There is more to life than airplanes, Part 2

The prototype of the Cushioncraft CC7 light utility hovercraft during its sea trials, Saint Helens, Isle of Wight, England. Anon., “ACVs – CC7 on sea trials.” Aeroplane, 22 May 1968, 27.

You’re back, my reading friend. Has a week passed since our last interaction? Astonishing. Time does indeed fly. Do you remember the topic at hand? Good. Let us continue.

Rightly or wrongly, the management of Cushioncraft Limited chose to fully test the CC7 before launching a wide scale effort to sell it. Foreign buyers would be the main target. This approach was based at least in part on feedback from Hovertravel Limited, the first hovercraft transport company in the world and one in which Cushioncraft’s parent company, Britten-Norman Limited, held a number of shares. Eager to help, the Ministry of Technology, or Mintech, bought the prototype of the CC7 soon after the first test run. This hovercraft spent some time with the Hovercraft Unit of the National Physical Laboratory in 1968, when it underwent further testing. A video showing the prototype in the United Kingdom can be accessed at

Yours truly was slightly shaken, not stirred, by the use of the expression Double C Seven by the narrator. Was this way of speaking common at the time or was he paraphrasing the code name of the most famous secret agent of all times, James Bond, created by Ian Lancaster Fleming?

Interestingly enough, the prototype of the CC7 underwent testing in Canada in 1969, something we will look at later on. In 1971, the British Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) sent a CC7 to Manaus, the Paris of the Tropics, in the heart of Brazil. The 15 day trials were very successful. That same hovercraft then travelled from Manaus all the way to Georgetown, Guyana, thus covering a distance of about 1 600 kilometres (about 1 000 miles). It undertook this odyssey to come up with the footage needed to make a documentary film, later named The Forbidden Route, which was broadcasted in November 1971 on the British Broadcasting Corporation television series The World About Us. DTI collaborated in this expedition in the hope that the publicity surrounding it would boost CC7 sales. It did not.

A word of warning if I may. The following part of our story is a tragic one. The expedition may have followed at least in part the path of a great road from Manaus to the border with Venezuela. Eager to develop the northern part of Brazil, the country’s government, a brutal military dictatorship at the time, had launched a plan to that effect around 1967. It fell apart for a number of reasons. As a result, BR-174, as the great northern road was called, was only completed in 1998. The Forbidden Route mentioned the violent death of a group of first nation people, presumably Kinjas, a group better known as the Waimiri Atroari. You see, Brazil’s military government dealt very harshly indeed with anyone who got in the way of the construction crews. Most Kinjas perished over a period of a few years. The descendants of the survivors still live in the region.

Even though Cushioncraft may have had as several potential sales by the end of 1968, it produced only 5 CC7s. Two of these were ordered around 1971 and used as patrol and communication vehicles by the hovercraft trials squadron of the British Army’s Royal Corps of Transport. By then, the prototype was also with that unit. Another CC7 arrived in Congo in 1970 where it was operated for some time by a diamond mining firm. The Société minière de Bakwanga Société congolaise par actions à responsabilité limitée used the hovercraft for personnel / cargo transport and survey work, to complement its small airplanes and helicopters. Finally, a CC7 seemingly went to Sweden in 1971-72. A newly founded hovercraft transport company, Svävarlinjen Aktiebolaget, wanted to use it to transport passengers and freight around Stockholm. It should be noted that Air Gabon Société anonyme, the national airline of Gabon, a small African country near the equator, had ordered these last two CC7s in 1969, only to back out of the deal for some reason or other.

Would you believe that the three CC7s operated by the British Army were given military aircraft registrations? Given this, yours truly wonders if hovercrafts do not fall within the purview of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum of Ottawa, Ontario. How cool would it be to further enlarge the museum’s mandate, my reading friend? Indeed, why stop there? To astronomy and beyond! Just kidding, or am I?

Construction of a stretched CC7 may have begun in 1973 but it looks as if this vehicle was not completed. This may or may not be the stretched version of the CC7 put forward after British Hovercraft Corporation took over Cushioncraft but envisioned as early as 1968. This latter hovercraft may have been designed to receive 2 small British gas turbines, significantly cheaper than the United Aircraft of Canada ST6, developed with the backing of Mintech. The engine in question was the Budworth Blowfly – an interesting name if there ever was one.

The individual behind its maker, David Budworth Limited, was a brilliant mechanical engineer by the name of, you guessed it, David Dutton Budworth. Interestingly enough, his first gas turbine was a small instructional model, the Budworth Brill perhaps, sold in some numbers to technical schools and universities in the United Kingdom and abroad. Would it not be cool if one of these gas turbines could be located in Canada? Such an engine would deserve inclusion in a museum’s collection.

You may be equally interested to read, or not, that Budworth and his company may have been involved in the development and / or construction of the life size sperm whale model used in the very popular 1956 American movie Moby Dick. If truth be told, this model briefly vanished in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, in a fog bank, when its tow line broke. And yes, the star of the film was on the back of the model at the time. The great Gregory Peck, born Eldred Gregory Peck, was not too thrilled, but back to our story. Err, actually that’s it for today. Sorry about that. Again, ta ta for now.

What’s this? You want more Canadian content? You will have some, my patriotic if slightly pushy reading friend, but not today. See you next week.

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Rénald Fortier