The idea of using air-cushion to aid in vehicle transportation, leading to the development of military hovercraft, was born in the late 1800s. The Do-X flying boat, built in 1929, made use of air-cushion transportation. It allowed the “boat” to hover above the water surface, reducing the drag and increasing its speed and efficiency. The British military developed the first real hovercraft in the 1950s — the Saunders Roe, Nautical 1 (SR.N1). Soon after, the U.S., France, Sweden, and Japan developed their own versions.
Development continued as the benefits of a military hovercraft were discovered. These vehicles could traverse almost any terrain because of its air cushion, including land, water, and ice. Hovercraft were also given a rubberized skirt to hold the air cushion on uneven ground.
The hovercraft saw the most action in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War as a patrol unit. The hovercraft’s unique ability to travel on water and land proved useful in the reedy parts of Vietnam. Today, the military hovercraft serves a limited purpose. The Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft has been developed for the U.S. Navy to serve as a connector between ships at sea and land bases. These military hovercraft primarily transport weapons and other military surplus to naval ships. Military hovercraft are also used in the Coast Guard for patrolling duties.
Many civilians own hovercraft for recreational or sporting purposes. You can build your own hovercraft with a kit, or buy one from a commercial supplier, such as Universal Hovercraft. I can remember my good friend Bill Wayne wanting to build his own when we were younger… Another interesting fact is that there are hovercraft clubs in Europe and the U.S. that have hovercraft racing events.
So you might not get to use a hovercraft like James Bond on a mission, but you can still get your own to enjoy.