The hovercraft as we know it today was invented by British scientist Christopher Cockerell. Although the concept of an "air-cushion vehicle" had been proposed by the late 19th Century, technology had been unable to find a saifactory working solution. In 1954 Cockerell conducted an experiment using two coffee tins and a vacuum cleaner pump to verify the potential of his new idea on how to keep a large enough air cushion below the vehicle. A year later he was able to build a prototype machine large enough to carry the weight of a human being and steerable via the use of onboard fans.

Cockerell patented his idea at the end of 1955 and the following year formed a company, Hovercraft Ltd. At this point he approached the British military, who proved interested in the idea and bought the rights to the patent for a paltry sum of money. In 1959, on the 50th anniversary of Louis Blériot's flight across the English Channel, the world's first practical hovercraft, the SR.N1 crossed from Dover to Calais.

The success of this, the first practical amphibious vehicle, interested ship-builders and navies from around the world. The "glory years" of the Hovercraft were in the 1960s and 1970s when many different models were produced around the world, all under licence from the British Navy which had bought the patent from Cockerell. Although he was knighted in 1969, he only ever received £28,000 in financial recognition for his work.

Hovercraft are still used for a variety of applications today. As a passenger and vehicle ferry across the English Channel they are the fastest route, travelling from Dover to Calais quicker than traditional-hulled ships, catamarans or even the Channel Tunnel train. Military and Naval applications are huge, ranging from one-man vessels designed for navigating swamps and rivers, to huge amphibious landing craft that can drive straight out of the sea onto land and then along roads and highways.

Information from Encyclopedia Britannica, and many others

Odd that this factual node has received a number of downvotes. After a brief discussion on Chatterbox (where nobody came forward to explain why) I can only conclude that some people may have thought this is a cut and paste writeup. It's not, it's my own words. That's why I mentioned my sources.

To copy from one person is plagiarism, to copy from many is research.

Explanation of the principle of a hovercraft, from I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again:

If you throw a stone into a bucket of water the ripples travel outwards. It's the same with the hovercraft. If you throw a hovercraft into a bucket of water the ripples travel outwards.

Since its invention the hovercraft has progressed by leaps and bounds. Which is why it's so uncomfortable to travel in.

Seriously folks, the last cross-channel hovercraft has just been retired from service, and they are no longer used in the country of their invention. The superannuated vehicles may be palmed off on Cuba, which still uses them.

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