Vickers-Armstrong VA-3 (British United Airways)

Vickers-Armstrong VA-3 (British United Airways)

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The VA-3 was a craft trialled and developed in 1962, soon after the SRN1 proved the hovercraft concept viable. British United Airways ran the VA.3, after trials in the Solent, on the first ever passenger hovercraft route. This route was run across the estuary of the River Dee between Rhyl, North Wales and Wallasea, nr. Liverpool. The service shuttled a maximum of 24 passengers between the two sites, and was scheduled to run 12 trips a day for an experimental 2-month (59-day) period. It even took post between the two destinations, becoming the world's first Hovercraft Postal Service! Whilst it proved popular, unreliable engines and bad weather were factors leading to the service only running for 36 days of this 59-day period. The VA-3, like the SRN1 had no skirt, and thus had a limited hoverheight, resigning its operation to none but the calmest of days during its summer operating period. [Hovercraft Museum, 2004; Barton, 2005; Old Classic Car, 2008]

Vickers Armstrong began its hovercraft operations in 1961 and produced several craft and concept craft, including the imaginitively named VA-1, VA-2, VA-3, VA-3A and VA-4. They also were responsible for the "Hover Rover", an attempt to enter the 4x4 market [Land Rover Madness, 2007]. The 1966 formation of the British Hovercraft Corporation (BHC) was from the merger of Westland and Vickers Armstrong, seeing the end of Vickers Armstrong's design inputs to the hovercraft field [Barton, 2005].

VA-3 001's passenger use ended on 17th Sept, 1962 during extreme weather, breaking loose from her moorings and towed to shore by Rhyl Lifeboat, however not before extreme damage had been done to the structure, rendering her uses over [Sunny Rhyl, 2007].

Following its use as a passenger service the VA-3 model carried on in life, doing Hovershows and public appearances, until it was used by the British government, especially the Royal Navy, in the field of marine mine tests. It was theorized that an ACV (Air-Cushioned Vehicle) would fare much better with a mine strike than traditional, surface penetrating vehicles. The VA-3 was the guinea pig used in these trials, ruthlessly blown up in the Solent and scattered across the sea floor [Old, 2005].


VA-3 image galleries:

Performance specifications for VA-3 hovercraft

Source: Barton, 2005

Feature Specification
Length (m) 17.06
Beam (m) 8.23
Height (hovering) (m) 6.03
Height (landed) (m) 5.80
Rated cruise speed (kts) 60
Propulsion Engines 2 x Bristol Siddley Turmo Free Turbines
Engine power (kW) 317
No. of Passengers 24
Lift Engines 2 x Bristol Siddley Turmo Free Turbines
Lift Engine power (kW) 317
Drive system Direct drive from engine to variable pitch propeller
Steering system 4 x rudders, 2 at front, 2 at rear. Later modified to just 2 x rear rudders.

YouTube User 's discovered cine film of the VA3 activities in 1962.

Page updated: Saturday, September 13, 2014

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