The thread about the Denny Hoverbus, when sixties Scotland tasted the air-cushioned future of public transport

This thread was originally written and published in June 2019. It has been lightly edited and corrected as applicable for this post.

It has just come to my attention that in 1963 Scottish shipbuilder William Denny (of Dumbarton) built a Hoverbus! And the National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive has a 25 minute colour film about it!

Being a traditional shipbuilder, Denny’s Hoverbus looks less like a hovercraft and more like Gerry Anderson’s take on a pleasure barge.

The production Denny D2 on trials, Loch Long or the Gareloch I think.

That was the production D2, this is the protoype D1, which looks more like its sinking when not hovering

The prototype hovercraft D1 on the day of its launch in 1961 - Image courtesy of Dr Mike Cooper
The D1 prototype in the river Leven at Denny’s yard in Dumbarton, embedded from the Flickr of the Scottish Maritime Museum.

And here is the D2 again, “flying” on the Gareloch.

D2-002 during trials on the Gareloch in 1963
The D2 on the Gareloch, embedded from the Flickr of the Scottish Maritime Museum.

The D2 served for 2 years as a Thames launch, before being returned to her manufacturer and laid up for 6 years until 1970, when she went to Jamaica (no, she went of her own accord ūü•Ā)

Palace of Westminster
D2 on Thames service passing the Houses of Parliament c. 1963. Embedded from the Flickr of Leonard Bentley.
“SEE LONDON BY HOVERCRAFT”, D2 Hoverbus advert from the Eel Pie Island heritage museum.

The D2 got to London by a rather roundabout route, from Dumbarton to Oban via the Crinan Canal, then to Inverness via the Caledonian Canal, Fraserburgh, Aberdeen, Berwick-Upon-Tweed and down the east coast to the Thames, a total of 820 miles!

Denny Hovercraft D2-002 pictured entering the Caledonian Canal during its 820 mile voyage to the River Thames in 1963
The unusual site of the D2 entering the Caledonian Canal at Corpach with Ben Nevis in the background, embedded from the Flickr of the Scottish Maritime Museum.

When the D1 was sent to Southampton, they stuck her on a Pickfords low loader and drove her instead. I guess that’s the only Hovercraft that ever went down the Glasgow Road? (at Dumbarton East Station)

D1 being towed under the bridge at Dumbarton East Station, © British Pathé
D1 being towed under the bridge at Dumbarton East Station, © British Pathé

The D1 and D2 were a type of hovercraft known as Surface Effect Ships (SES), they didn’t have the usual inflatable rubber skirts, instead had solid sides to retain the air cushion. She had 4 diesel engines, 2 to blaw and 2 to push using conventional ships screws .

D2 cutaway © Hovercraft Museum
D2 cutaway © Hovercraft Museum

This is an interesting development, as at the time the rest of the UK Hovercraft builders – who had started out as aircraft manufacturers – were trying to build bigger and faster things powered by jet engines. Denny was trying to find a more practical and economical niche using more conventional technology.

Two D2s were built, the one that went to the Thames and a second. Both were used for a short time by Norwest, who attempted to use them from Barrow to the Isle of Man before it was realised how unsuited to the open sea they were.

Norwest's D2-003 (the 2nd craft) © Simplon Postcards
Norwest’s D2-003 (the 2nd craft) ¬© Simplon Postcards

Here is Gerry Anderson’s Hoverbus for comparison…

So there you go. The Scottish hovercraft industry, 1961-1963. Built 3 hovercraft in Dumbarton, which didn’t really work very well, and when the parent company was liquidated the glorious white hot future of Scottish transportation fizzled out.

You can at least visit a small but perfectly formed model of a Denny Hoverbus, at the Denny Tank exhibition in Dumbarton.

D2 model at the Denny Testing Tank

Footnote. Having got towards the end of the video, a contemporary press cutting suggests the costs of the Hoverbus project may have pushed the ailing shipyard to the wall.

Still from the D2 video at the National Library of Scotland.

There are many more images of the D2 “Hoverbus” on the Thames at this site.

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