Hovercraft Used To Connect San Francisco to Oakland

Port of Oakland SK-5 hovercraft used to ferry passengers on San Francisco Bay. Photo Credit: Port of Oakland.

Hovercraft, in practical application, have been around since the 1950s. Essentially a flat-bottom boat that rides on a cushion of air (and therefore an “air craft”), the hovercraft uses flexible skirts to contain the high pressure air blown into the space below the craft between it and the surface over which the hovercraft is flying.

Official US Navy Photograph

Capable of traveling over water, mud, ice, snow, swampland, desert sand, and just about anything else short of steep hills or mountains, hovercraft have been used for disaster relief, surveying, remote outpost provisioning, and for depositing military personnel and equipment on land from the sea for decades. The video chronicles development of hovercraft from their genesis to today’s modern air-cushion craft.

San Francisco had hovercraft service?  Yep!

Hovercraft have been used as ferries to transport commuters over water between points of land since the 1960s. One little known ferry service was a connection between Oakland and the San Francisco Bay not to far from SFO.  The Port of Oakland in California put several hovercraft into service as ferries on San Francisco Bay during the early 1960s. These were Bell SK-5 models, licensed from the original British Saunders-Roe design that was thoroughly wrung out in the Amazon, the deserts of Africa, and the snows of the Canadian Arctic.  The service was operated by SFO Airlines, a company that connected commuters via helicopters throughout the Bay in the 1960s and ’70s.  While the commute between the two bay cities was shortened with the hovercraft, the service was relatively expensive to operate and not as fast as helicopters. Despite its lofty aspirations, the service only lasted a year.

The United States Navy (USN) and Army also used the SK-5 hovercraft in Vietnam during the mid- 1960s, arming them and designating them Patrol Air Cushion Vehicles (PACVs). Further development of the SK-5 led to the SK-10 model that was eventually developed into today’s Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) used by American amphibious forces today. The Soviet Union also made extensive use of hovercraft for amphibious assault.