Christopher Cockerell

Sir Christopher Sydney Cockerell CBE RDI FRS[1] (4 June 1910 – 1 June 1999) was an English engineer, best known as the inventor of the hovercraft.

Christopher Cockerell
Memorial to Sir Christopher Cockerell at Hythe - - 514712
Memorial to Cockerell at Hythe, Hampshire
Born4 June 1910
'Wayside', Cavendish Avenue, Cambridge, United Kingdom
Died1 June 1999 (aged 88)
Hythe, Hampshire, United Kingdom
ResidenceEngland, United Kingdom
Alma materPeterhouse, Cambridge
Known forHovercraft
AwardsFellow of the Royal Society
Elmer A. Sperry Award
Royal Medal (1966)
Albert Medal (1966)
Scientific career
FieldsMechanical Engineering
Christopher Cockerell
Cockerell in 1976

Early life and education

Cockerell was born in Cambridge, where his father, Sir Sydney Cockerell, was curator of the Fitzwilliam Museum, having previously been the secretary of William Morris. His mother was the illustrator and designer Florence Kingsford Cockerell. Christopher attended the preparatory school of St Faith's.[2] Christopher was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk.[3] He matriculated to Peterhouse, Cambridge to read mechanical engineering and was tutored by William Dobson Womersley. He was later to return to Cambridge to study radio and electronics.

Early career

He began his career working for W. H. Allen & Sons of Bedford. After returning to the University of Cambridge in 1934 to study radio and electronics, he went to work at the Radio Research Company. In 1935 he went to work at the Marconi Company, and soon afterwards he married Margaret Elinor Belsham (4 September 1913 – September 1996).[4] They lived at the now Grade II listed Gay Bowers Cottage in Danbury, Essex from 1940 to 1951.[5] During his time in Chelmsford, he led a research team in the famous Marconi hut at Writtle and worked on many systems, including radar.[6] After the war he contributed to the development of several very sophisticated pieces of equipment, including radio location technology, and the first equipment used by the BBC in Alexandra Palace.

The hovercraft

After he left the Marconi Company, he bought Ripplecraft Ltd., a small Norfolk boat and caravan hire company, with a legacy left by his father-in-law. The firm made little money, and Cockerell began to think how the craft could be made to go faster. He was led to earlier work by the Thornycroft company, in which a small vessel had been partially raised out of the water by a small engine.

Cockerell's greatest invention, the hovercraft, grew out of this work. It occurred to him that if the entire craft were lifted from the water, the craft would effectively have no drag. This, he conjectured, would give the craft the ability to attain a much higher maximum speed than could be achieved by the boats of the time.

Cockerell's theory was that instead of just pumping air under the craft, as Thornycroft had, if the air were to be instead channelled to form a narrow jet around the perimeter of the craft, the moving air would form a momentum curtain, a wall of moving air that would limit the amount of air that would leak out. This meant that the same cushion of high pressure air could be maintained by a very much smaller engine; and for the first time, a craft could be lifted completely out of the water.

He tested his theories using a vacuum cleaner and two tin cans. His hypothesis was found to have potential, but the idea took some years to develop, and he was forced to sell personal possessions to finance his research. By 1955, he had built a working model from balsa wood and had filed his first patent for the hovercraft, No GB 854211. Cockerell had found it impossible to interest the private sector in developing his idea, as both the aircraft and the shipbuilding industries saw it as lying outside their core business.

He therefore approached the British Government with a view to interesting them in possible defence applications. The leaders of the defence groups were not interested in providing funding and put the idea of the hovercraft on the government's secret list. Being on the secret list stopped Cockerell from making his design public.

It remained classified until 1958, upon news of similar developments on the continent, it was declassified, and Cockerell was introduced to the NRDC (National Research Development Corporation). In the autumn of 1958, the NRDC placed an order with Saunders-Roe for the first full-scale hovercraft. This prototype craft was designated the SR-N1 (Saunders-Roe – Nautical One) and was manufactured under licence from the NRDC. On 11 June 1959, the SR-N1 was first shown to the public, which was capable of carrying four men at a speed of 28 miles per hour. Weeks later, it was shipped over to France. It successfully crossed the English Channel between Calais and Dover on 25 July 1959,[7] 50 years to the day after the historic crossing by Bleriot.

In January 1959, the NRDC formed a subsidiary called Hovercraft Development Ltd. Cockerell was the Technical Director and the company controlled the patents which it used to license several private sector firms to manufacture craft under the registered trademark of Hovercraft.

Cockerell received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1971.[8]

Later life

In later life, Cockerell developed many other improvements to the hovercraft, and invented various other applications for the air cushion principle, such as the hovertrain.

He attended many hovercraft related events, such as the unveiling of many hoverports across the United Kingdom.

After a short illness, Christopher Cockerell died at Hythe, Hampshire on 1 June 1999.[9]

Other work

In later life Cockerell developed the Cockerell Raft, a wave power hydraulic device which may have implications in the future for electricity generation.



Lowestoft Maritime Museum Workshop
Cockerell's workshop reassembled at Lowestoft Maritime Museum

In his life, the SR.N4 hovercraft GH2008 Sir Christopher was named after its inventor. It was operated by Hoverlloyd (later Hoverspeed) across the channel from 1972 to 1991.[10]

A plaque in Cockerell Rise, East Cowes, Isle of Wight, marks the location of White Cottage, where Cockerell lived and worked. The Cottage has been demolished, but the garage still stands. The plaque was erected by Friends of East Cowes with financial support from the Big Lottery Fund.

Cockerell's workshop, including his left-handed lathe, was gifted to the Lowestoft Maritime Museum on his death in 1999 where it was reassembled and is now on show to the public.


  1. ^ Wheeler, R. L. (2001). "Sir Christopher Sydney Cockerell, C.B.E., R.D.I. 4 June 1910 -- 1 June 1999: Elected F.R.S. 1986". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 47: 67. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2001.0005.
  2. ^ "Sir Christopher Cockerell - St Faith's School Website". St Faith's School Website. Archived from the original on 30 May 2016. Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  3. ^ Lidell, Charles Lawrence Scruton & Douglas, A. B., The History and Register of Gresham's School, 1555–1954 (Ipswich, 1955)
  4. ^, accessed 4 January 2012
  5. ^, accessed 9 November 2015
  6. ^ "Cockerell, Christopher", in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  7. ^ Evans, Eric, British History (Bath, Parragon Books, 2002) p. 305
  8. ^ "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  9. ^ Kaufman, Michael T. (4 June 1999). "Christopher Cockerell, 88, Inventor, Dies; Father of Hovercraft and Marconi Devices". Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  10. ^ "British Hovercraft Corporation SRN4 (Mountbatten Class)::".

External links

Deaths in June 1999

The following is a list of notable deaths in June 1999.

Entries for each day are listed alphabetically by surname. A typical entry lists information in the following sequence:

Name, age, country of citizenship at birth, subsequent country of citizenship (if applicable), reason for notability, cause of death (if known), and reference.

Griffon Hoverwork

Griffon Hoverwork Ltd (GHL) is a British hovercraft designer and manufacturer. It was founded after Griffon Hovercraft Ltd of Southampton, and Hoverwork Ltd of the Isle of Wight, were acquired by the Bland Group in 2008, then merged in 2009. Griffon is now based along the River Itchen in Southampton.

The company supply hovercraft, boats and other specialised marine services to governments, NGOs, and private companies for use in humanitarian, search and rescue, security and commercial roles.


A hovercraft, also known as an air-cushion vehicle or ACV, is an amphibious craft capable of travelling over land, water, mud, ice, and other surfaces.

Hovercraft use blowers to produce a large volume of air below the hull (air cushion) that is slightly above atmospheric pressure. The pressure difference between the higher pressure air below the hull and lower pressure ambient air above it produces lift, which causes the hull to float above the running surface. For stability reasons, the air is typically blown through slots or holes around the outside of a disk- or oval-shaped platform, giving most hovercraft a characteristic rounded-rectangle shape. Typically this cushion is contained within a flexible "skirt", which allows the vehicle to travel over small obstructions without damage.

The first practical design for hovercraft was derived from a British invention in the 1950s to 1960s. They are now used throughout the world as specialised transports in disaster relief, coastguard, military and survey applications, as well as for sport or passenger service. Very large versions have been used to transport hundreds of people and vehicles across the English Channel, whilst others have military applications used to transport tanks, soldiers and large equipment in hostile environments and terrain.

Although now a generic term for the type of craft, the name Hovercraft itself was a trademark owned by Saunders-Roe (later British Hovercraft Corporation (BHC), then Westland), hence other manufacturers' use of alternative names to describe the vehicles.

Often referred to in the plural as 'Hovercrafts', the correct plural is 'Hovercraft' (in the same manner that 'aircraft' is both singular and plural).

Hovercraft Museum

The Hovercraft Museum, located in Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire, England, is a museum run by a registered charity dedicated to hovercraft.

The museum has a large collection of over 60 hovercraft of various designs. Situated at HMS Daedalus by the large slipway from where many hovercraft have been tested, the museum collection includes SR.N5 and SR.N6 hovercraft. The collection also contains the last remaining SR.N4 craft, the world's largest civil hovercraft, which has been laid up in Lee-on-the-Solent since cross-Channel services ceased on 1 October 2000.

The museum houses the world's largest library of documents, publications, film, video, photographs and drawings on hovercraft, all of which is available for research by prior arrangement. A number of hovercraft manufacturers have deposited their complete archives with the museum for safekeeping, thus swelling this important repository of information.

The museum also contains a large collection of original manufacturers' hovercraft models including the world's first working hovercraft model built by Christopher Cockerell.

The museum reopened in January 2016 after being closed for essential structural building work over nearly two years. Shortly afterwards the remaining SR.N4 craft came under threat of scrapping when the site owners, the Homes and Communities Agency, proposed the redevelopment of the land. The museum trust started a petition calling for one of the craft to be preserved.

Hythe, Hampshire

Hythe () is a town near Southampton, Hampshire, England. It is located by the shore of Southampton Water, and has a ferry service connecting it to Southampton. Hythe has a small shopping area, a pier, and a marina for yachts.

James Alfred Ewing Medal

This is an award of the Institution of Civil Engineers in memory of James Alfred Ewing made by the Council on the joint nomination of the president and the President of the Royal Society.

It is made to a person, whether a member of the Institution or not, for special meritorious contributions to the science of engineering in the field of research.

James Watt International Gold Medal

The James Watt Medal is an award for excellence in engineering established in 1937, conferred by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the United Kingdom. It is named after Scottish engineer James Watt (1736–1819) who developed the Watt steam engine in 1781, which was fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.

List of members of Peterhouse, Cambridge

This ia a list of notable members of Peterhouse, a college of the University of Cambridge, England. It includes alumni, fellows and Masters of the college.

List of people from the Isle of Wight

This is a list of notable people born in or strongly associated with the Isle of Wight, alphabetically within categories.

Lowestoft Maritime Museum

Lowestoft Maritime Museum is a private museum in the town of Lowestoft in Suffolk, England, which is dedicated to local and national maritime history. Its exhibits include maritime artefacts including medals awarded to Royal Navy and RNLI personnel, marine art, the fishing industry in Lowestoft and the town's involvement with the Royal Navy in World War II, shipwrights and coopers tools, an extensive collection of ship models in various scales, the workshop of Christopher Cockerell, the inventor of the hovercraft, and a small display dedicated to Thomas Crisp, a local man who posthumously won the Victoria Cross during World War I. Britain's most easterly museum, it is run by enthusiasts and volunteers and is open to the public from late April to late October each year. The museum was the Suffolk Museum of the Year in 2012 and a finalist in 2014. There is an admission charge.

Marconi Research Centre

Marconi Research Centre is the former name of the current BAE Systems Applied Intelligence Laboratories facility at Great Baddow in Essex, United Kingdom. Under its earlier name, research at this site spanned military and civilian technology covering the full range of products offered by GEC-Marconi, including radio, radar, telecommunications, mechatronics and microelectronics.

Momentum curtain

Discovered by British engineer Christopher Cockerell, the momentum curtain is a unique and efficient way to reduce friction between a vehicle and its surface of travel, be it water or land, by levitating the vehicle above this surface via a cushion of air. It is this principle of levitation upon which a hovercraft is based, and Christopher Cockerell set about applying his momentum curtain theory to hovercraft to increase their abilities in overcoming friction in travel.Levitating a vehicle above the ground/water to reduce its drag was not a new concept. John Thornycroft, in 1877, discovered that trapping air beneath a ship's hull, or pumping air beneath it with bellows, decreased the effects of friction upon the hull thereby increasing the ship's top attainable speeds. However, technology at the time was insufficient for Thornycroft's ideas to be developed further.

Cockerell used the idea of pumped air under a hull (this then becoming a plenum, i.e. the opposite of a vacuum) and improved upon it further. Simply pumping air between a hull and the ground wasted a lot of energy in terms of leakage of air around the edges of the hull. Cockerell discovered that by means of generating a wall (curtain) of high-speed downward-directed air around the edges of a hull, that less air leaked out from the sides (due to the momentum of the high-speed air molecules), and thus a greater pressure could be attained beneath the hull. So, with the same input power, a greater amount of lift could be developed, and the hull could be lifted higher above the surface, reducing friction and increasing clearance. This theory was tried, tested and developed throughout the 1950s and 1960s until it was finally realised in full-scale in the SR-N1 hovercraft.

National Research Associates, Inc

In 1958 Melville W. Beardsley founded National Research Associates company. NRA developed and tested over 30 air cushion vehicles, with the Air Gem Air cushion vehicle produced as their first product. NRA also sold Disney's Flying Saucers attraction under license. The Company went out of business in 1963.

National Research Associates, Inc was a United States of America aircraft manufacturer...

NRA Developed Air Cushion Vehicles for the Army and Marines. In 1959 The Marine Corps signed a $40,000 contract for a 14x3 ft demonstration vehicle. NRA's development facilities were located in College Park, Maryland and Laurel, Maryland. After moving on from NRA, Beardsley spent several years contesting who had the rights to the patent of the Hovercraft concept with Christopher Cockerell.

Richard Stanton-Jones

Dr. Richard (Dick) Stanton-Jones D.Sc(Hon), FEng, M.A., M.Sc., CEng. (25 September 1926 – 23 January 1991) was an English aeronautical engineer, chief designer Saunders-Roe, managing director of British Hovercraft Corp. and vice-chairman of Westland Helicopters.He is perhaps best known for his contribution, along with Sir. Christopher Cockerell, to the development of the SR.N1 hovercraft manufactured by Saunders-Roe.


The Saunders-Roe SR.N1 ("Saunders-Roe Nautical 1") was the first practical hovercraft. The concept has its origins in the work of British engineer and inventor Christopher Cockerell, who succeeded in convincing figures within the services and industry, including those within British manufacturer Saunders-Roe. Research was at one point supported by the Ministry of Defence; this was later provided by the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC), who had seen the potential posed by such a craft.

In order to test the theories and overall concept, it was decided that the construction of a full-scale craft, designated as the SR.N1. On 11 June 1959, it performed its first flight in front of the public. The SR.N1 participated in the test programme for four years prior to its retirement, by which point it had served its purpose in successfully validating the concept and further hovercraft had been developed.

In less than four years following the SR.N1's maiden flight, multiple hovercrafts were being designed and produced by several companies in the United Kingdom, as well as in Japan by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding & Engineering under a license given by Westland Aircraft.

Science and technology in the United Kingdom

Science and technology in the United Kingdom has a long history, producing many important figures and developments in the field. Major theorists from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland include Isaac Newton whose laws of motion and illumination of gravity have been seen as a keystone of modern science and Charles Darwin whose theory of evolution by natural selection was fundamental to the development of modern biology. Major scientific discoveries include hydrogen by Henry Cavendish, penicillin by Alexander Fleming, and the structure of DNA, by Francis Crick and others. Major engineering projects and applications pursued by people from the United Kingdom include the steam locomotive developed by Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian, the jet engine by Frank Whittle and the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee. The United Kingdom continues to play a major role in the development of science and technology and major technological sectors include the aerospace, motor and pharmaceutical industries.


Somerleyton is a village of medieval origin in the English county of Suffolk. It is centred 4.5 miles (7 km) north-west of Lowestoft and 5.7 miles (9 km) south-west of Great Yarmouth. The land associated with the village is partly in The Broads National Park including its free moorings and marina on the River Waveney close to its public house. Somerleyton is in the civil parish of Somerleyton, Ashby and Herringfleet which maintains a village hall elsewhere and cricket ground and tennis court in the village. Other amenities include a village shop and a railway station.

Many of the houses are in the model village, which were built around a green that in medieval times until the 20th century belonged to Somerleyton Hall whose key owners have been the Jernegan family, Sir Morton Peto and the Lords Somerleyton. The latter were philanthropists with industrial wealth — a major infrastructure engineer/railway developer and family founded in carpet manufacturing respectively. The hall is a house significantly open to the paying public and the estate, 7.7 square miles (20 km2), surrounds the village and the attractions at Fritton Lake. The hall's façades, paintings, reception rooms and grounds are a display of wealth and artisanry, including a yew hedge maze and features to the gardens from across Europe. The 1843-built three-storey mansion with loggia and square belvedere tower has been critically acclaimed as "an Anglo-Italian architecture masterpiece".Its isolated church in a nearby field has seven stained glass windows depicting models of devotion, a fifteenth century tower and twelve low medieval panels which have survived the English Reformation (break from the Catholic Church) to be re-incorporated into an elaborate rood screen — an ornate pierced framework spanning the building between the chancel and the nave.

Its industrial history centres on a former brickworks and the commercial boatyard run by Christopher Cockerell during his invention of the hovercraft commemorated by a round column monument built in 2010.


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