The Hovercraft Museum

The Hovercraft Museum

A wonderful British celebration of skirts and fan power


Main image and below The world’s biggest and nearly smallest hovercraft, the Princess Royal and the Mini Hover; plenty more fans inside.

This museum is literally like no other: it’s the only example of its kind, displaying more than 60 hovercraft. Craft are dotted around the site, inside and out, and even the ticket office is, appropriately, a former SRN4 Sir Christopher cockpit, a much better repurposing than its former use as a tomato greenhouse.


A wonderful British celebration of skirts and fan power

You don’t have to be an avid ‘hover-head’ to gain great enjoyment from a visit, though. The museum evolved from the Hovercraft Society formed in the late 1980s and nowadays enjoys charitable trust status.

The first craft was rescued from being scrapped in 1986 by the society’s Warwick Jacobs. It’s a very rare and important SRN5. When Jacobs’ mother said an emphatic ‘no’ to him storing it in the front garden of the family home, it needed a permanent residence, hence the germ of an idea for a museum.

Fittingly, this is housed in the former hangars of the old seaplane base on the airfield at Lee-on-Solent. Indeed, the original slipway has survived and comes in very handy when moving hovercraft on and off site.

By far the largest craft on display outside is the gigantic SRN4 Mk3 Princess Anne, which also happens to be the largest commercial hovercraft ever built. It weighs over 300 tons, is in excess of 55 metres long, and could carry 418 passengers and 60 cars across the English Channel in around 35 minutes. It was powered by four Marine Proteus gas turbine engines, each rated at 3800shp (shaft horsepower), and the propellers were 21ft, which was a world record! You can explore inside this incredible craft.

In complete contrast is the Midget, the world’s smallest hovercraft. These were built by Hatton & Bass of Peterborough in the late 1960s, ostensibly for use in amusement parks. It measures 1.8 metres long by 0.9 metres wide and is powered by a 3.5hp four-stroke engine driving a five-blade fan. Another tiny craft on display is the Hoverboard, which was inspired by the film Back to the Future Part II. It was one of 18 used in 1980 for the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. It had a top speed of approximately 20mph…but no brakes.

Then there’s the Mini Hover – created from a Mini and in full working order. There’s also a scratchbuilt craft, built on the television series Scrapheap Challenge in a mere 24 hours. The military BH7, or Wellington Class, features what looks like a tall chimney sprouting up and is the soleMk2 launched as a prototype in 1969. It flew to the Arctic and back and its top speed was in excess of 70mph.

During special events it’s possible to take a ride in one of Hovertravel’s craft, currently plying their trade between Southsea and the Isle of Wight, but even without that a visit to the museum is a tremendously interesting day out.

THE HOVERCRAFT MUSEUM

Marine Parade West, Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire PO13 9NS. Tel: +44 (0)2392 552090, www.hovercraft-museum.org. Open 10am-4pm on Saturdays; check for other days and special events. Admission: adult £8, child £5, family (two adults/ three children) £22, concessions £7, carers fee. Disabled access to most of the site, light refreshments are available and there’s a small gift shop.

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