A hovercraft (air-cushion vehicle, ACV) is a craft capable of traveling over surfaces while supported by a cushion of slow moving, high-pressure air which is ejected against the surface below and contained within a "skirt." Although supported by air, a hovercraft is not considered an aircraft.

In 1915 Austrian Dagobert Müller built the world's first air-cushion vehicle. Shaped like a section of a large aircraft wing, the craft was propelled forward by four aero engines, with a fifth that blew air under the front of the craft to increase the air pressure under it. In motion, the craft also trapped air under the front, increasing lift. Thus the Versuchsgleitboot is half-way between the ram-air vehicles similar to later Soviet designs, and the modern hovercraft that uses air forced into a skirt. Designed as a fast torpedo boat, the Versuchsgleitboot had a top speed over 32 knots (59 km/h). It was thoroughly tested and even armed with torpedoes and machine guns for operation in the Adriatic. It never saw actual combat, however, and as the war progressed it was eventually scrapped due to lack of interest and perceived need, and its engines returned to the Air Force whence they came.

The theoretical grounds for motion over an air layer were constructed by Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovskii in 1926 and 1927.

The first design that would be recognized as a true hovercraft was designed by Finnish aero engineer Toivo J. Kaario in 1931. Kaario's design included the modern features of a lift engine blowing air into a flexible envelope for lift. He built his first prototype, Finnish: Pintaliitäjä (Surface Soarer), in 1937.

Posted 2011-01-24 and updated on Jan 24, 2011 6:57am by crisd

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