A Year: Day to Day Men: 2nd of November

He Says “Woof”

November 2, 1947 marks the first and only flight of the Hughes H-4 Hercules, known as the Spruce Goose.

In 1942, the U.S. War Department needed to transport war material and personnel to Britain. A requirement was issued for an aircraft that could cross the Atlantic with a large payload; however, because of wartime priorities, the aircraft could not be made from strategic materials such as aluminum. Henry J. Kaiser, a leading ship builder, teamed with aircraft designer Howard Hughes to create the largest aircraft ever built at that time.

The aircraft was designed to carry 150,000 pounds, 750 fully equipped troops, or two 30-ton M4 Sherman tanks. The final design was to be built mostly of wood to conserve metal, with its elevators and rudder covered with fabric. The construction of the first prototype, the HK-1, took sixteen months. Henry Kaiser, frustrated by the long delays and the restrictions on materials, decided to withdraw from the project.

Howard Hughes continued the program on his own, under a new contract limiting the production to one plane, now the H-4 Hercules. Work proceeded slowly and the H-4 was not completed until the war was over. The plane was built by the Hughes Aircraft Company using composite technology for the laminated wood construction. The finished plane was moved in three sections to Pier E in Long Beach, California, where a hanger was erected around it with a ramp to launch the H-4 into the harbor. In all, development cost for the plane was twenty-three million dollars, or more than ten times that in today dollars.

On November 2, 1947, with Howard Hughes at the controls, and a crew of seven, and fourteen invited guests, the Hercules picked up speed and lifted off. The Hercules remained airborne for 26 seconds at a height of seventy feet above the water and a speed of 135 miles per hour. At this altitude the aircraft still experienced ground effect. This brief flight proved that the now uneeded aircraft was flight worthy. The Hercules H-4 never flew again; its lifting capacity and ceiling height were never tested.

The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has the Hughes H-1 Racer and a section of theH-4’s wing. The Aero Club of Southern California acquired the Hercules H-4 aircraft in 1980, displaying it in a very large geodesic dome in Long Beach, California. The club later arranged for the aircraft to be given to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon where it is currently on display. The 315,000 square foot aircraft hanger where the Hercules H-4 was built, located in the Playa Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles,  is on the National Register of Historical Buildings.