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Cockerell, Sir Christopher Sydney

hovercraft company success boat

(1910–99) British engineer: inventor of the hovercraft.

A Cambridge graduate in engineering, Cockerell’s early career was in radio, with the Marconi Company from 1935 and working there mainly on radar in the Second World War. Leaving them in 1950 for a new career in commercial boat building and hiring, he turned to the long-studied problem of reducing drag on boat hulls. Both theory and his early experiments pointed to an air-cushion as a possible answer, an approach first considered a century earlier but never made effective. Cockerell had some success with models by 1955, and later the flexible skirt was devised, which retained a cushion of air well enough to give the first satisfactory hovercraft. A prototype (the SR-N1) built by the Saunder–Roe Company was completed in 1959; it weighed 7 tonnes and achieved manned crossings of the English Channel at speeds up to 95 kph/ 60 mph. Although hovercraft afterwards had some commercial success, their use has been more limited than was initially expected.

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