by Rowan

The First Hovercraft

Hovercraft are the vehicles of the future. One day we will fly through the air on a cushion of air.

Christopher Cockerel thought of using a load of stuff you might find about the house to make a hovercraft. Cockerel took a set of scales and a long rod and arranged them so the rod was vertical. He then affixed a vacuum cleaner to the rod so it pointed down. Next he made a hole in a can and affixed a can that was smaller than the first in such a way it allowed air in-between the two cans. Cockerel made the vacuum cleaner blow instead of suck, blowing air through the gap in the two cans, and it worked. The scale went down as far as it could!

The principle of the hovercraft is to reduce friction between the ship and the surface it is on.

That marked the beginning of a new era of transportation.

Left: A picture of Cockerelís initial experiment

How they work

A hovercraft works by several methods, one way is by sucking air through the sides of the hovercraft and jetting it out the back. Hovercraft normally will use giant fans that are placed in front of fins. The way a hovercraft hovers is by trapping air underneath the vehicle in a cavity and adding more air with fans creating an air cushion. A hovercraft sits on this cushion and is held up by it. The hovercraft principle is that air creates less friction than does a ship and therefore a hovercraft is able to move about without ever touching the ground most of the time.

Top left: Craft has propellers that turn on their axis. Top right: Craft has props that can turn by themselves. Middle: Craft has a single prop that blows behind with a rudder to turn the airflow. Bottom: Craft has a system that sucks air in through the sides and jets air out the back.

Uses for hovercraft

A hovercraft can be considered an all terrain vehicle; it is able to glide over small obstructions and it can speed easily over water or ground. Here are some examples of its abilities: it can transport large numbers of people and cargo over shallow or deep water; it can be used by the coastguard as a rescue vehicle; by the military as a assault craft or a patrol craft; and it is often used in races. A hovercraft is not without its disadvantages. For instance, a hovercraft is not only unable to go up steep inclines like a hill or mountain but it also has great difficulty in desert conditions like a sandstorm although it can move on desert terrain with ease. The hovercraft is almost totally unable to travel on a regular street due its size. In many ways the hovercraft is the vehicle of the future.

The Future of Hovercraft

The future of hovercraft seems uncertain, but there is a good chance there will be huge hover ports all over the world, like the one in the picture. Thinner hovercraft might be built so civilians can drive safely on roads. It also seems likely that the larger hover vehicles will become larger than ever! Hovercraft are likely to be capable of high flight.

Illustrations by Rowan. Color photo from The Hovercraft History & Hovercaft Museum Website.
Black and white photo from Flying Ships, Hovercraft and Hydrofoils by Cagle, © 1970