WA the world’s launch pad for first hovercraft
Before hovercrafts entered the NASA space program and the Chinese military, and long before they became James Bond’s getaway vehicle of choice, the world’s first air-cushion vehicle was used as a toy by a little boy in Perth.
That little boy was AK Alcock of Victoria Park, whose father, Alfred Upton Alcock, created what is now regarded as the first modern hovercraft.
Britain’s Christopher Cockerel was the first to patent a design that operated under the same principle, which he did in England in 1956, but Mr Alcock is recognised as the inventor of the first practical prototype.
Mr Alcock, an electrical engineer, began working on the model after moving to Perth from Victoria in 1910, and he successfully demonstrated the contraption to media and government officials in 1912.
His son, AK, later recalled in a newspaper interview he called the contraption “dada’s floating train” and used to ride it down the passage way at their Victoria Park home.
“I can clearly remember the model, as at the age of seven I had the thrill of riding on it, ” he told the Canberra Times in 1966.
“My father took out a provisional patent in 1914, but apparently never completed the patent because he could not get any financial backing.”
In those early days, few could see the potential for Mr Alcock’s simple design — a 1.2m square platform, which levitated above the floor.
The device used an electric motor to drive the air downwards, and a propeller was later added to give it a forward motion.
Mr Alcock was immediately aware of its potential, and was confident that, with a bigger engine, the invention would reach speeds of 160km/h.
He hoped it would eventually be used to carry bulk grain from farms in the Wheatbelt.
Mr Alcock was not recognised until after Cockerel’s first full-scale design crossed the English Channel in 1959.
A few years after he passed away in 1962 he was hailed by media as a “prophet without honour in his own country”.
His original prototype has since been recognised by Westland Aircraft Company, aviation historians and even in the British parliament.
These days, hovercrafts are a multi-billion dollar industry, and designs have become so sophisticated the vehicles can transition smoothly over land, sea and ice.
They are used in fields as diverse as recreation, tourism, rescue operations and the military.
© The West Australian
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