2 November 1947

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 LA Times. (Los Angeles Times)
“Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947 L.A. Times.” (Los Angeles Times)

2 November 1947: Howard Hughes’ Hughes Aircraft Company H-4 Hercules flying boat, NX37602, made its first and only flight at the harbor of Los Angeles, California. The new media called it “The Spruce Goose” due to its strong but lightweight wooden construction. As with the famous de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito fighter-bomber, the use of wood freed up valuable metal alloys during World War II.

Conceived by Henry J. Kaiser, the airplane was initially called the HK-1. It was designed to carry as many as 750 fully-equipped soldiers on transoceanic flights.

Hughes H-4 Hercules NX37602 in San Pedro Bay, 2 November 1947. Two U.S. Navy heavy cruisers and a fleet oiler are in the background. On the horizon is Santa Catalina Island, "Twenty-six miles across the sea...." (LIFE Magazine)
Hughes H-4 Hercules NX37602 in San Pedro Bay, 2 November 1947. Two U.S. Navy heavy cruisers and a fleet oiler are in the background. On the horizon is Santa Catalina Island. (LIFE Magazine)

The H-4 is 218 feet, 8 inches (66.650 meters) long with a wingspan of 320 feet, 11 inches (97.815 meters). Its height is 79 feet, 4 inches (24.181 meters). The Hercules’ designed loaded weight is 400,000 pounds (181,437 kilograms).

The flying boat was powered by eight air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major VSB11-G (R-4360-4A) four-row 28-cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 7:1. The R-4360-4A had a Normal Power rating of 2,500 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), 2,200 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. to 14,500 feet (4,420 meters), and a Takeoff rating of 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. The Military Power rating was also 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., to an altitude of 1,500 feet (457 meters), then decreased to 2,400 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. to 13,500 feet (4,115 meters). The engines turned four-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers with a diameters of 17 feet, 2 inches (5.232 meters) through a 0.425:1 gear reduction. The R-4360-4A was 8 feet, 0.75 inches (2.457 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,390 pounds (1,538 kilograms).

On its only flight, the H-4 Hercules traveled approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers) at 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour), remaining in ground effect. It never flew again, and its estimated performance was never verified through flight testing.

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., in the cockpit of the H-4 Hercules, 6 November 1947. (J.R. Eyerman/LIFE Magazine)
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., in the cockpit of the H-4 Hercules, 6 November 1947. (J.R. Eyerman/LIFE Magazine)

The airplane is on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

11 thoughts on “2 November 1947

    1. Because Howard Hughes was perverse. The airplane was overdue and over budget and militarily obsolete. There had been much criticism in the press and in the U.S. Congress. It was said that it was incapable of actually flying. Hughes flew it to prove that it could fly, and it was then put away. Hughes went on to other things.

  1. The Spruce Goose is currently in the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, OR.
    It’s size is hard to imagine without seeing it yourself. They have an F-15 tucked under its horizontal stabilizer.
    About the size of a 747-400, designed to have a loaded weight of 400,000lbs… and oh yeah takeoff and land in the water.
    pretty ambitious idea.

    1. I remember touring it when it was still at Long Beach, next to the RMS Queen Mary. Even being inside it, or standing next to it, it is so huge that it is still hard to take in.

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  2. The Spruce goose is absolutely huge A 6 foot tall man or woman can stand inside
    The wing as well as change the lightbulb on the tip of the wing in flight
    Absolutely mind-boggling the size of this Aircraft has to be seen to believed
    I saw it at the aircraft museum in Oregon I went with my dad
    It was our last trip together he was A fighter pilot with the RAF during the battle of Britain And didn’t talk about it until the last six months of his life that’s when he gave me all his photos and the stories behind them photos of friends made and lost
    During and after the war I miss you every day the past 2007 Rest in peace dad.

  3. My late father recounts flying his Short Sunderland flying boat back to Australia from Britain when that landed near the Spruce Goose. They taxied to the giant and parked under its wing. The Sunderland was dwarfed by Howard Hughes’ monster

  4. The Spruce Goose flew in Long Beach harbor not San Pedro. My dad was their and we have pictures

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