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.