VOS’ Exciting Visit to the Hovercraft Museum in Lee-On-Solent

Chris is a long-time VOS volunteer whose cheerful presence and tireless help are invaluable at our regular drop-in sessions. He and a group of VOS service users went on an exciting visit to the Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-Solent during the last week of May 2024.

When I made my first trip to visit Her Majesty’s Submarine Alliance (and it was Her Majesty’s at the time), a submariner friend explained that the Gosport Ferry I used to get there was a “skimmer” as it travelled through the surface of the water, not below it.

So, as I was using the ferry once more (this time to visit the Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-Solent), I wondered what a hovercraft would be called, as it takes skimming to a new level! They are literally marinised aircraft.

Marinised - there’s a word you don’t hear very often...

I learnt it from Alan, our designated guide (more about him later). First of all though, I was collected by Griff, the Lead Volunteer for the visit, and he drove us up to Daedalus, the site of the world’s only hovercraft museum.

I have to admit, it was a first for me and I’m glad VOS now arranges visits for us as I can highly recommend it. It’s a Transport Trust Heritage Site and a winner of Engineering Heritage awards.

As you walk through the gates you enter what was the site of the HM Naval Seaplane Training School, opened in 1917. However, the Royal Flying Corps establishment predates that and the first hangar we visited was erected by them – it is now a listed building.

This space is crammed full of hovercraft and hovercraft memorabilia, and our Veteran (ex matelot of course) guide, Alan, could tell you everything about every item there. He also told us that this became the base for military hovercraft trials in 1961.

A little hovercrafting history

Christopher Cockerell’s amazing invention started life in the early 1950s as a vacuum cleaner and a couple of tin cans. By 1955 he’d built a working model from balsa wood and filed his first patent. The SRN1 was unveiled in 1959 and was the first hovercraft to cross the Channel – from there, it literally took off and was developed on a massive scale.

It’s difficult to pin down a precise date for the formation of the museum, but in 1988 it officially became a legal charity and the enthusiasts became volunteers and trustees.

This unique establishment contains some of the most important and iconic vessels which reflect the history of this great British invention, and they hold the most extensive archives of it in the world. A great deal of the vessels we saw are literally the only ones left on the planet – so each paying visitor directly contributes to the upkeep of each special exhibit a little bit at a time.

As is often the way, the Hovercraft Museum relies on volunteers and its unpaid board of trustees to hold it all together. Although it’s hoped they will qualify for Lottery support one day, right now it’s down to the likes of us to keep it going.

VOS visits the Hovercraft Museum

In this case, the “us” was a group of eight from VOS. A relatively small party when you think about the number of people we could have taken there. However, we did make a difference on the day. Looking at the pictures, you may see Griff, Frances, Sandra M, Ben, Ralph, Val, Sandra B and myself.

We all finished our tour (which lated about 2 hours – great value for money) in the tearoom/shop where we enjoyed the refreshments and were able to make donations if we wanted to – although there was never any pressure to do so.

So, thanks once again to VOS for giving this opportunity to discover or revisit this one-off museum and valuable place of maritime restoration and preservation. Please look out for future trips which are practically cost-free to us.

– Words & images by Chris

To ensure you don’t miss out on future trips to the Hovercraft Museum and other great outings, follow VOS on our Eventbrite page to receive timely notifications of new events, event updates and more VOS event information.

VOS is here to support veterans from the UK Armed Forces service, the Merchant Navy, and their partners. If you know a veteran (from any time of service) located in Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight, Gosport, Fareham or the Solent area, please pass our details along.

If you’re a veteran or partner and are thinking about getting in touch, we would love to hear from you. Call us on 02392 731 767, visit one of our drop-ins, or email admin@vosuk.org.

Please note that VOS is not a crisis service. If you need immediate support, please contact one of the following:

  • Your GP or NHS 111
  • Attend A&E or call 999 for medical emergencies
  • The Samaritans on 116 123 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year)
  • A trusted family member or friend

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