Hovercrafts are truly amazing vehicles: Whether on land, water, mud or ice, these air-cushioned craft rule the unpaved wilderness. And they were born from a wildly optimistic and experimental era of engineering—as reflected by these incredible early prototypes and designs.

I recently came across a bunch of rare hovercraft photographs in a few old Hungarian scientific magazines and books, and I immediately wanted to share them with other hovercraft fans out there. Each one of these ships—from obscure prototypes and early production models to insane, never-produced visions—reflects the ingenuity of 20th century engineering. Just see for yourself.


The Ford Levacar at the Dearborn testing facility.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.

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The Ford Aeronutronic.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The US Navy's Hughes Hydrostreak XHS1.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.

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The Bell SKMR-1 Hidroskimmer, an experimental US Navy hovercraft intended for submarine reconnaissance.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


D-1 prototype hovercraft designed by Denny Hovercraft Ltd.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The Saunders-Roe SR.N1 ("Saunders-Roe Nautical 1") was the first practical hovercraft.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.

Source: Népszerű Technika, 1959. szeptember


A cutaway illustration of the next generation SR.N2. Only one was built, but it can be regarded as the prototype for commercial hovercrafts.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The Westland/Saunders-Roe SR.N2 hovercraft could carry 48 passengers.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.

Source: Népszerű Technika, 1962. augusztus


The first Vickers hovercraft prototype, the VA-1.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


Small-scale ferry service: the British United Airways's Vickers-Armstrong VA-3 hovercraft.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.

Source: Népszerű Technika, 1962. augusztus


A modified Land Rover truck for farmers, also by Vickers.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The Curtiss-Wright Air-Car.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The Cushioncraft (CC-1), a British hovercraft prototype gliding on a ring-shaped air cushion.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The Cushioncraft-2 (CC-2) could carry 12 passengers.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The French Bertin had eight separate air-cushion rings.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


GEM-1, a US Army prototype with two frontal propellers.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


The GEM-3.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


Pioneer-1, a simple and cheap hovercraft built by the Manufacturing Company Of Seattle.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


A cross-section drawing of the Pioneer-1.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


Motor-cycle: The first hovercraft bike!

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


X-2, an experimental Air-Scooter developed at Princeton University.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


A Soviet prototype, the one-man Vezdekhod.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


Dr. William R. Bertelsen, a medical doctor from Illinois who developed a craft called the aeromobile.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.

Source: Népszerű Technika, 1959. szeptember


Dr. Bertelsen's upgraded Aeromobile.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


Here's the Ilen by Weiland, a strange box-shaped hovership.

Source: Népszerű Technika, 1959. szeptember


And Neva, a Soviet-era air-cushion ship.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


Zarya, another Soviet passenger hovercraft, was intended for crossing shallow lakes and rivers.

Source: Utak és járművek – A Szovjetúnió közlekedése. Magyar–Szovjet Baráti Társaság, 1975.


A definitive Soviet beauty: The Sormovich hovercraft. It could reach 74.5 MPH and carry up to 50 passengers over frozen rivers.

Source: Utak és járművek – A Szovjetúnió közlekedése. Magyar–Szovjet Baráti Társaság, 1975.


A smaller Soviet hovercraft—this one used to cruise on rivers.

Source: Utak és járművek – A Szovjetúnió közlekedése. Magyar–Szovjet Baráti Társaság, 1975.


This concept art shows the near future, when large hovercrafts will cross the La Manche channel.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


This is how the engineers at the British Hovercraft imagined the traffic on the La Manche channel, filled with 100-ton-vessels of the near future.

Source: Korunk technikája, Gondolat, Budapest, 1964.


Another artist's rendering of a futuristic hovercar.

Source: Népszerű Technika, 1960. január


And an artist's impression of a futuristic hovercar by Robert Szenes, complete with fins and headlights.

Source: Népszerű Technika, 1959. szeptember