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.
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.
*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.