Back in the early 1950’s a chap called Christopher Cockerill was using a hairdryer to make a high-pressure air flow between two concentric tin-cans. He noticed that the circular curtain of moving air he created presented a barrier to the still air either side of it – an effect he termed the momentum curtain. Using that principle he invented the first Hovercraft.
‘Saunders Roe Nautical 1’ (SR.N1) was the revolutionary vehicle he came up with and it now lives at the Science Museum large objects store in Wroughton. It first ‘flew’ on 11 June 1959 – showing capability across land and water. Then just 6 weeks later on 25th July it crossed the English Channel from Calais to Dover in just over 2 hours (an average speed of around 13 knots).
Later propulsion upgrades would see it reaching staggering speeds of between 35 – 50 Knots. In one well documented incident late in December 1959 the Duke of Edinburgh was visiting the Saunders Roe base and asked if he could pilot the craft. He went so fast that the boat sustained a dished-in dent in the bow. That dent was never allowed to be repaired and is still there.. it’s known as the Royal Dent.