Sir Cockerell - Inventor of the Hovercraft - Oulton Broad - Suffolk
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Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

Sir Christopher Cockerell (1910-1999) developed the first practical hovercraft design by using amongst other things an empty cat food tin.  

He was born near Cambridge where his father was the curator of the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University. As a boy Cockerell produced crystal radio sets and even motorized his mother's sewing machine.

He attended Gresham's School in Holt in Norfolk before going onto Cambridge University where he studied engineering. In 1935 he joined Marconi as a wireless engineer. During his time there he invented an aerial direction finder called "the drunken men" which was used during World War II, bringing many allied airmen safely back home.
 
In 1950 he bought a boat building / hire business on Oulton Broad while living in a trailer. He was extremely fond of sailing and spent his spare time designing cabin cruisers. He conceived the original idea that a heavy craft could be supported on the water with a cushion of air. By using empty tin cans and a vacuum cleaner tube he managed to prove his theory. In 1955 he built his first prototype which was around two-feet long and this he tested on Oulton Broad. Christopher Cockerell obtained a patent for his new type of vehicle, which he duly named a hovercraft.

The SR.N1 (Saunders Roe - Nautical One) as it was called was lunched on 25th July 1959 and crossed the English channel in 2 hours. Sir Christopher was on board and the vehicle was piloted by Captain Peter Lamb. During his lifetime Sir Cockerell filed lots of patents including over fifty associated with the hovercraft.

 Picture
                    (c) by John Ashley Photography