What Happened to the Giant Hovercraft SR-N4? – The Concorde of the Seas
100 Comments


They were once known as the Concordes of
the Seas, mighty flying boats that used to ferry their passengers with speed and
style. Hovercraft were a symbol of national innovation and represented the
future of Transport in the 20th century and yet like the Concorde, the huge
iconic mountbatten class hovercraft that once traversed the 22 mile English
Channel from England to France carrying hundreds of passengers and cars are no
longer with us. But today the technology still attracts
investment from the world military’s, industry and rescue services. These
versatile machines have been used in the most inhospitable terrain defying
friction and coasting over obstacles that would be unpassable in other
vehicles or ships. Hovercraft are capable of travelling up fast flowing rivers,
over ice caps, on marshes or reclaimed land. 60 years after their invention they
are still found working in the most remote corners of the world.
The name “hovercraft” was originally a trademark held by the British
engineering company saunders-roe which produced some of Britain’s largest and
most successful rotor propelled vehicles. To avoid the trademark other
manufacturers used for designation ACV or air-cushion vehicles, whatever name
they go by their distinctive shape is a result of a common principle to trap a
cushion of air beneath the craft to reduce friction with the ground or waves
and achieve high speeds. The man credited with the invention of the hovercraft was
the Cambridge born engineer Christopher Cockerel who worked on radio technology
during the second world war for the Marconi company. After leaving Marconi he bought a small boat hire business and immediately applied these engineering
skills to explore ways of making these boats go faster. High-speed watercraft
were all over the news at the time as Donald Campbell’s Bluebird had broken
the world water speed record four times by 1958 hydroplaning on the calm lakes
of Cumbria at 202mph then 216mph, 225mph and finally 239 miles an hour 395 km/h. These speeds were possible as a result of surface effects
that bounced the Bluebird on top of the water like a skimming stone. Cockerel had a different approach. By funneling a curtain of air around the perimeter of
the boats underside his craft could ride on a cushion of trapped air. The unique
advantage of this innovation was that the hovercraft was able to float above
the ground even as it was traveling slowly or stopped. Cockerel first tested
the concept in his home workshop channeling air from a vacuum cleaner
between two concentric plates, then scaling up a test with a series of
larger radio-controlled models. In the autumn of 1958 he sent in design for the
world’s first prototype hovercraft to the factory at Saunders-Roe. The first
working hovercraft was the Saunders-Roe nautical one or SR-N1. This first
prototype lacked of a skirt of the later models, so as it zoomed across the water
it was often hidden behind a huge wall of spray. Regardless the media were
amazed by the new technology and gave it the nickname the “Flying Saucer”. On the 25th of July 1959, 50 years to the day after Louis Blériot made the first
crossing of the English Channel in a heavy than airplane, the SR-N1 set off
from Calais to make the first-ever hovercraft crossing. As part of a
three-man crew, Cockrell himself was on board, his job to provide dynamic ballast
by moving himself around on the top of the hovercraft. With a moderate swirl and
no following winds the SR-N1 arrived at Dover in two hours and three minutes.
With this success engineers went to work on refining the design. As on the first
channel crossing the SR-N1 struggled with high winds or over variable slopes,
pilots though to use considerable skill to compensate for the poor steering
response. These issues were mitigated with the addition in 1961 of the
hovercraft distinctive skirt which gave it greater clearance over the ground or
waves by more effectively containing the cushion of air. the SR-N1 could now
operate with twice its original weight this improved carrying capacity also
allowed a turbojet engine to be fitted aft of the
SR-N1 increasing the maximum speed from 35 to 50 knots is 57 miles an hour
92 km/h. A series of lightweight hovercraft were developed in the next
few years including the SR-N5 which was licensed to be built by the US military
and saw service in the swamps and jungles of Vietnam.
The largest hovercraft built at the Saunders-Roe Factory was the SR-N4 the
“Mountbatten class” which was four times larger than any of a preceding
hovercraft the first SR-N4 called the “Princess Margaret” was originally
designed to carry 254 passengers and 30 cars. The four steerable propellers on
the roof were the largest in the world each 19 feet or 6.1 meters across these
were powered by Rolls-Royce Proteus turboprop engines each using a ton of
fuel per hour. The SR-N4 was refitted and expanding twice growing to a capacity of
60 cars and 418 passengers as as many as a 747 airliner. The main ferry route was
between Dover and Boulogne, a 22 mile trip which took on average just 35 minutes.
However when unloaded the SR-N4 could go even faster and the unofficial record
for a cross-channel crossing was a blistering 15 minutes and 23 seconds
however as the speed limit only English Channel is 70mph (112km/h) this
was never officially recognized. The Princess Margaret was also immortalized
in the 1971 James Bond film “Diamonds are forever” in which Sean Connery embarked
from Dover aboard the new Mountbatten ferry. The channel’s hovercraft service
had its peak year in 1986 when three million passengers made the crossing
however by October 2000 the route was closed, in part due to competition from
the new Channel Tunnel rail service but by other accounts it was the end of the
duty-free service in 1999 but made the hovercraft uneconomical.
At this point sales from tax-free products on board were making more
profit than the ticket receipts and when spare parts ran out the SR-N4 was
retired. A petition in 2016 to save and SRM for the Princess Anne for display in
the hovercraft museum near Portsmouth in the UK was successful and the progress
of restoring one of the giant Mountbatten hovercraft continues this year. Christopher cockerel envisioned a future where we would cross the Atlantic
in huge nuclear-powered hovercraft, however this wasn’t to be. Rising oil
prices in the 1970s that meant on many routes, more economical hydrofoils and
catamarans offered better profit margins. However in rough terrain and
inhospitable environments the hovercraft still can’t be matched and has been
developed for the world’s elite and amphibious units. The largest
ever hovercraft is a thoroughly modern military vessel the “Zubr class”
air-cushioned landing craft. Zubr is 57 meters long or 187 feet one
metre longer than the SR-N1 but can carry a much greater load up to 555 tons
this means that it can land three tanks or eight armored personnel carriers with
375 troops onto a beach. Zubr was designed in the 1980s by the Soviet
regime to match the capabilities of the American LCAC military hovercraft. It
comes equipped with an active system for hiding its magnetic field a kind of
stealth mode for avoiding magnetic influence mines. In the case of a nuclear
or chemical strike the crew can seal off their living quarters and continue their
operations. In 2009 China announced that they would
purchase four of the “Zubr class” boats for for $350 million dollars each and since then they have been granted a license to build further derivatives themselves.
With Chinese interests in the disputed territories in the South China Sea huge
hovercraft like the Zuber set to remain front and center in the world stage for
years to come. So thanks for watching and this episode shirt was the trip paisley
surf retro by madcap England which is available from atom
retro with worldwide shipping from here in the UK. We also have the curious droid
Facebook page the link is in the channel page and I would like to thank all of
our patreons for their ongoing support, if you would like to support us then please
visit our patreon page in the link. So as always thanks again for watching and
please subscribe rate and share

100 thoughts on “What Happened to the Giant Hovercraft SR-N4? – The Concorde of the Seas

  1. Can't focus on the black and white pictures in the background with that color-mass-rape you call a shirt in the foreground

  2. It should be a COCKERELLCRAFT or a COCKCRAFT or even better a COCKSCREWCRAFT. HISTORY DEMANDS UNCALLED FOR JUSTICE!

  3. Been on it a few times, very noisy but great experience, It was actually considered a flight with air stewardesses since it flew on air….. That shirt tho : (

  4. No matter what the Allies built, the Soviets were always prepared to up the size. Antonov An-225, Zuba, Ekranoplan…

  5. Hovercraft should be required in florida…that way we get engines out of the water..poor manatees…

  6. You should do an episode on the amount of radio and television signals that can be picked up by your shirt.

  7. Consiton Water in the Lake District is in the traditional county of LANCASHIRE. Only since 1974 has it been in the administrative area of 'Cumbria', no one's interested in who empties the bins! Real counties please, not fabricated ceremonial or administrative nonsense! https://britishcounties.org

  8. Giant hovercrafts were fuel-guzzlers, they needed power to move AND inflate the curtain. I think the channel tunnel cut into the market.

  9. I'm sure SRN1 or something similar was abandoned for years in East Cowes on the slipway in front of the old Saunders-Roe works? Remember something very similar visible from my childhood sailing into Cowes.

  10. Excuse me, are they still operating the hovercrafts from the Isle of Wight and the mainland – does anyone know?

  11. Another example of British innovation abandoned by our myopic government, only to be capitalized by foreign nations for free!

  12. Go figure the damn communists have it, and even worse the Chinese communists are making them. I wish our country would stay on top of something without the enemy getting their hands on it! 😡😤😠

  13. Traveled on a SR-N4 in the early 80s, was on a school trip and it fitted a full size coach in the vehicle deck. Took that type of thing for granted back then since we still seemed to be leading the world in engineering.

  14. Crossed the English Channel in one, 1991. Regular passenger crossing. Hoverspeed or some such line, IIRC. Much faster than the regular boat ferry. A bit like being in a 747 – aircraft style seats, narrow aisles, trolley service. It was noisy. Absolutely bloody earsplitting. And choppy. I seem to remember that the surface was very prone to bad weather cancellation – unlike the boats. I guess once the Channel Tunnel opened, the competition killed off the Hovercraft service. Anyway, the boat's always a delight – eat greasy spoon food, drink like a fish, play the slots and video games, throw up over the side and get done for drunk driving when you get to France – like an idiot mate of mine did.

  15. I travelled in one of the Mountbatten class across the channel. A bit like riding in an unsprung truck across cobbles on that trip. Loved it though.

  16. I used to use the Hovercraft to get across the channel in the late 90's as by that point it was the cheapest way across, I remember it being quite bumpy but pretty good fun!

  17. Overall this was a fantastic video… my only grumble was the hands of the presenter. It really bugged me that he kept placing his hands in front of him and matching his finger tips together. I was half expecting him to generate a huge plasma bolt or something. I will not mention the shirt as that is… unmentionable. Liked the video though! Very clear and professional presentation by the presenter.

  18. Did a Calais to Dover trip in 1973 (I think). A very quick run, but couldn’t see anything from the aircraft style seats due to the sand and salt spray on the windows. Even then, at 13 years old, I was amazed by the size, power and speed of it.

  19. Was lucky enough to travel across on the Margret in 1998, was amazing, but VERY loud lol, even got to the see where the pilot/captain (unsure the correct name lol) controlled it from

  20. You gave up a design and goes into production with a Cold War adversary. From Frank Writtle jet,the race in breaking the sound barrier aircraft designs, early nuclear development, The UK like Australia have come up with some of the greatest inventions of the 20th century but gave them away for nothing, We are great inventors and pathetic at supporting our own designs.

  21. I took an SRN.4 from Dover to Boulogne when I was a kid in the late 60's (I went to Britain/France on vacation with my parents). I thought it was extremely cool… But I remember it vibrated very badly. But it was very fast and I was impressed by the way it just ran right up the beach and then settled down to unload.

  22. 1, i have a model of the SRN1 2, A very dear friend by the first name of Archie used to make the skirts for the Hovercrafts, 3, I have never been on one.

  23. Does that shirt also provide you with a kind of stealth mode for disrupting magnetic fields?? (as at 8:00) ??

  24. I remember that hovercraft very well when we went on a school trip from Calais to Dover, Almost everyone was vomiting 🙂

  25. Nice video..well researched and presented.. thanks for sharing!!!.. sorry..but that shirt in the end…. technicolour Mish mash…!!!!! Anyway.. thanks for sharing!!!!

  26. I lived in Southampton during the early 1980's. When the SR-N4's fired up to set sail, the noise was phenomenal, and could be heard all over the city. Not much fun getting woken up by them at 5am! Great to watch them going out and coming in onto the slipway near the Itchen Bridge.

  27. Dude, can you please place your captions on top of the video. The CC, which many foreigners use to understand your pronunciation, is placed at the bottom, and can't be changed. Or can it?

  28. Great during the summer season, horrible throughout the rest of the year. Hoverspeed did run their SR-N4s in gale force weather! Storm conditions required a transfer of passengers to ferry companies (Sealink or TT back in the 80s) but not gale force winds up to 9 on the Beaufort scale. And it was horrible. The black skirt lifted and would cover the passenger windows with the distinct smell of kerosene and vomit invading the narrow cabin! Very claustrophobic as passengers were packed in airline seats with safety belts on. And no visibility. A roller-coaster ride, the craft mounting the peaks of the waves and diving in the troughs (and a bang that shook the whole vehicle when it reached the bottom of the crest), not skimming the sea surface. People screamed on-board, absolutely terrified. And it took 1h 15 mins, not 35mins to cross the channel in that weather. I travelled many times on the SR-N4 during the early 80s as my parents owned a property in France. They eventually decided on ferry transport which was cheaper and where you could step outside on the decks and breathe some fresh air.

  29. @ 6:00 You forgot Isabelle Adjani's escape to the UK on a SR-N4 in 1974's "La Gifle" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X7Ay2BCiG4

  30. I crossed the Channel there and back on the SRN4 in 1985; never enjoyed my self so much either before or since. Lovely ship.

  31. I crossed the Channel and back once aboard an Hoovercraft. I was very noisy and extremly uncomfortable. There was some swell and we were severly shaken, everybody was sick !

  32. The stink of aviation fuel was thick in the air… and the crews knew if one of them caught fire it would be everyone for himself. There would not be an orderly exit from it.

  33. How they look fun to be in and how does technology that looks to be more then they should be just at the end to be lost from being the worlds greatest design to be no longer interesting thing to keep. 🙁 When would we finally get to be in a world that have one thing to keep going and growing then sounding like war would be something to always think about starting.

  34. Okay, this has been my favourite episode to date, and that is saying a lot since you have put some totally awesome episodes up. I have always been infatuated with hovercraft and was stunned when they stopped using them except for the military. I wonder if, when the technology filters down, will there be a nuclear powered hovercraft like the designer wanted. I guess it would be a long time down the track as we are still tied to petroleum and nuclear engines still need some refinement. Again great episode and one very loud shirt!

  35. Travelled back from calais on the Princess Margaret …. she roared onto the apron out of the mist like a dragon….our 5 year old lad was totally gobsmacked

  36. When the world ends, and people need an arc to protect a nucleus of humanity, will the ark be a cruise ship (run on fuel), an old-fashioned sailboat (big like a Spanish galleon), a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, a nuclear-powered sub, or perhaps an invention of a prophetic madman who actually does create a nuclear-powered hovercraft (like the train in the movie Snowpiercer).

    The cruise ship has to find fuel every few weeks, or make it somehow, which is unlikely. A sailboat is limited in its capacity, speed and is susceptible to the elements. A nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is rare, takes hundreds if not thousands of people to run it, and will probably be operated by the military. The nuclear submarine, also, will be probably be operated by remnants of the military, be rare, has space and capacity issues but is safest from the elements.

    The nuclear hovercraft is a neat concept and maybe my favourite choice for an ark if all the mechanical and engineering challenges can be figured out while parts and manufacturing plants are still in operation, maybe pre-disaster. It could probably be run with minimal crew, it can go virtually anywhere, can be scaled in size for capacity considerations. The main drawback is it is exposed to the elements and if the atmosphere is contaminated, it would be tough to do maintenance on deck or fix the skirt. I suppose the same holds true for every other ark on my list.

  37. Any craft needing 2,000 lbs of jet fuel(1000 lbs per engine for each hour) so 2000 to transport 200 people and 30 cars 22 miles over water, needs to be retired. 4 engines, roughly half hour trip.2000lbs of fuel required. I wonder just what "spare part" it was that could not be found?

  38. We have the Chunnel now! Stay in your automobile across the English Channel and enjoy your privacy and the comforts you are used to enjoying!

  39. I wonder one thing.
    Why can't this hovercraft started again and drive between USA and England?
    I think that, the time its going more faster, and you can take your car with you on the trip.

  40. More money was spent on the front under carriage of Concorde than all of hovercraft design they say. I've heard it was the cost of replacement rotas that actually caused it to fail. Once BAE stopped making them, it was the end of the no longer profitable craft.

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