The Spruce Goose made its inaugural flight 75 years ago, and it never took flight again

   

The year 2022 was significant for a number of important anniversaries. Naturally, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the BMW M division. However, there is one more event that is worth commemorating, and that is the 75th anniversary of the maiden flight of the Hughes H-4 Hercules, which was also the aircraft’s sole flight. More often referred to as the Spruce Goose. Mr. Howard Hughes and the Hughes Aircraft Company were responsible for the construction of the Spruce Goose, which holds the record for being the biggest flying boat that has ever been constructed and is also among the largest aircraft that have ever been constructed in the history of aviation.

Hughes has long been regarded as one of the most interesting personalities in the history of aviation, and the creation of the Spruce Goose is often regarded as the crowning accomplishment of his aviation career. However, this unique aircraft, which was once conceived of as a massive military heavy transporter, was only ever intended to make a single flight that was just a few minutes long before it was placed in storage for a number of years. The Spruce Goose has been preserved in a state of remarkable excellent shape and serves as the focal point of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. This is a remarkable accomplishment. The year 2022 will mark 75 years since the Spruce Goose made its one and only flight, so we figured it was high time we take a look at the history of the aircraft.

Why The Spruce Goose Was Designed And Developed

Spruce Goose During Its 1947 Taxi Trials

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.

The Spruce Goose On Display At Evergreen Museum

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

The Spruce Goose Berthed In Its Pier

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.

The Spruce Goose Flies For The Only Time In 1947

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

Spruce-Goose At Evergreen Aviation Museum

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.

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