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Hovercraft facts for kids

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Hovercraft Hiivari
A small hovercraft Hivus-10 (9 passengers) in Finland.

A hovercraft is a vehicle that is supported and moved by a cushion of air blowing downwards. They are used on water and land where the surface is smooth. They are often used as ferries and by militaries for amphibious, or on water and on land (like an amphibian can live in water and land) missions. A hovercraft can move cargo, people, and cars.

Hivus-48 hovercraft opposite the Nizhniy Novgorod Kremlin
A48 passenger hovercraft in front of Nizhny Novgorod Kremlin
СВП Хивус-10 на Таймыре
Hivus-10 hovercraft on Taimyr peninsula in April 2013

The English engineer Sir Christopher Cockerell invented the modern hovercraft.


Hovercraft can be powered by one or more engines. Small craft, such as the SR.N6, usually have one engine with the drive split through a gearbox. On vehicles with several engines, one usually drives the fan (or impeller), which is responsible for lifting the vehicle by forcing high pressure air under the craft. The air inflates the "skirt" under the vehicle, causing it to rise above the surface. Additional engines provide thrust in order to propel the craft. Some hovercraft use ducting to allow one engine to perform both tasks by directing some of the air to the skirt, the rest of the air passing out of the back to push the craft forward.



The British aircraft and marine engineering company Saunders-Roe built the first practical human-carrying hovercraft for the National Research Development Corporation, the SR.N1, which carried out several test programmes in 1959 to 1961 (the first public demonstration was in 1959), including a cross-channel test run in July 1959, piloted by Peter "Sheepy" Lamb, an ex-naval test pilot and the chief test pilot at Saunders Roe. Christopher Cockerell was on board, and the flight took place on the 50th anniversary of Louis Blériot's first aerial crossing.

The SR.N1 was powered by a single piston engine, driven by expelled air. Demonstrated at the Farnborough Airshow in 1960, it was shown that this simple craft could carry a load of up to 12 marines with their equipment as well as the pilot and co-pilot with only a slight reduction in hover height proportional to the load carried. The SR.N1 did not have any skirt, using instead the peripheral air principle that Christopher had patented. It was later found that the craft's hover height was improved by the addition of a skirt of flexible fabric or rubber around the hovering surface to contain the air. The skirt was an independent invention made by a Royal Navy officer, C.H. Latimer-Needham, who sold his idea to Westland (by then the parent of Saunders-Roe's helicopter and hovercraft interests), and who worked with Christopher to develop the idea further.

The first passenger-carrying hovercraft to enter service was the Vickers VA-3, which, in the summer of 1962, carried passengers regularly along the north Wales coast from Moreton, Merseyside, to Rhyl. It was powered by two turboprop aero-engines and driven by propellers.

RNLI Hovercraft H-001 2005-07-16
In Britain, the RNLI operate a small fleet of hovercraft lifeboats
Hovercraft leaving Ryde
The Hovertravel service uses Griffon Hoverwork BHT130 between the Isle of Wight and mainland England, as of 2018, is the only public hovercraft service in the United Kingdom

During the 1960s, Saunders-Roe developed several larger designs that could carry passengers, including the SR.N2, which operated across the Solent, in 1962, and later the SR.N6, which operated across the Solent from Southsea to Ryde on the Isle of Wight for many years. In 1963 the, SR.N2 was used in experimental service between Weston-super-Mare and Penarth under the aegis of P & A Campbell, the paddle steamer operators.

Operations by Hovertravel commenced on 24 July 1965, using the SR.N6, which carried 38 passengers. Two 98 seat AP1-88 hovercraft were introduced on this route in 1983, and in 2007, these were joined by the first 130-seat BHT130 craft. The AP1-88 and the BHT130 were notable as they were largely built by Hoverwork using shipbuilding techniques and materials (i.e. welded aluminium structure and diesel engines) rather than the aircraft techniques used to build the earlier craft built by Saunders-Roe-British Hovercraft Corporation. Over 20 million passengers had used the service as of 2004 – the service is still operating (as of 2018) and is by far the longest, continuously operated hovercraft service.

In 1966, two cross-channel passenger hovercraft services were inaugurated using SR.N6 hovercraft. Hoverlloyd ran services from Ramsgate Harbour, England, to Calais, France, and Townsend Ferries also started a service to Calais from Dover, which was soon superseded by that of Seaspeed.

As well as Saunders-Roe and Vickers (which combined in 1966 to form the British Hovercraft Corporation (BHC)), other commercial craft were developed during the 1960s in the UK by Cushioncraft (part of the Britten-Norman Group) and Hovermarine based at Woolston (the latter being sidewall hovercraft, where the sides of the hull projected down into the water to trap the cushion of air with normal hovercraft skirts at the bow and stern). One of these models, the HM-2, was used by Red Funnel between Southampton (near the Woolston Floating Bridge) and Cowes.

Hoverlloyd hovercraft on an English Channel beach, 1973
The Hoverlloyd SR.N4 craft Swift GH-2004 on the pad at Pegwell Bay Hoverport, 1973

The world's first car-carrying hovercraft was made in 1968, the BHC Mountbatten class (SR.N4) models, each powered by four Bristol Proteus turboshaft engines. These were both used by rival operators Hoverlloyd and Seaspeed (joined to form Hoverspeed in 1981) to operate regular car and passenger carrying services across the English Channel. Hoverlloyd operated from Ramsgate, where a special hoverport had been built at Pegwell Bay, to Calais. Seaspeed operated from Dover, England, to Calais and Boulogne in France. The first SR.N4 had a capacity of 254 passengers and 30 cars, and a top speed of 83 kn (154 km/h). The channel crossing took around 30 minutes and was run like an airline with flight numbers. The later SR.N4 Mk.III had a capacity of 418 passengers and 60 cars. These were later joined by the French-built SEDAM N500 Naviplane with a capacity of 385 passengers and 45 cars; only one entered service and was used intermittently for a few years on the cross-channel service until returned to SNCF in 1983. The service ceased on 1 October 2000 after 32 years, due to competition with traditional ferries, catamaran, the disappearance of duty-free shopping within the EU, the advancing age of the SR.N4 hovercraft and the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

The commercial success of hovercraft suffered from rapid rises in fuel prices during the late 1960s and 1970s, following conflict in the Middle East. Alternative over-water vehicles, such as wave-piercing catamarans (marketed as the SeaCat in the UK until 2005), use less fuel and can perform most of the hovercraft's marine tasks. Although developed elsewhere in the world for both civil and military purposes, except for the Solent Ryde to Southsea crossing, hovercraft disappeared from the coastline of Britain until a range of Griffon Hovercraft were bought by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Hovercraft feuerwehr steinberg 09012009
A volunteer fire department in Bavaria using a hovercraft to practise a rescue

Hovercraft used to ply between the Gateway of India in Mumbai and CBD Belapur and Vashi in Navi Mumbai between 1994 and 1999, but the services were subsequently stopped due to the lack of sufficient water transport infrastructure.

Civilian non-commercial

In Finland, small hovercraft are widely used in maritime rescue and during the rasputitsa ("mud season") as archipelago liaison vehicles. In England, hovercraft of the Burnham-on-Sea Area Rescue Boat (BARB) are used to rescue people from thick mud in Bridgwater Bay. Avon Fire and Rescue Service became the first Local Authority fire service in the UK to operate a hovercraft. It is used to rescue people from thick mud in the Weston-super-Mare area and during times of inland flooding. A Griffon rescue Hovercraft has been in use for a number of years with the Airport Fire Service at Dundee Airport in Scotland. It is used in the event of an aircraft ditching in the Tay estuary. Numerous fire departments around the U.S./Canadian Great Lakes operate hovercraft for water and ice rescues, often of ice fisherman stranded when ice breaks off from shore. The Canadian Coast Guard uses hovercraft to break light ice.

Caiman hovercraft
Civilian Caiman-10 hovercraft for fishing and hunting

In October 2008, The Red Cross commenced a flood-rescue service hovercraft based in Inverness, Scotland. Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service received two flood-rescue hovercraft donated by Severn Trent Water following the 2007 UK floods.

Since 2006, hovercraft have been used in aid in Madagascar by HoverAid, an international NGO who use the hovercraft to reach the most remote places on the island.

The Scandinavian airline SAS used to charter an AP1-88 hovercraft for regular passengers between Copenhagen Airport, Denmark, and the SAS Hovercraft Terminal in Malmö, Sweden.

In 1998, the US Postal Service began using the British built Hoverwork AP1-88 to haul mail, freight, and passengers from Bethel, Alaska, to and from eight small villages along the Kuskokwim River. Bethel is far removed from the Alaska road system, thus making the hovercraft an attractive alternative to the air based delivery methods used prior to introduction of the hovercraft service. Hovercraft service is suspended for several weeks each year while the river is beginning to freeze to minimize damage to the river ice surface. The hovercraft is able to operate during the freeze-up period; however, this could potentially break the ice and create hazards for villagers using their snowmobiles along the river during the early winter.

СВП Хивус-10 на Таймыре
Hivus-10 hovercraft on Taimyr peninsula in April 2013

In 2006, Kvichak Marine Industries of Seattle USA built, under license, a cargo/passenger version of the Hoverwork BHT130. Designated 'Suna-X', it is used as a high speed ferry for up to 47 passengers and 47,500 pounds of freight serving the remote Alaskan villages of King Cove and Cold Bay.

An experimental service was operated in Scotland across the Firth of Forth (between Kirkcaldy and Portobello, Edinburgh), from 16 to 28 July 2007. Marketed as Forthfast, the service used a craft chartered from Hovertravel and achieved an 85% passenger load factor. As of 2009, the possibility of establishing a permanent service is still under consideration.

Since the channel routes abandoned hovercraft, and pending any reintroduction on the Scottish route, the United Kingdom's only public hovercraft service is that operated by Hovertravel between Southsea (Portsmouth) and Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

From the 1960s, several commercial lines were operated in Japan, without much success. In Japan the last commercial line had linked Ōita Airport and central Ōita but was shut down in October 2009.

LCAC 19970620
A U.S. Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion, an example of a military hovercraft
Zapad-2009 military exercises
A Russian navy Landing Craft Zubr class, an example of a large armed military hovercraft

Hovercraft are still manufactured in the UK, near to where they were first conceived and tested, and the Isle of Wight. They can also be chartered for a wide variety of uses including inspections of shallow bed offshore wind farms and VIP or passenger use. A typical vessel would be a Tiger IV or a Griffon. They are light, fast, road transportable and very adaptable with the unique feature of minimising damage to environments.


First applications of the hovercraft in military use was with the SR.N1 through SR.N6 craft built by Saunders-Roe in the Isle of Wight in the UK and used by the UK joint forces. To test the use of the hovercraft in military applications the UK set up the Interservice Hovercraft Trials Unit (IHTU) base at Lee-on-the-Solent (now the site of the Hovercraft Museum). This unit carried out trials on the SR.N1 from Mk1 through Mk5 as well as testing the SR.N2, SR.N3, SR.N5 and SR.N6 craft. Currently, the Royal Marines use the Griffonhoverwork 2400TD hovercraft, the replacement for the Griffon 2000 TDX Class ACV as a tactical craft. The 2000 was deployed by the UK in Iraq.

The hovercraft's inventor, Sir Christopher Cockerell, claimed late in his life that the Falklands War could have been won far more easily had the British military shown more interest in hovercraft.

South Vietnam....A U.S. Navy patrol air cushion vehicle (PACV) glides over the waters of Cau Hai Bay near Hue. - NARA - 558515
A U.S. patrol air cushion vehicle (PACV) in Cau Hai Bay near Hue South Vietnam 1968.

In the US, during the 1960s, Bell licensed and sold the Saunders-Roe SR.N5 as the Bell SK-5. They were deployed on trial to the Vietnam War by the United States Navy as PACV patrol craft in the Mekong Delta where their mobility and speed was unique. This was used in both the UK SR.N5 curved deck configuration and later with modified flat deck, gun turret and grenade launcher designated the 9255 PACV. The United States Army also experimented with the use of SR.N5 hovercraft in Vietnam. Three hovercraft with the flat deck configuration were deployed to Đồng Tâm in the Mekong Delta region and later to Ben Luc. They saw action primarily in the Plain of Reeds. One was destroyed in early 1970 and another in August of that same year, after which the unit was disbanded. The only remaining U.S. Army SR.N5 hovercraft is currently on display in the Army Transport Museum in Virginia. Experience led to the proposed Bell SK-10, which was the basis for the LCAC-class air-cushioned landing craft now deployed by the U.S. and Japanese Navy. Developed and tested in the mid-1970s, the LACV-30 was used by the US Army to transport military cargo in logistics-over-the-shore operations from the early 1980s thru the mid 1990s.

The Soviet Union was the world's largest developer of military hovercraft. Their designs range from the small Czilim class ACV, comparable to the SR.N6, to the monstrous Zubr class LCAC, the world's largest hovercraft. The Soviet Union was also one of the first nations to use a hovercraft, the Bora, as a guided missile corvette, though this craft possessed rigid, non-inflatable sides. With the fall of the Soviet Union, most Soviet military hovercraft fell into disuse and disrepair. Only recently has the modern Russian Navy begun building new classes of military hovercraft.

The Iranian Navy operates multiple British made and some Iranian produced hovercraft. The Tondar or Thunderbolt comes in varieties designed for combat and transportation. Iran has equipped the Tondar with mid-range missiles, machine guns and retrievable reconnaissance drones. Currently they are used for water patrols and combat against drug smugglers.

The Finnish Navy designed an experimental missile attack hovercraft class, Tuuli class hovercraft, in the late 1990s. The prototype of the class, Tuuli, was commissioned in 2000. It proved an extremely successful design for a littoral fast attack craft, but due to fiscal reasons and doctrinal change in the Navy, the hovercraft was soon withdrawn.

The People's Army Navy of China operates the Jingsah II class LCAC. This troop and equipment carrying hovercraft is roughly the Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Navy LCAC.


Small commercially manufactured, kit or plan-built hovercraft are increasingly being used for recreational purposes, such as inland racing and cruising on inland lakes and rivers, marshy areas, estuaries and inshore coastal waters.

The Hovercraft Cruising Club supports the use of hovercraft for cruising in coastal and inland waterways, lakes and lochs.

The Hovercraft Club of Great Britain, founded in 1966, regularly organizes inland and coastal hovercraft race events at various venues across the United Kingdom.

Single seater racing hovercraft

In August 2010, the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain hosted the World Hovercraft Championships at Towcester Racecourse The World Hovercraft Championships are run under the auspices of the World Hovercraft Federation. Similar events are also held in Europe and the US.

Apart from the craft designed as "racing hovercraft", which are often only suitable for racing, there is another form of small personal hovercraft for leisure use, often referred to as cruising hovercraft, capable of carrying up to four people. Just like their full size counterparts, the ability of these small personal hovercraft to safely cross all types of terrain, (e.g. water, sandbanks, swamps, ice, etc.) and reach places often inaccessible by any other type of craft, makes them suitable for a number of roles, such as survey work and patrol and rescue duties in addition to personal leisure use. Increasingly, these craft are being used as yacht tenders, enabling yacht owners and guests to travel from a waiting yacht to, for example, a secluded beach. In this role, small hovercraft can offer a more entertaining alternative to the usual small boat and can be a rival for the jet-ski. The excitement of a personal hovercraft can now be enjoyed at "experience days", which are popular with families, friends and those in business, who often see them as team building exercises. This level of interest has naturally led to a hovercraft rental sector and numerous manufacturers of small, ready built designs of personal hovercraft to serve the need.

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See also

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