Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Howard Hughes Flies Spruce Goose 1947
The Hughes H-4 Hercules (registration NX37602) ("Spruce Goose") was a prototype heavy transport aircraft designed and built by the Hughes Aircraft company. The aircraft made its only flight on November 2, 1947. Built from wood because of wartime raw material restrictions on the use of aluminum, it was nicknamed the "Spruce Goose" by its critics. The Hercules is the largest flying boat ever built, and has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history. It survives in good condition at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, USA.
Despite its nickname, the H-4 was built almost entirely of birch, rather than spruce. The plywood-and-resin "Duramold" process, a form of composite technology, was used in the laminated wood construction, which was considered a technological tour de force. The aircraft was not finished in time for use in World War II and never advanced beyond the single prototype produced.
During a break in the Senate hearings, Hughes returned to California to run taxi tests on the H-4. On November 2, 1947, the taxi tests were begun with Hughes at the controls. His crew included Dave Grant as co-pilot, and two flight engineers, 16 mechanics and two other flight crew. In addition, the H-4 carried seven invited guests from the press corps plus an additional seven industry representatives, for a total of 32 on board.
After the first two taxi runs, four reporters left to file stories, but the remaining press stayed for the final test run of the day. After picking up speed on the channel facing Cabrillo Beach near Long Beach, the Hercules lifted off, remaining airborne 70 ft (21 m) off the water at a speed of 135 miles per hour (217 km/h) for around a mile (1.6 km). At this altitude, the aircraft was still experiencing ground effect. The aircraft never flew again. Its lifting capacity and ceiling were never tested. A full-time crew of 300 workers, all sworn to secrecy, maintained the plane in flying condition in a climate-controlled hangar. The crew was reduced to 50 workers in 1962, and then disbanded after Hughes' death in 1976.