NRDC Saunders Roe Nautical 1 - SRN1

NRDC Saunders Roe Nautical 1 - SRN1

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The SRN1 was the first full-sized proof-of-concept hovercraft, built in 1959 by Sauders Roe (Aviation) under commission from the British National Research and Development Corporation (NRDC). The craft was designed by the inventor of the hovercraft, Sir Christopher Cockerell (Wikipedia page). The craft astounded all on its first flights from its production factory at East Cowes, Isle of Wight, both on land and on the waters of the Solent.

Later that year on the 25th July, 1959, Cockerell, navigator John Chaplin and chief test pilot Capt. Peter Lamb were the full crew of the craft on its most famous flight, that being the first flight of a hovercraft across the English Channel from Calais to Dover. With Cockerell providing inventive dynamic ballast by careful positioning of himself around the structure, the crossing was made in a time of 2 hours 3 minutes, overcoming the obstacles of non-favourable winds and moderate swell on the water. This flight proved the hovercraft's capabilities, though also showed the limitations of the initial design, that being, a skirtless one providing little in the way of obstacle clearance. It wasn't until Cecil Latimer-Needham invented the flexible skirt (and subsequently sold the patent to Westland, the parent company of Saunders Roe) that air cushion technology really 'took off' [Hovercraft Museum, 2007; Hayden, 1969; McLeavy, 1976]. The SRN1 prototype continued to be developed by Westland, Saunders Roe and the NRDC and even received a skirt and an additional engine in the form of a Rolls-Royce Viper jet to increase its thrust output.

The SRN1 is now at home at RAF Wroughton, Swindon, England, an extension of The Science Museum. Photos of her in her current state and more can be found at The Hovercraft Museum.

Performance specifications for the original SRN1 hovercraft

Sources: Barton, 2004; Hovercraft Museum, 2007



Length (m) 9.58
Beam (m) 7.62
Height (hovering) (m) 3.31
Height (landed) (m) 3.08
Cruise speed (kts) 18 - 20
Max speed (with piston engine) (kts) 35
Max speed (with Viper engine) (kts) 50
Max obstacle clearance/hoverheight (m) 0.23
Max obstacle clearance with skirt (m) 1.07
Main Engine Centrally located Alvis Leonide IC Aero piston engine driving main propeller.
Main Engine Power (kW) 324
Engine Cruise Speed (RPM) 2,700
Steering system Two air channels either side of the craft with rudders at their ends. Thrust air from a bleed from lift air.

Hovercraft SRN1 general arrangement drawing

GENERAL ARRANGEMENT DIAGRAM (Sources: Barton, 2004; Croome, 1964)

YouTube User 's discovered cine film of SRN1 activities in c.1962; also included, the Denny D-1 and the Vickers VA-3.

A Recollection

"My bedroom in Cowes IOW looked out across the river Medina directly towards the Saunders and Roe hangar and hard standing.  As a twelve year old, I viewed in awe at each and every test flight of the SRN1.

My father and many of my family were employed at Saunders and Roe and my father would have made parts for the SRN1, as he worked in the machine shop at the East Cowes factory.

I remember at one time, the families of employees were invited onto the hard standing for a demonstration flight.  After the flight, the younger ones, myself included were permitted to climb onto the craft and sit in the cockpit.

The sight of the SRN1 (pre skirt) buzzing around Cowes was amazing, you could hear it coming a mile away, but could only catch glimpses of the craft through the huge spray that it kicked up.  How Chris Lamb ever saw where he was going just amazed me. Later improvements, such as the skirt, saw a marked difference, both from the pilot's point of view and spectators, who could now see the entire craft, without the wall of spray.

I remember my father telling me that the first flight on water had not actually been planned and that Chris Lamb had taken it onto the water primarily to give the press a great photo (amazingly risky, given the huge investment in the SRN1).

Subsequent hovercraft I find interesting, but none can come close to that sense of excitement felt by the whole town every time that the SRN1 came out for a test.  We all felt a sense of pride and ownership, but none of us, I think,  actually realised that we were watching history in the making." - Gil James, 2009.

The SRN1 was the first hovercraft to cross the English Channel. It crossed the channel in 2 hours on 25th July 1959 with Cockerell and Chaplin on board, piloted by Capt. Peter Lamb. This flight was exactly 50 years to the day to when Louis Bleriot successfully flew the first plane across the channel. SRN1 arrives with Cockerell, Chaplin and Lamb on board. Alec Morecraft was lucky enough to have happened to be on Dover Seafront at the time of this historic arrival!

SRN1 sitting on a beach presumably on the south coast of England. Note her new bow structure, and increased machinery to the aft, following years of development and research by NRDC, BHC (British Hovercraft Corporation) and the IHTU (Inter-service Hovercraft Trials Unit)

Page updated: Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

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