A Hovercraft Museum was first proposed by Peter Habens. Peter worked for British Hovercraft Corporation Ltd as chief instructor and customer training manager - having joined Saunders Roe after his time in the Fleet Air Am. It was 1971 and SR.N2 was facing the scrapman - engineless and sat on the side of the Columbine slipway at Cowes - just 13 years after the launch there of SR.N1. It was suggested that she could be used as a classroom and be preserved - but was unfortunately scrapped by the directors as she was too difficult to move. At least the control panel was rescued which later - for a while - ended up in the Castle Hotel bar in Ryde on the Isle of Wight!
SR.N3 at Hovershow '66 - one of the first hovercraft to be scrapped in 1971
It wasn’t until 1986 when the Hovercraft Society established in 1971 (a learned group with Hovercraft interest or affiliation) was made aware of pioneer craft being made redundant that a task force was appointed to look at ways of saving these. The first craft to be saved had been given to enthusiast Warwick Jacobs who had done a summer season working with Hovertravel as a 'beach boy' - loading and unloading their gas turbine craft. Now with quieter and more efficient diesel replacements the 21-year-old noisy kerosene craft were obsolete.
In April 1986 pilots Tony Smith and Graham Clarke - both directors of Hovertravel and subsidiary Hoverwork - were approached by Warwick asking for their last SR.N5 to be saved. They were sorry as it had been due for scrap just days earlier. Amazingly they called back a day later asking Warwick if he was still interested as the scrap man had not turned up! This was the only remaining SR.N5 from the SR.N5 / 6 production line left in the world (two SK.5 American variants exist in the USA).
The 15-seater craft - given free - had to be moved within a short period. However at 35ft Warwick’s mum considered it just a bit too big to fill the back garden of their Gosport home!
Warwick with SR.N5 at Bembridge Duver works
Warwick asked the Council of the Hovercraft Society for help and Charles Eden of 'Air Vehicles Ltd' in Cowes offered a few years free storage at their works in the open beside their factory. In the meantime 'Hovermarine International' had gone bust (for the third time) and a 16 metre HM.2 sidewall Hovercraft had been given by the receivers to the Society. A working party of 5 was set up to manage this - namely Peter Habens (Saunders Roe - BHC & Westland) - Mike Pinder (M.D. of Pindair Hovercraft) - Brian Russell (ex-MoD hovercraft trials officer and current Chairman of the Society) and Warwick Jacobs. Walter Woodford OBE came aboard to set this up as Trust with the Charity Commission for England and Wales - it becoming a legal body in 1988. Having done the formalities of the legal work - Walter stood down and Dave Woods of Vospers stepped in. At this time the Welsh Aircraft Museum was looking for a new home for the HD.2 experimental Hovercraft - due to relocation - and the trust took on its third craft.
HD.2 in her glory days
From its beginnings in 1988 the Trust has grown to a collection of 60 full size craft and the largest Hovercraft archive and library in the world. It has consolidated the collection on one waterfront site at Lee-on-the-Solent - the former home of various operational Military Hovercraft Units from 1961 to 1982. A lot has been achieved in 21 years and the site has changed management from being an active Fleet Air Arm Navy Base (H.M.S. Daedalus) to Defence Estates closed base - to recent ownership by Gosport Borough Council.
The Trust is granted a few days per year to open the site to the general public. Every year a full-blown Hovershow is staged to raise the funds necessary to cover the running costs - and 5,000 people plus have visited on such occasions. Regular work parties throughout each week carry out restoration and repair - archiving - host visits and other Museum duties.
The Museum Trust is self-supporting and with limited opening days. It has no employed staff and a few volunteer crew. Yet is has managed to grow and survive thanks to the dedication of its supporters and enthusiasm of its members - along with support & assistance from the Hovercraft industry.
On the 50th anniversary year of the hovercraft being launched and crossing the English Channel under its own power - the Museum staged a spectacular show to celebrate this once in a lifetime anniversary - and to pave the way to establishing a permanent Hovercraft Museum telling the story of this marvellous invention which still has applications worldwide.