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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

6 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.

    1. Hi, Alicja. I would recommend The McMahan Photo Art Gallery & Archive: http://www.mcmahanphoto.com/ The quality of their prints are tops! You could also try the UCLA Library’s Los Angeles Times Photographs Collection: http://digital2.library.ucla.edu/viewItem.do?ark=21198/zz0002np7z or the LIFE Magazine Photo Archive at Google: http://images.google.com/hosted/life. I have had good luck with downloading a large image and taking it to a quality photo lab, such as The Icon of Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard. You get detailed personal service from people (e.g., Bonny Taylor) who are artists in their own right. This allows you to restore or enhance the image, and to select the paper (so many choices!), which can really effect the appearance of the the image. You end up with a work of art, not just a photograph. I love The Icon. . . . Art Resource in New York City represents entities such as the Smithsonian, etc., etc. You can purchase a digital file, for not too outrageous a price: http://www.artres.com/C.aspx?VP3=CMS3&VF=ARTHO1_3_VForm&Flash=1 Getty Images doesn’t sell photos, but licenses images for a specific period of time, with restrictions. You get a digital file and take care of printing it on your end. They don’t really do business with individuals (i.e., you and me) although this can be arranged. The license fees can be VERY expensive. This would be my last choice.

Comments are closed.