The air was calm, the sun was out, and the seabirds were cawing, but nobody could hear them. The birds’ cries were drowned out by the motors of the first practical hovercraft, which was idling on the banks of the English Channel in Calais, France. It was on this day in 1959 that the first practical hovercraft, dubbed the SR.N1, or Saunders-Roe Nautical 1, would make a daring attempt to cross the Channel. It was no coincidence the event was taking place 50 years to the day that Louis Bleriot became the first person to fly across it in an airplane.
Captain Peter Lamb, navigator John Chaplin and Christopher Cockerell, the inventor of the momentum curtain as applied to the hovercraft principle, waved goodbye as a crowd looked on, everyone unsure what would transpire during the craft’s passing. It had only been shown to the public for the first time the previous month. The daring crossing would prove successful.
Just more than two hours after leaving France, a cheerful group standing on the shores of Dover welcomed the SR.N1 and its team. The success of the hovercraft and its use as a testing device would lead to the advancement of this type of vehicle. In less than four years following the SR.N1’s maiden voyage, multiple hovercraft were being designed and produced by companies in the United Kingdom, as well by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding & Engineering in Japan. The original SR.N1 resides at the Science Museum at Wroughton.