Along the seafront at Lee-on-the-Solent, opposite the slipway, lies an entrance to what was HMS Daedalus but now leads to the Hovercraft Museum – the only hovercraft museum in the world.
It is fitting that it is situated on the site of Daedalus where hovercraft were evaluated and maintained. Lee is synonymous with planes, in particular sea planes and it is also very much the home of the hovercraft.
After the first cross-Channel crossing by a hovercraft in 1959 there was a revolution in hovercraft design and development, both commercial and military,
Within 10 years there was the mighty SRN4 which crossed the Channel regularly in less than 40 minutes and which carried more than 400 passengers and 60 cars.
Military hovercraft had developed and an army hovercraft squadron was formed, 200 Hovercraft Squadron RCT, based along the road at Browndown.
Small craft appeared as many hovercraft manufacturers and developers appeared along the Solent.
The Mackace hoverplatform was based at Funtley; the Pindair Skima range was based at Gosport; the mighty Saunders Roe and later British Hovercraft Corporation, at Cowes.
As hovercraft developed, right at the centre was Lee.
In 1961 the British Interservice Hovercraft (Trials) Unit (IHTU) has been established at Daedalus (known as HMS Ariel from 1959 until 1965) with personnel drawn from the Army, Royal Marines, Royal Navy and the RAF. From 1969 it became known as the IHU
Extensive use was made of the widened and improved slipway as hovercraft came and went.
The purpose of this unit was to help service personnel gain experience of hovercraft and help their makers develop them and evaluate any military potential.
As a result a wide range of craft, commercial and military, passed up and down that slipway as they were put through their paces in the Solent.
A superb new book by Jim Gray, The Hovercraft, traces the history of this craft which still amazes and which we, in the Portsmouth area, take for granted with its regular cross-Solent passages from Southsea to Ryde. People from other parts of the country still come to Southsea and gawp at the strange amphibian which ‘flies’ across the waves.
Gray has used the wonderful archive at the museum, with many rare and unpublished images, to great effect in this 96-page book. It’s published by Amberley at £14.99.