Hover Museum campaign reaches New Zealand

SRN4 Hovercraft Princess Margaret

SRN4 Hovercraft Princess Margaret. Copyright Anne Grant.

A man who helped to build both SRN4 Princess Hovercrafts has added his signature to the petition to save the Princess Anne and Princess Margaret. Phil Phillips, now in his 70s and in New Zealand, built the entire port side front lounge or cabin with the help of one apprentice. Yes, just two men!  On top of these structures later, is where the pilot’s small cockpit eventually sat. Phil says, “It was the biggest structure I have ever built and I can only compare it to building a house. It was that big! This forward cabin could seat 50 people.”

Saddened by the news that the SRN4 museum pieces are under threat of being scrapped, Phil has started to record his memories of working on these giant hovers. This follows the suggestion by Solent Aviatrix. It is hoped his record of his working days will eventually become part of a future Isle of Wight Aviation Heritage Centre.

He told Solent Aviatrix, “I have to be grateful to Saunders-Roe for giving me the best apprenticeship you could get anywhere and your skills never leave you. I remember the maintenance staff having to remove part of the front of the SARO hanger to be able to get the hovercraft out onto the concrete pan. Once outside we were still finishing things as they were doing hover tests. Very exciting stuff.”

After leaving SARO, Phil worked for 9 months with Britten-Norman. He says, “I did a few small modifications on the Cushion Craft in that photo on your website.”

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Lee Hovercraft to be scrapped?

Britten Norman Cushion Craft

Britten Norman Cushion Craft. Courtesy of Mark William.

For decades Lee-on-the-Solent has been the home of the only Hovercraft Museum in the world, but for how much longer? It is under threat from development by the government appointed Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

The two Isle of Wight built giant car-carrying hovercraft crossed the English Channel daily until 1995. During that time 80 million passengers and 15 million cars used the Hoverspeed service.

British Hovercraft Corporation, formerly Saunders Roe of East Cowes, built the SRN4 Princess Margaret and Princess Anne in the 1960s.

SRN4 Hovercraft Princess Margaret

SRN4 Hovercraft Princess Margaret. Copyright Anne Grant.

Since 2000, the two Princesses have rested on their skirts at the Hovercraft Museum on Daedalus Airfield, Lee-on-the-Solent. Gracing the museum gates at Daedalus Lee Slipway, on the main road along the seafront, Margaret and Anne are highly visible to every passing motorist and pedestrian. They showcase what lies beyond in the museum, namely, over 50 hovercrafts of all sizes, plus models, films and displays.

But the very existence of all this is now in doubt.

SRN4 Cross Channel Hovercraft Princess Anne

Hovercraft Museum Trust and SRN4 Princess Anne. Copyright Anne Grant.

Trustees fear the loss of the Princesses will impact on the museum’s future viability.

HCA want Princess Margaret and Princess Anne to be broken up and sold for scrap or removed. But minus their Rolls Royce engines, how can they ever be moved or relocated?

Warwick Jacobs, museum trustee, isn’t giving up without a fight. He has approached the National Historical Ships Register to request their help to preserve the SRN4s.

Warwick Jacobs, Hovercraft Trust trustee.

Warwick Jacobs, Hovercraft Trust trustee. Copyright Anne Grant.

An online petition has been launched to try to save the Princesses. Follow this link to the Hovercraft Museum website to add your signature.

A few years ago the Hovercraft Museum appeared in the TV show Scrapheap Challenge. Now these two historic hovercrafts could end up on the scrap heap themselves. It is to be hoped the ‘Ticket Office Closed’ sign doesn’t become permanent.

Hovercraft Museum Ticket Office at Lee-on-the-Solent

Hovercraft Museum Ticket Office. Copyright Anne Grant.

Demolition of them will be equal to the 1971 travesty when the iconic Lee-on-the-Solent Art Deco tower was demolished. And how they’ve lived to regret that.