: a fan heater or an oil heater? We put them t…
21 Nov 2022
Best regular savings accounts – December 2022
Savings

Best regular savings accounts – December 2022

You can earn an attractive rate on the best regular savings accounts. We tell you the best on the market to take advantage of right now
1 Dec 2022
Wood-burning stove vs central heating ‒ which is cheapest?
Personal finance

Wood-burning stove vs central heating ‒ which is cheapest?

Demand for wood-burning stoves has surged as households try to reduce their heating costs this winter. But how does a wood burner compare with central…
29 Nov 2022