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Saunders-Roe/Westland Aircraft/British Hovercraft Corporation

SR-N1 - SR-N2- SR-N3 - SR-N4 - SR-N5 - SR-N6 - BH-7 - BH-8 - Hover Freighter - AP1-88

Sam Saunders started work in the family boatbuilding business on the River Thames in the late 1870's.

In 1901 Sam moved his own business building boats to the Isle of Wight. Always looking for innovations and willing to build 'what the customer wanted', S.E. Saunders formed an Aircraft Department in 1909 and was involved in early British aviation, especially in sea planes and flying boats.

In 1929, the company SE Saunders was renamed 'Saunders-Roe' when A.V. Roe took a financial interest in the company. Through to the mid 1950's Saunders-Roe was mainly involved with high speed launches and Flying Boats.

In 1958, the National Research and Development Corporation awarded Saunders-Roe a contract to build the first full sized hovercraft - the SR-N1 (Saunders-Roe - Nautical One). On the 11th June 1959, the SR-N1 was launched and, only 5 weeks later, the SR-N1 became the first hovercraft to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover.

Under 'guidance' from the Government, the late 1950's was a time of reorganisation of the UK aircraft industry, this led to Westland Aircraft Ltd taking over the Saunders-Roe hovercraft interests in July 1959.

Cecil Hugh Latimer-Needham was the person who had the idea of using a skirt to keep the air cushion under the vehicle. In October 1961, Latimer-Needham sold his skirt patents to Westland Aircraft.

BHC East CowesPathe1966 video clip from Hovershow '66 with SR-N3, SR-N5 & SR-N6

Over the next 6 years, the Saunders-Roe Division of Westland Aircraft designed (or at least proposed) the majority of their future craft, the exception being the AP1-88 which was a joint BHC, NRDC and Hovertravel development started in 1981.

Picture right - BHC's Columbine Works with Red Funnel car ferry and Hovermarine HM2 sidewall hovercraft. (picture supplied by Barry Sowerby).

On 1st March 1966 the Westland's and Vickers' hovercraft activities were merged to form the British Hovercraft Corporation (shareholdings - Westland Aircraft 65%, Vickers 25%, National Research and Development Corporation 10%).

In October 1970, Westland Aircraft bought out both of the other partners and BHC became a wholly owned part of the Westland group.

In 1971, BHC acquired Cushioncraft Ltd (of St. Helens) from financially troubled Britten-Norman Ltd., none of the Cushioncraft designed were developed further.

As well as developing and manufacturing hovercraft, over the years BHC became increasingly involved with supplying the world-wide Aerospace industry with composite components.

1984 saw the name 'British Hovercraft Corporation' changed to Westland Aerospace as the nature of the business had changed with hovercraft being a very small part.

Subsequent changes in the company names etc. are of little interest regarding the history of hovercraft as the company had effectively exited hovercraft development/manufacture.

(Click on an image to get a larger version)

saunders roe srn1 hovercraft

Launched 11th June 1959

The SR-N1 in its original configuration - saucer shape, obvious air clearance and no jet engine behind the central air intake.

Short YouTube video clip of SR-N1 post modification

Original spec:

  • Length 31 ft 5 in
  • Beam 25 ft
  • Speed - 35 kts
  • 435 hp Alvis Leonide IC aero engine

link to more SR-N1 hovercraft pictures See other SR-N1 pictures

Pathe 1959 video clip of SR-N1 including cross channel trip
Pathe 1960 video clip of SR-N1 on the Thames

SR-N2 hovercraft

Launched January 1962

SRN2 Hovercraft travelling at speed (Postcard)
  • 65 ft long
  • 30 ft beam
  • 38 or 53 passengers as fitted at different times (it was designed to take 70 passengers)
  • 73 kts
  • 4 x 815 shp Bristol Siddeley Nimbus engines - 2 for lift, 2 for propulsion

link to more SR-N2 hovercraft pictures See this other page for more pictures of the SR-N2

YouTube video clip of SR-N2 with side damage
Pathe 1963 video clip of SR-N2 in Canada
Pathe 1963 video clip of SR-N2 on Bristol Channel route

SR.N2a concept hovercraft A civilian version of the SR-N3 concept - in fact production of the SR-N3 started without the company having a contract, if the contract had not been forthcoming, the craft could well have been completed as a SR-N2A,
westlands hovercraft SR-N3
SR-N3 hovercraft on a river

SR-N3 Military hovercraft shown left at Hovershow '66 - 18th June 1966 (CC4 in foreground)

Launched 9th December 1963, delivered to IHTU at HMS Daedalus, June 1964

  • 77 ft long
  • 30 ft 6 inch beam
  • 4 crew
  • 37 tons
  • 4 x 900 shp Bristol Siddeley marine Gnome engines - 2 for lift, 2 for propulsion
  • 2 x 150 hp Rover Gas Turbines with water screws for propulsion 'off cushion'
  • 80 kts

The Interservice Hovercraft Trials Unit (IHTU), based at HMS Daedalus near Gosport (where the Hovercraft Museum is located), used the SR-N3 and numerous subsequent hovercraft to evaluate them for military use.

SR-N4 (Mountbatten)
SR-N4 hovercraft on the cushion for the first time
above - first hover 5th December 1967 - note the original, 'lower' skirt line
SRN4 hovercraft cutaway
Early cutaway diagram

SR-N1 Mk1
Hoverlloyd SR-N4 Mk 1 at speed

First time on the cushion - 5th December 1967
First time to sea - 4th February 1968

Mk 1 configuration - as originally built and supplied to Seaspeed and Hoverlloyd for cross channel routes:

  • 254 passengers +30 cars
  • 40 -50 Kt,
  • 130 ft long
  • 78 ft beam

Mk 2 configuration - modified by BHC for Hoverlloyd by rearranging internal division of craft - 1st delivered January 1973

  • 282 passengers +37 cars
  • 40 -50 Kt,
  • 130 ft long
  • 78 ft beam
  • 4 x 3400 shp Rolls Royce marine Proteus free turbine

Pathe 1967 video clip of SR-N4 after roll-out
Pathe 1969 video clip of SR-N4 Mk 1 on the Thames

Mk 3 configuration - modified by BHC for Seaspeed by stretching - 1st one delivered 6th April 1978

  • 418 passengers +60 cars
  • 60 - 65 Kt,
  • 185 ft long
  • 82 ft beam
  • 4 x 3800 shp Rolls Royce marine Proteus free turbine

YouTube video clip of 2 SR-N4 Mk 3's at Dover.

link to more SR-N4 hovercraft pictures See this other page for more pictures of the SR.N4

link to more SR-N4 hovercraft construction pictures this page showing the SR.N4 under construction

SR-N5 (Warden)
SR-N5 hovercraft at sea
SRN5 hovercraft
Launched 11th April 1964
  • 2 crew, 18 passengers,
  • 33 to 40 Kt (average service speed),
  • 38 ft 9 inch long
  • 23 ft beam
  • 900 shp Rolls Royce marine Gnome gas turbine

Left, lower - at West Cowes with Red Funnel car ferry behind

Pathe 1966 video of SR-N5 Fire Engine
SR-N6 (Winchester)

SR-N6 hovercraft
SRN6 Cockpit

SRN6 cutaway

Launched 1964

Basically a stretched SR-N5

Shown here at Hovershow '66 - 18th June 1966 - SR-N6 with SR-N5 and SR-N3 behind

  • 38 passengers,
  • 30 to 35 Kt (average service speed),
  • 48 ft 5 inch long
  • 23 ft beam
  • 900 shp Rolls Royce marine Gnome gas turbine


See also SR-N6 hovercraft in operation -
link to Seaspeed SRN6   hovercraft pictures Seaspeed

link to Hovertravel SRN6   hovercraft pictures Hovertravel

Pathe 1970 video clip of SR-N6 in Africa

SR-N6 Mk1S
Seaspeed SRN6 at Cowes (pictures contributed by Geoff Weatherhead) Over the winter 1971/72, both Seaspeed SR-N6 hovercraft had more powerful Gnome engines (1000 shp) fitted and were streched by 10ft to give increased seating for 58 passengers, these were known as the Mk1S. The first of these took to the water from BHC, East Cowes on 11th February 1972.

The picture above shows the Sea Hawk Mk1S SR-N6 in July 1975 passing in front of the BHC hanger (before the Union Flag was painted on the doors).
SR-N6 Mk 6
SRN6 Mk 6 Hovercraft The Mk6 was 3 metres longer than the standard SR-N6 and had seating for 55 passengers. It offered greater manoeuvrability and lower noise due to the use of two 10ft dia propulsion propellers. A modified skirt and more power engine (1125 hp Rolls Royce marine Gnome gas turbine) were also fitted.

YouTube video clip of SRN6 Mk6 departing the beach at Hovershow '09
BH-7 (Wellington)
British Hovercarft Corporation  BH-7

Launched 31st October 1969

  • 78 ft 4 inch long ( 77ft without loading ramp)
  • 45 ft 6 inch beam
  • 72 passengers plus 7 cars
  • 35 to 40 kt. (average service speed)
  • 3800 hp Rolls Royce Proteus gas turbine

Shown below with front loading ramp

British Hovercarft Corporation  BH-7BHC BH7 hovercraft
BH7 hovercraft cutaway drawing
YouTube video clip of BH-7 on exercise with Belgian navy
BH-7 hulls in Cowes harbour and on the BHC East Cowes slipway
BH7  hull in Cowes harbour BH-7 on BHC East Cowes slipway
BH-8 hovercraft model

Model of 80 ton BH-8 at Hovershow '66 - concept only

  • 280 passengers or 110 passengers +14 cars - other layouts were offered,
  • 45 to 55 Kt
Hover Freighter  
Hover Freighter BHC concept from 1970 for a 4,000 ton "hoverfreighter" - 'maximum speed over calm water ... 50kts (92km/hr), maximum range of about 500 Nm (920km)'

AP1-88 hovercraft

AP188 well deck
'well deck' configuration
(pic from - now defunct)


The AP1-88 was a joint BHC, National Research Development Council (NRDC) and Hovertravel development started in 1981. It was a step away from the 'aircraft' style design and manufacture used on all previous craft from BHC. The welded aluminium hull was produced by a Gosport boat builder outside of the aircraft manufacturing environment of BHC and was fitted out at the Duver Works of Hoverwork.

Prototype launched July 1982. In addition to passenger versions, cargo versions were built (see left).

YouTube video clip of AP1-88 leaving Southsea

Although designed by GKN-Westands Aerospace, the craft are now built by Hoverwork.

  • 78 ft 2 in long
  • 32 ft 10 in beam
  • Operating speed 45 kts
  • 3 crew, 101 passengers
  • 4 x 525 bhp, Deutz BF12L 513FC air cooled, turbo charged, diesels - 2 for lift, 2 for propulsion).

link to more AP1-88  hovercraft pictures see further pictures of the AP1-88 as operated by Hovertravel

As well as the AP1-88's built by BHC, at least 3 craft were built under licence by NQEA Australia Pty Ltd, the first order for these was received in February 1986.

Other hovercraft websites: