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The Spruce Goose is 75 years old

It flew only once, for about a half mile.

Constructed primarily from laminated birch (not spruce), the Howard Hughes creation the Spruce Goose made its one-and-only flight on this day, 75 years ago: 02 November 1947.

The aircraft weighed 400,000 pounds and sported a 320-foot wingspan. It was the largest wooden plane ever produced.

The idea for the monstrous plane was sparked in 1942 by World War II because the military needed “large flying troop and supply transports.” It was the creation of Henry Kaiser*, “the father of modern American ship building,” and Howard Hughes, Hollywood film producer and aviation pioneer.

The Hughes Kaiser Corporation began work on the HK-1 (Hughes Kaiser design number one) using plastic and wood due to the “wartime mandate not to use critical materials such as steel.” Kaiser withdrew from the project in 1944, but Hughes pressed on, “renaming the project the H-4 flying boat.”

“Out of time, over budget, and under Congressional investigation,” Hughes flew the plane on its only flight over Long Beach Harbor.

Spruce Goose
Howard Hughes’ huge eight-engine flying boat, the largest airplane ever built, was floated for the first time from its drydock on the Long Beach waterfront on 01 November 1947. NYT, 02 November 1947.

From the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, OR:

On a peaceful Sunday at Long Beach Harbor in California, thousands of onlookers gathered to watch The Hughes Flying Boat taxiing on the water for a test run. With Howard Hughes at the controls, David Grant as co-pilot, and several engineers, crew members, and journalists on board, Hughes made an unannounced decision to prove the aircraft could indeed fly. The H-4 Hercules prototype lifted off the water to fly just under half a mile at an altitude of 25 feet above the seas for about 30 seconds.

It cost $25,000,000, according to the New York Times. About the height of an eight-story house, the plane was designed to carry 700 troops.

Spruce Goose
Scale models illustrate the difference in size between the Hughes H-4 and the McDonnell-Douglas DC-3. “In the mid-1940s, all but 25 of the 300 commercial planes operating in the US were DC-3s. Display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DChot; photo by Asiir 13 February 2007. Wikipedia.

*Henry Kaiser founded the Kaiser Family Foundation which now goes by its initials, KFF. The nonprofit organization focuses “on the major health care issues facing the U.S., as well as the U.S. role in global health policy.” It has offices in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

#scitech, #science, #war, #flight
📷 (National Archives)
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