Cockerell, Christopher Sydney

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b. 4 June 1910 Cambridge, England
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British designer and engineer who invented the hovercraft.
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He was educated at Gresham's School in Holt and at Peterhouse College, Cambridge, where he graduated in engineering in 1931; he was made an Honorary Fellow in 1974. Cockerell entered the engineering firm of W.H.Allen \& Sons of Bedford as a pupil in 1931, and two years later he returned to Cambridge to engage in radio research for a further two years. In 1935 he joined Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, working on very high frequency (VHF) transmitters and direction finders. During the Second World War he worked on airborne navigation and communication equipment, and later he worked on radar. During this period he filed thirty six patents in the fields of radio and navigational systems.
In 1950 Cockerell left Marconi to set up his own boat-hire business on the Norfolk Broads. He began to consider how to increase the speed of boats by means of air lubrication. Since the 1870s engineers had at times sought to reduce the drag on a boat by means of a thin layer of air between hull and water. After his first experiments, Cockerell concluded that a significant reduction in drag could only be achieved with a thick cushion of air. After experimenting with several ways of applying the air-cushion principle, the first true hovercraft "took off" in 1955. It was a model in balsa wood, 2 ft 6 in. (762 mm) long and weighing 4½ oz. (27.6 g); it was powered by a model-aircraft petrol engine and could travel over land or water at 13 mph (20.8 km/h). Cockerell filed his first hovercraft patent on 12 December 1955. The following year he founded Hovercraft Ltd and began the search for a manufacturer. The government was impressed with the invention's military possibilities and placed it on the secret list. The secret leaked out, however, and the project was declassified. In 1958 the National Research and Development Corporation decided to give its backing, and the following year Saunders Roe Ltd with experience of making flying boats, produced the epoch-making SR N1, a hovercraft with an air cushion produced by air jets directed downwards and inwards arranged round the periphery of the craft. It made a successful crossing of the English Channel, with the inventor on board.
Meanwhile Cockerell had modified the hovercraft so that the air cushion was enclosed within flexible skirts. In this form it was taken up by manufacturers throughout the world and found wide application as a passenger-carrying vehicle, for military transport and in scientific exploration and survey work. The hover principle found other uses, such as for air-beds to relieve severely burned patients and for hover mowers.
The development of the hovercraft has occupied Cockerell since then and he has been actively involved in the several companies set up to exploit the invention, including Hovercraft Development Ltd and British Hovercraft Corporation. In the 1970s and 1980s he took up the idea of the generation of electricity by wavepower; he was Founder of Wavepower Ltd, of which he was Chairman from 1974 to 1982.
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Principal Honours find Distinctions
Knighted 1969. CBE 1955. FRS 1967.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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