The year 2022 has marked several special anniversaries. It has marked 50 years of the BMW M division of course. But one other anniversary that is worth celebrating is the 75th anniversary of the first, and only flight, of the Hughes H-4 Hercules. Better known as the Spruce Goose. The Spruce Goose remains the largest flying boat ever built and one of the largest aircraft ever built in aviation history, and it was of course the works of Mr Howard Hughes and his Hughes Aircraft Company.
Hughes has always been one of the most fascinating figures in the aviation world, and the Spruce Goose was perhaps the pinnacle of his aviation achievements. Yet this remarkable aircraft, designed originally as a large military heavy transporter, was to make just a single and very short flight, before it was then cocooned in storage for decades. Remarkably, the Spruce Goose survives in remarkably good condition and is now the centerpiece of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. With 2022 marking 75 years since that one and only flight, we thought it was time we took a look at the Spruce Goose story.
Why The Spruce Goose Was Designed And Developed
The Spruce Goose was in fact designed for what was actually quite a simple purpose. During 1942, the US War Department needed to transport war material and personnel to Britain. However, doing so by ship across the Atlantic was risky due to the heavy losses Allied merchant shipping was taking at the hands of German U-Boats. Thus, the US decided a large aircraft that could carry vast amounts across the Atlantic was badly needed. Teaming up with Henry J. Kaiser, Hughes would create what was at the time the largest aircraft in the world.
Initially, the 1942 development contract called for three aircraft to be fully completed and delivered in two years for the war effort. However, Kaiser would later withdraw from the project and Hughes would sign a new contract for one aircraft, designated H-4 Hercules. The Hercules was in fact built mostly of wood, although with many projects, development would inevitably drag on. It wasn’t until well after the Second World War over that the giant flying boat was finally completed. A form of composite technology was also employed in its construction, using the plywood and resin Duramold process.
The Spruce Goose Finally Takes To The Skies
In 1947, Howard Hughes was called to testify before the Senate War Investigating Committee. This was over the use of government funds during to build the aircraft. Development would be hugely expensive, costing some $23 million for the Spruce Goose, around $213 million in today’s money. Meanwhile, during the hearings, the Spruce Goose sat finished and ready to go. It had eight Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major 28-cylinder air-cooled radial engines for its powerplant, and its project top speed was 250 mph with a service ceiling of 20,900 ft. Its wingspan was a truly incredible 320 ft 11 inches.
Prior to the senate hearings, the aircraft was then taken to Long Beach, California and during a break in the hearings, Hughes returned to California to taxi test the aircraft. These taxi tests would begin on November 2nd 1947. Various members of the press corps were then as well as industry representatives. On the final run of the day, to the surprise of many, the great bird became airborne and lifted off the water. The Hercules would fly at a speed of 135 mph, for around one mile, a flight time of 26 seconds. She would touch down, never to fly again, and Hughes was finally satisfied that his finest creation was flight worthy.
A Quiet Post-Flight Life For The Spruce Goose
Sworn to secrecy, a team of 300 workers would maintain the Spruce Goose in a climate-controlled hangar, a team that was then disbanded after Hughes death in 1976. The Spruce Goose was later acquired in 1980 by the Aero Club of Southern California and displayed in a huge geodesic dome next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, until 1991 when Disney, who had acquired the attraction, no longer wanted to display the Spruce Goose. After a long search for a new home, the Spruce Goose was then transferred to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
Still Wowing The Crowds 75 Years On
Transported by barge, train, and truck, the Spruce Goose went on display again in 1993, and it has remained the price and joy of the museum ever since. The aircraft dwarfs everything else on display with it, towering above a Douglas DC-3 Dakota and various other aircraft. It is one of the most remarkable aircraft ever made and one that still captures the hearts and minds of many fans of aviation. It is surely Howard Hughes greatest achievement, while also being a great “what if” in the aviation world. 75 years on from that one and only flight, we are lucky to have the Spruce Goose still with us.