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What Happened To Giant Hovercraft?

Mustard · Youtube · 51 HN points · 0 HN comments
HN Theater has aggregated all Hacker News stories and comments that mention Mustard's video "What Happened To Giant Hovercraft?".
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When the first hovercraft debuted in the summer 1959, it stunned the world as it appeared to almost magically float over any surface. It was a new kind of machine that could travel almost anywhere, on land, water, or just about any other surface.

The first prototype hovercraft, designed by British engineer Christopher Cockerell, was a mere demonstrator for the technology, but in just a few short years hovercraft would go from being a curiosity to promising to herald in a new transport revolution. Britain, the United States, and France poured millions into hovercraft development, both for civilian and military purposes.

The British would quickly emerge as leaders in hovercraft development and adoption. Small scale hovercraft transport services began popping up throughout the country only two years after the hovercraft first made its debut.

The pinnacle of British hovercraft design was the enormous SR.N4. The largest version was capable of transporting sixty cars and as many passengers as a Boeing 747 jumbo jet at speeds of up to 130 km/hr. By the end of the 1970s, these iconic hovercraft carried nearly a third of all passenger traffic on the English Channel, playing an important role in connecting Britain to Continental Europe.

But 50 years after they were introduced, giant hovercraft have all but disappeared. The transport revolution that was once promised, never arrived.

Music used in this production (reproduced under license):

Intro Song: ‘Jet Set’-

Song 1: ‘Retro Synthwave and 80s Miami Trailer’ -

Song 2: ‘Background Сinematic Documentary’ -

Song 3:: ‘Jet Set' -

Song 4: ‘Atmospheric Synthiepop - Spaceman’ -

Song 6: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ -

Song 7: ‘Desert Dew’ -

Song 8: ‘Feel the Heat’ -

Song 9: ‘Feel the Heat’ -

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Jun 24, 2022 · 51 points, 45 comments · submitted by simonebrunozzi
My old neighbour was one of the lead designers of hovercrafts for the largest UK manufacturer (I think BHC). He also worked with the crew of James Bond "Diamonds are Forever", which features a hovercraft from the company, as an advisor.

He used to invite the whole street to a barbecue every summer, and his garage was full of half-built hovercraft miniatures, pumps, miniature jet engines and whatever else you can think of, and hovercraft memorabilia, including photos of him with the James Bond crew and some ceremonial photos including the PM and members of the royal family IIRC, from when they launched new hovercrafts into service to cross the channel. Dude was a through and through engineering nerd and I had a blast reminiscing about his past :)

I don't know about other people's giant hovercraft, but mine sank after it was somehow filled with eels.
If I said you had a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?
The ferocious noise from a hovercraft is something to behold. And the craft I’ve seen aren’t nearly the size of the ones that hopped the British channel.

I’d love to see one of the leviathans the US (LCAC) and Russian (Zubr class) Military use (on friendly terms)

Speaking an an ex-LCAC crew member: if you happen to be in San Diego at the right time ACU-5 usually has a day or two where they show them to the public every year. You can search it out. ACU-4 on the east coast may as well but I’m not as sure. NBU-7 in Japan may but it’s not a regular thing, and the Japanese LCACs aren’t really shown to the public.

Can’t speak to others.

Do these things have to worry about sea mines?
But they are primarily made of aluminum and the force they exert is low if they are "on cushion", so the older pressure wave/magnetic types likely won't trigger. There are some newer types that would trigger, however.
Here's a video of ACU-4 from zuckbook:
Caution, this link wipes your browser back-button stack. I don't know how that's allowed by browsers and standards, but it's super hostile.
Yikes! Didn't know that. Thanks for the heads up.
While on my way to Desolation Sound in British Columbia, I've run across the Canadian Coast Guard hovercraft Siyay

It was quite a surprise, and very loud. Heard it before I saw it.

Semi-related question: The VO on that video pronounces "hover" as "huvver" - is this a normal thing in the US, or regional? I ask, because I must have heard podcast ads for maybe 50 times before I eventually realised that it was "hover", and even then that was only because I saw them mentioned on here.
As a West-coast American, I have only ever heard 'hover' as "huvver."
I was talking to a texan work associate at a conference. He was always right-wing politically but that day he kept complaining about all the turbans around California. For a few minutes I thought he had gone full crazy racist. He was actually saying turbines, all those stupid turbines he saw from the plane spoiling the view.
Interesting that you stereotyped him that way.
I've lived all over the U. S., and I can only offer a question: how else would you pronounce it if not "huvver"? Rhymes with "over" or "stove" is the only alternative I can come up with, and that can't be right (having never heard that pronunciation leave anyone's lips).
Thanks, the YouTube clip linked below is how it's pronounced in the UK. Given how much exposure we get to US voices over here it's rare to find a word whose pronunciation throws me.

Here's an example of a pronunciation with a more open first vowel.

Wiktionary says that's usual in UK, /ˈhɒ.və(ɹ)/ vs /ˈhʌ.vɚ/ in the US.

Thanks, I wish I could read those pronunciations.
Oh come on!
might as well link to the wikipedia on how to pronounce pinyin

that article doesn't explain ɚ at all, btw

The problem here isn't in the lack of knowledge of IPA pronuncation by a native English speakers, but in the lack of... willingness? To explore and learn new things.

Sure, my accent is attrocious, but at least I have an idea how /something/ could sound - only because I bothered to select the word, click RMB and choose 'Search on the web for $selection'

The video goes along with what you might assume of a hovercraft: that you're calmly floating to your destination on a cushion of air, like a flying carpet from a fairy tale.

In reality they were super loud and everything vibrated, the entire time. Not so much flying carpet, more like getting strapped to the outside of an airplane.

A similar issue re: NVH comfort is noted with open-sea high-speed catamaran ferries.

Conventional ferries can tackle the Cape Breton-Newfoundland route over 7-12 hours, depending on the destination port (Port-Aux-Basque vs Placentia) and weather conditions. Spending this long on a boat with nowhere to go is brutal and feels like you are back in the 1800s.

In 2000, a high-speed catamaran ferry (MV Max Mohs) was commissioned to make the shorter run over about 3 hours. It was short-lived as many passengers were intolerant to the vibrations (and probably cost of running was much higher).

I am not sure what I would like: much shorter time onboard but being slightly uncomfortable, or being stuck in one spot for a long time.

You're not taking about "The CAT, saves you 1200 driving miles!", are you? It did not go right after the remains of Hurricane Floyd went over Nova Scotia and we knew _exactly_ how many extra miles that meant =:-D. Moncton (oh no, not again)...
The Cat runs between Yarmouth and Bangor, and it’s still running today … I’m really not sure who the demographic is there. My best guess is that it’s there to ferry tourists from Maine to Cape Breton.

The HSC Max Mols (1) ran between North Sydney and Port-aux-Basque, and the Wikipedia page seems to still run various ferry routes in Europe. It was limited to passenger cars.

To get to Gros Morne in Newfoundland, coming from PEI, would be (1) a 5-6 hour drive to North Sydney, (2) a 7-8 hour ride on the ferry, plus a 4 hour drive to Gros Morne/Deer Lake. This is exhausting, and why I say is like travel in the 1800s.

A 3-hour catamaran trip changes the dynamics quite a bit.


Spending time on boats is great. If you want to!
That sounds similar to the tradeoff of hovercraft/jetfoil vs ferry: uncomfortable but shorter, vs. longer put potentially seasick. The latter can ruin your whole day.

Honestly all of those were obsolete on the English channel the day the tunnel opened, and it's awesome!

I only went across the channel in one of these once, but loved it. Much more comfortable than the catamaran for example, which I found much more juddery.

In any case the massive mechanical cool of these things was awesome to see. It was like stepping into the world of Thunderbirds. No video can give the same experience.

We went across on a catamaran, but I remember seeing and hearing the hovercraft power up. It was indeed a sight to behold
There was a catamaran? And I thought I'd done them all (ferry, hovercraft, jetfoil, tunnel, airplane)!
You didn’t swim it? Lame.
I don't think "lame" is an appropriate slur. Especially as John Maclean, a paraplegic, swam the Channel back in 1998.

What other regularly schedule commercial services have there been? The last airship service probably stopped in the 1930s.

Helicopter passenger (scheduled, not charter) was a thing in the 1960s and 1970s, but the closest I've found to the Channel was a Penzance/Scillies route from the 1970s at . doesn't list any current services.

Oooo, joke gone bad.
That, or a straight faced knowing continuation of the gag, to hilarious effect.
There was an Incat [1] one that operated across the Channel for a while.


It would be interesting to hear if some updates could be made to the fuel economy of these things. I know that the fuel consumption of both planes and cars used to be astronomical when compared to modern standards. The only (major) issue I see with this not happening with hovercraft is the lack of demand for it.

Perhaps someone smart will take a crack at updating this thing. It'd be nice if they could do something to blunt the noise a bit, too.

I went on one of these as a kid!

I remember it being a fantastically exciting experience at the time!

I'd never even been on a plane before, so my most vivid memory is boarding and sitting in the main cabin!

However, jumping on the train in London to Paris, getting pissed over lunch, and then getting the train home is/was a much easier thing to do than getting a ferry or hovercraft!

I have seen on Lake Washington, in the Seattle area, someone with a 1-2 person hovercraft driving/flying around

At least one time they were dressed as Santa

I’m a big fan - ha! - of these devices, but they are very, very loud for the amount of convenience they provide

This video made me think these would be in every garage. If you want to start at the hovercraft part go to 2:08…

They still exist in Russia of course.
I’d love to see an Ekranoplan do some flying (or is it sailing? Ekranoplaning?).
There is a (small) ekranoplan company in Singapore:

there are several videos.

Military still use them
Yup. LCAC. I've seen them operate off my ship while in the service. LHD-2 Essex

The video is largely correct.

They did gloss over that strong winds would cause Hovercraft operations to suspend, and sometimes those could last an entire day in the channel. So while they solved some early design defects, Hovercraft remain hurt by weather more than other ships, and cannot easily go around it like a real aircraft can.

Plus they don't pay enough attention to the Eurotunnel. While a SR.N4 can cross slightly faster, the Eurotunnel is far more reliable, and can get you a lot closer to your final destination (i.e. the land parts). You also have to look at the entire turn-around time of both, as loading the 60 vehicles onto the SR.N4 was time-consuming, but I don't have the numbers in front of me (only first-hand experience, it was SLOW).

If you're ever in the South of England pop down to Lee-on-Solent, where these and other hovercraft are at the Hovercraft Museum. While you're in the area you can still take Hovertravel over to the Isle of Wight, but I'd take the cat back, so you get a chance to ride the quirky former London Underground tube trains.

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