Charles J. Fletcher, a 1950 graduate of the Academy of Aeronautics and holder of 18 aviation and manufacturing patents, died recently at age 88. A dedicated supporter of Vaughn College, Fletcher, who lived in Fredon, N.J., was best known for his invention of the hovercraft, a specialized transport vehicle that uses a cushion of air to glide over land, ice and water.
While serving as a Navy pilot, Fletcher sketched out plans for a vehicle that could rise slightly above its terrain, freeing it from surface friction. What he called the "Glide Mobile" became a major advance in military land assault vehicles, interwaterway travel and emergency transport. Although supported by air, the hovercraft is not considered an aircraft.
"I enjoy sitting around and developing things," Fletcher told the New Jersey Herald in 1993. "Especially things which have potential value for tomorrow's world."
Fletcher, who achieved the rank of lieutenant commander, served as a Naval aviator during World War II. After the war, he studied aeronautical engineering at the Academy of Aeronautics before being deployed to the war in Korea. He later earned a bachelor's degree from New York University.
Fletcher was chairman and chief executive of New Jersey-based Technology General Corp. He worked on the test version of the Apollo lunar lander and secured 17 patents on vertical lift and rocket engines. He was inducted into the New Jersey Aviation Hall of Fame in 1992 and the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame in 1993.
His 2002 autobiography "Quest for Survival" documented his life in the military, development of the hovercraft and work on the X-15 rocket engine. He signed copies of his autobiography during a visit to the College after publication.
Charles J. Fletcher, inventor of the hovercraft, shown at right, visited Vaughn College after publishing his autobiography "Quest for Survival." He is pictured with president John C. Fitzpatrick, center, and executive director of corporate and foundation relations Kalli Koutsoutis.