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This Day In History: Howard Hughes’ Flying Boat, The Spruce Goose, Flies

November 02, 2016

This day in history, November 2, 1947, Howard Hughes’ flying boat, also known as the Spruce Goose took flight for the first and only time in history.

The H-4 Hercules (“Spruce Goose”), the largest aircraft ever built, was piloted and designed by Howard Hughes, an American entrepreneur and film producer who also formed the Hughes Aircraft Company.

He personally tested cutting-edge aircraft of his own design and in 1937 broke the transcontinental flight-time record. In 1938, he flew around the world in a record three days, 19 hours, and 14 minutes.

Built with laminated birch and spruce, the massive wooden aircraft had a wingspan longer than a football field and was designed to carry more than 700 men to battle.

After the U.S. entered World War II at the end of 1941, the U.S. government commissioned the Hughes Aircraft Company to build a large flying boat capable of carrying men and materials over long distances.

Industrialist Henry Kaiser originally conceived the concept for the “Spruce Goose”, but he dropped the project early on, leaving Howard Hughes the chance to create it.

Because of wartime restrictions on steel, Hughes decided to build his aircraft out of wood laminated with plastic and covered with fabric. Although it was constructed mainly of birch, the use of spruce (along with its white-gray color) would later earn the aircraft the nickname Spruce Goose. It had a wingspan of 320 feet and was powered by eight giant propeller engines.

The development of the Spruce Goose cost $23 million and took so long that by the time it was completed in 1946, the war was already over.

Many people were skeptical of the aircraft and Congress demanded that it be flown to prove its worth.

On November 2, 1947, Hughes took the H-4 prototype out into Long Beach Harbor, CA for an unannounced flight test. Thousands of people looked on and watched as the H-4 Hercules lifted 70 feet above the ground and flew for one mile.

The Spruce Goose never went into production however, primarily because critics alleged that its wooden framework was insufficient to support its weight during long flights.

The eccentric and withdrawn Howard Hughes saw it as his greatest aviation achievement and kept the aircraft in a climate-controlled hangar for $1 million a year until his death in 1976.

Today, the Spruce Goose is housed at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.