It was a sign of the future: a hovercraft jetting along the waters of Lake Ontario on a mid-Spring day.

On May 20, 1972, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) participated in testing Bell Aerospace Canada's hovercraft Voyageur on the Great Lakes and on the Mackenzie River and Beaufort Sea.

FBF - Voyageur Hovercraft
The Voyageur participates in trials on Lake Ontario near Toronto May 20, 1972.

According to advertisements for the craft at the time, the Voyageur measured 18 metres long and could carry a 23,000-kilogram payload at 80 kilometres per hour. Its cushion of air meant it could ride over water or rugged terrain with ease.

The federal government saw the tests as successful and in 1974 commissioned one of the freight hovercrafts as a way of revolutionizing the CCG's operations in the Great Lakes and the Arctic. The coast guard's Voyageur was first stationed in Parry Sound, Ont. before being moved to a base in Montreal.

After being commissioned, it was used in coast guard operations including rescues. But even during testing, the craft had some memorable moments. The Hovercraft Club of Canada says the world's first landing of a helicopter on a hovercraft took place on a Voyageur during the coast guard's tests on Lake Ontario in 1972.

The craft even caught the eye of the U.S. Navy, which bought two modified Voyageurs and then produced dozens of military versions-- LACV-30s -- in the late 1970s.