The Craziest Thing Howard Hughes Ever Did

No, it wasn't wearing kleenex boxes on his feet, or growing a three-foot beard worthy of Saruman.  It wasn't even saving all those jars of urine (that's not really crazy, after all. You never know when you might need some extra...nitrogen, right?).
No, the craziest thing Howard ever did was to turn a taxi test for the H4 Hercules (popularly known as the "Spruce Goose" or Hughes Flying Boat) into an actual flight.

Some background: In 1942, following the United States' entry into World War II, the U.S. War Department issued a contract to build a large transport plane capable of delivering hundreds of troops across the sea to England.  The brainchild of Henry J. Kaiser, a shipbuilder, the craft was to be built without metal, in short supply during the war. Kaiser teamed up with Hughes, a noted aircraft designer, and built the largest aircraft of its time (and to this day, the plane with the largest wingspan) mostly out of birch. In other words, wood.
But at least partly because of Hughes' obsessive desire for "perfection"--probably a precurser to the legendary fear of germs that assailed him in later life--the craft was not completed until 1947.
And on November 2, 1947, during what was planned as a test of the plane's ability to taxi (and with members of the press aboard), Hughes took the controls and took the thing into the air, the one and only time this behemoth flew.
Now granted, the plane only reached an altitude of 70 feet and flew a distance of roughly one mile.  Not impressed?  
Try these numbers on for size:  The wingspan of this plane measures just one inch shy of 320 feet. If you set it down sideways on a football field, the wingtips would be in opposite end zones.

The tailspan is about 117 feet.  This exceeds the length of a regulation basketball court by a full 23 feet.

Weight when loaded: about 400,000 pounds.
This thing actually flew. Through the air. Off the ground.
If this thing flew over your head, you would either scurry for the safety of your burrow, or perhaps open your mouth wide and wait for mama to feed you.
While crapping your pants, most likely.
Each of the eight engines provided 4000 h.p., enough horsepower to mount an army worthy of Mordor. The propeller diameter is roughly 17 feet. You could strap a Shaquille O'Neal (if you have a set handy) to each blade, with some length to spare, and the propeller would still turn.

Did I mention this is a flying boat?

Here's a look at the inside:

The jars of urine were removed in 1988 [citation needed].
Of course, by 1947 the war was over, metal was no longer scarce, and the Spruce Goose (a misnomer that Hughes despised) began its long meander to its current resting place: The Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. Located southwest of Portland, out in the middle of wine country, this museum may be somewhat off the beaten path, but if you like airplanes and aviation history, it's worth the trip. Especially if you can get your brother to drive the whole way.
Just don't expect to get the entire Spruce Goose in one photograph. It's just too big, and as long as it's kept indoors, you can't get far enough away to fit it in one frame using normal lenses.
And they don't let you take it out for a spin. I asked.

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