Late and Over Budget
November 2, 1947: The Hughes H-4 Hercules makes its maiden flight. Its registration number was NX37602 and the heavy transport flying boat is better known as the Spruce Goose. During World War II, the US War Department needed to transport war material and personnel overseas. Allied shipping in the Atlantic Ocean was under attack and suffered many catastrophic losses. So in 1942, they asked for solutions to this problem of transport. They needed an aircraft capable of transatlantic flight with a large payload. There was also a limit on production materials due to wartime shortages. One of the limited building products was aluminum.
Henry Kaiser, a Liberty class shipbuilder, came up with an idea. He partnered with Howard Hughes to build the largest aircraft (up to that time). Originally known as HK-1 to reflect the names of the two primary men involved, it was designed to carry a payload of 500,000 pounds which would have been 750 fully equipped troops or two M4 Sherman tanks, each weighing 30 tons. A contract was issued in 1942 for three aircraft to be built in two years for the war effort. Seven different configurations were considered for the plane and included both single- and twin-hull designs as well as four, six, or eight wing-mounted engines. The huge plane was built mostly of wood and earned the nickname, the Spruce Goose or the Flying Lumberyard.
While Kaiser came up with the idea of a flying cargo ship, he did not have an aeronautical background and let Hughes and designer Glenn Odekirk have free rein in the design and construction of the plane. But as things dragged on, Kaiser grew more impatient while Hughes continued to struggle with material restrictions and his own need for perfection. The HK-1 was built in 16 months but was not up to standards. Kaiser left the project and Hughes continued on his own. H-4 was not completed until well after the war was over. The mammoth plane had the largest wingspan of any plane ever, measuring 320 feet and 11 inches and each wing supporting four engines. For comparison, a Boeing 747-S Intercontinental has a span of 224 feet and 9 inches.
Hughes was called before Congress to justify government monies spent on a plane which was never delivered. During a break in the hearings, he went out to California and on this day, ran taxi tests of the plane. He, himself acted as pilot and there were several people brought aboard. The first test was run with 36 people on board, but after two taxi trials, a few reporters left the plane. One again, the H-4 taxied and gained enough speed to lift off. It remained airborne at an altitude of 70 feet and flew at 135 mph for about a mile before coming back down. Although no longer needed, the flight proved the plane was flight-worthy. The plane was never flown again and today the plane is displayed at Evergreen Aviation Museum.
The Hercules’ was a monumental undertaking. It is the largest aircraft ever built… I put the sweat of my life into this thing.
My father told me, never have partners.
Once you consent to some concession, you can never cancel it and put things back the way they are.
I’m not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I’m a billionaire. – all from Howard Hughes
Also on this day: Mo Ri Xon– In 1965, Norman Morrison lit himself on fire in front of the Pentagon as a war protest.
Rah Rah – In 1898, organized cheerleading began.
North and South Dakota – In 1889, the two states were added to the Union.
Is That Your Final Answer? – In 1959, Charles Van Doren testified to Congress.
Haile Selassie – In 1930, he took the Ethiopian throne.