Sir Christopher Sydney Cockerell

(1910—1999) electronic and mechanical engineer

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(1910–1999) British engineer and inventor

Cockerell was born in Cambridge and educated at Cambridge University, graduating in engineering in 1931. Initially he joined a small engineering firm, then returned to Cambridge to study electronics, and in 1935 he joined the Marconi Company as an electronics engineer. Here he worked on the development of airborne navigational equipment and on radar.

In 1950 he left Marconi to set up his own boat-hire business on the Norfolk broads. As an amateur yachtsman, Cockerell was interested in the effect of water drag on the hull of a boat. He had the idea of raising the boat above the water on a cushion of air. In 1954 he performed a crucial experiment using kitchen scales, tin cans, and a vacuum cleaner to show that a properly directed stream of air could produce the required lift. The next year he built a working model out of balsa wood, powered by a model-aircraft engine.

He was granted a patent on his idea in 1955 and in 1957 the Ministry of Supply commissioned a full-size craft from the company Saunders Roe. The first prototype, SR-N1, weighed 7 tons and was capable of 60 knots. It crossed the English Channel in 1959 (with Cockerell aboard). Hovercraft entered regular cross-channel service in 1968.

Cockerell was a consultant to Hovercraft Development Ltd. until 1979. He was also interested in the development of wave-power generators.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.

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