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Aviation History Month Day 2 - 2nd of November 1947

It was on this day in aviation history that the Spruce Goose made its first and only flight.

The Hughes Aircraft Company H-4 "Spruce Goose" airborne in the Los Angeles Harbor

The original idea for the aircraft was by a gentleman called Henry J. Kaiser, it was designed to accommodate up to 750 fully-equipped military staff or 2 M4 Sherman Tanks (30 ton each) on oceanic flights. Its intended payload target was 150.000 pounds (68.000 kg) It was initially designated as HK-1. (the first design by Hughes and Keiser). The development of the aircraft started in 1942 and called for 3 aircraft to be built in 2 years time. To safe aluminium for other projects in relation to the war effort, the aircraft was made of wood. Its mainly wooden construction gave birth to its famous nickname "Spruce Goose" and the less well-known nickname "Flying Lumberyard". It took 16 months for the first HK-1 to be built, Kaiser blaming a shortage of strategic materials (aluminium) and Hughes drive to perfection. Kaiser withdrew from the project at about the time the aircraft was completed.

The Hughes H-4 Hercules NX37602 taxiing in San Pedro Bay, 2 November 1947.

Hughes continued the project and gave it a new designation, "H-4 Hercules" after signing a new contract with the government, limiting the project to only one aircraft. The project progressed slowly and the war was over for a while already before the aircraft was completed. With the aircraft completed initial taxi trials were scheduled, with the first tests to take place on the 2nd of November 1947. In the middle of senate hearings on the huge amount of money required to fund the project. Many believed the aircraft could never fly because of its size. After the first two tests were successfully completed with 36 people on board;

  • Howard Hughes as commander

  • Dave Grant as co-pilot

  • Don Smith as a flight engineer

  • Joe Petrali as a flight engineer

  • 2 more flight crew

  • 16 mechanics

  • 7 journalist

  • 7 aviation industry representatives

After the first two trials were completed 4 of the journalist left the aircraft to file their stories with their press agencies, the rest of the occupants stayed on the aircraft for the third and final taxi run of the day. With the aircraft nose in the wind, Hughes increased the throttles on the eight P&W Wasp engines and the aircraft accelerated. After a while, the aircraft became airborne and remained airborne (in ground effect) for 26 seconds, at a maximum height of 70 feet (21 meters) at 146 knots (135 mph - 271 kph).

Howard Hughes in the captains' seat of the Hughes H-4

The Hughes H-4 had flown, silencing its critics. However, the aircraft would never fly again. The aircraft was maintained in a flying condition by (at the start) a crew of 300 workers. This number slowly dropped to about 50 in 1962. After Howerd Hughes death in 1976, the program closed down for good. The aircraft is currently on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. Specifications for the Hughes H-4 Hercules (Spruce Goose); (some of these are projected based on the aircraft configuration, as it never proofed its full capabilities)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 3

  • Length: 218 ft 8 in (66.65 m)

  • Wingspan: 320 ft 11 in (97.82 m)

  • Height: 79 ft 4 in (24.18 m)

  • Fuselage height: 30 ft (9.1 m)

  • Empty weight: 250,000 lb (113,398 kg)

  • Powerplant: 8 × Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major 28-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines, 3,000 hp (2,200 kW) each

  • Propellers: 4-bladed Hamilton Standard, 17 ft 2 in (5.23 m) diameter constant-speed propellers


  • Cruise speed: 250 mph (400 km/h, 220 kn)

  • Range: 3,000 mi (4,800 km, 2,600 nmi)

  • Service ceiling: 20,900 ft (6,400 m)

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