It is usually the case that the military of any country is the first to exploit any invention or innovation to suit it's particular needs. It goes without saying that their requirements are very different from the features needed in a hovercraft for personal use. In some cases, advances come from military or NASA research, such as Teflon and the high temperature tiles used on the outside of the space shuttle for example. Some inventions, such as rockets, have been around for two centuries or more. The Chinese invented gunpowder and rockets or other projectiles quickly followed. Although they were often treated more as a novelty than serious opposition to the traditional swords and long range bows, it's an example of how the armed forces quickly take an idea and run with it.
The first large hovercraft were not military however, but commercial. One of the very first passenger hovercraft was commissioned to travel between UK and France over the short stretch of sea known as the English Channel. It carried up to 200 passengers and cars, so it was huge. A fitting tribute to the inventor, who was British. It ran for several years, but it was cursed by many because it was rough and promoted sea sickness. It was known as the 'Vomit Comet' and in rough seas it must have been quite an ordeal. It's only saving grace was the fact that it crossed the Channel in 15 minutes compared to almost an hour for the traditional ferries, which was quite a boon for business men who traveled backwards and forwards regularly.
Strangely enough, it was the Americans and Russians who saw the potential in large scale hovercraft for carrying men, vehicles and equipment over long distances over various terrains. These giant craft floated two feet above the ground and so most obstacles could be hovered over. The enormous skirt was flexible, so it could simply brush past larger ones. Giant engines were used, sometimes several each side which rotated for steering and forward propulsion, and several others mounted along the top hull section providing downward air pressure and lift.
As one might imagine, a military hovercraft needs protection against bullets, shells and other weapons, so extra armor is need to protect the crew and fighting men. Unlike ordinary commercial and personal small hovercraft, the passenger compartments are air tight, so that a gas attack would have no effect. Instead of having just one hull, the ideal craft would have sections that are sealed off from it's neighbor, so that if it needed to rest on the water for some reason there would be no danger of sinking, even in the stormiest weather.
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