Little Bits of History

July 7

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 7, 2017

1946: The prototype XF-11 reconnaissance aircraft crashes. Designed and built by the Hughes Aircraft Company, it was flown by Howard Hughes himself. Hughes, born in 1905, was an American businessman, investor, pilot, film director, and philanthropist and one of the most financially successful people in the world. He began his entertainment career after dropping out of college. He founded his aircraft company in 1932 as a division of Hughes Tool Company, a company founded by his father in 1908. Hughes, Sr. was able to perfect oil drilling and it became the original funding source for much of his son’s businesses.  Hughes not only built new and different planes, but set world records flying.

On this day, he was at the controls of the XF-11, a prototype ordered by the US Army Air Force. One hundred of the planes had been ordered in 1943, but as with other military orders, Hughes had difficulty perfecting the design and getting the planes delivered before World War II ended. However, the Army was still interested in being able to fly long-range and high-altitude while doing photographic recon. The XF-11 was similar to the Republic XF-12 Rainbow, built by Republic Aviation earlier in the year. The XF-11 also resembled the Lockheed P-38 Lightning used during the War, but XF-11 was larger and heavier. It was a tricycle-gear, twin-engine, twin-boom all-metal monoplane with a pressurized crew nacelle.

XF-11 was equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines with each driving a pair of four-bladed controllable pitch propellers which increased performance and stability. Hughes was flying from his factory’s airfield in Culver City, California and did not follow the agreed upon testing and communications program. He remained aloft almost twice as long as planned. He was an hour into the flight, long after running out of film in the cameras, when a leak caused the right hand propeller controls to lose effectiveness. This caused a cascade of problems which put the plane in a precarious position. Hughes attempted to troubleshoot the problem which took him even farther from the airfield.

He continued to lose altitude and was unable to correct the problem. He tried to land at the Los Angeles Country Club but the plane was unable to stay up. About 300 yards shy of the course, the XF-11 clipped three houses on the way down, setting the last house on fire. Hughes was nearly killed in the crash. This was the second time he nearly died crashing one of his planes. In 1943, he dropped his Sikorsky S-43 into Lake Mead, killing two people aboard and having to be rescued by other survivors of the crash. His later life paranoia was fueled by his existing OCD exacerbated by his constant pain from these two plane crashes.

Every man has his price, or a guy like me couldn’t exist.

My father told me, never have partners.

We don’t have a monopoly. Anyone who wants to dig a well without a Hughes bit can always use a pick and shovel.

I’m not a paranoid deranged millionaire. Goddamit, I’m a billionaire. – all from Howard Hughes


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