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.
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).
Eight 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) air-cooled, supercharged 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.
The airplane is on display at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon.
13 September 1935: Flying his Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course near Santa Ana, California. Making four passes over the measured course, two in each direction, his average speed was 567.12 kilometers per hour (352.39 miles per hour).¹ This was 61.27 kilometers per hour (38.07 miles per hour) faster than the previous record which had been set by Raymond Delmotte, 24 December 1934.
Just after completing the final pass over the course, the airplane’s engine stopped due to fuel starvation. Hughes made a belly landing in a farm field. He was uninjured and the airplane received only minor damage.
The Hughes H-1 (Fedral Aviation Administration records identify the airplane as the Hughes Model 1B, serial number 1) was a single-seat, single-engine low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. Emphasis had been placed on an aerodynamically clean design and featured flush riveting on the aluminum skin of the fuselage. The airplane was 27 feet, 0 inches long (8.230 meters) with a wingspan of 25 feet (7.6 meters) and height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). (A second set of wings with a span of 31 feet, 9 inches (9.677 meters) was used on Hughes’ transcontinental flight, 19 January 1937). The H-1 has an empty weight of 3,565 pounds (1,617 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,492 pounds (2,491 kilograms).
The H-1 was powered by a air-cooled, supercharged 1,534.943-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr. two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine. Pratt & Whitney produced 18 civil and 22 military (R-1535) versions of the Twin Wasp Jr., in both direct-drive and geared configurations, rated from 650 to 950 horsepower. It is not known which version powered the H-1, but various sources report that it was rated from 700 to 1,000 horsepower. The engine drove a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable pitch propeller.
10–14 July 1938: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., along with a crew of four, departed Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, on a flight to circle the Northern Hemisphere. His airplane was a Lockheed Super Electra Special, Model 14-N2, registered NX18973. Aboard were Harry P. McLean Connor, co-pilot and navigator; 1st Lieutenant Thomas L. Thurlow, United States Army Air Corps, navigator; Richard R. Stoddart, a field engineer for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), radio operator; Edward Lund, flight engineer. Lieutenant Thurlow was the Air Corps’ expert on aerial navigation. Stoddart was an expert in radio engineering. Thurlow, Stoddart and Lund were also rated pilots.
Before they took off from Floyd Bennett Field, the Lockheed was christened New York World’s Fair 1939, in keeping with an agreement that Hughes had made with Grover Whalen and the fair’s organizers.
Howard Hughes and his crew departed Floyd Bennett Field at 7:19:10 p.m. on 10 July. The route of the flight was from Floyd Bennett Field to Le Bourget Aerodrome, Paris, France, a distance of 3,641 miles (5,860 kilometers), flown in an elapsed time of 16 hours, 38 minutes; Moscow, Russia, USSR, 1,640 miles (2,639 kilometers), 7:51; Omsk, Siberia, 1,400 miles (2,253 kilometers), 7:27; Yakutsk, Yakut ASSR, 2,158 miles (3,473 kilometers), 10:31; Fairbanks, Alaska, 2,457 miles (3,954 kilometers), 12:17; Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2,441 miles (3,928 kilometers), 12:02; and back to Floyd Bennett Field, 1,054 miles (1,696 kilometers) 4:26.
They arrived at Floyd Bennett Field at 2:34 p.m., 14 July. The distance flown was approximately 14,800 miles (23,818 kilometers) (sources differ). The total duration was 91 hours, 14 minutes, 10 seconds. The actual flight time was 71 hours, 11 minutes, 10 seconds. Average speed for the flight was 206.1 miles per hour (331.7 kilometers per hour).
The international organization for flight records, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, requires that a circumnavigation cross all meridians in one direction and be at least the length of the Tropic of Cancer, 22,858.729 miles (36,787.559 kilometers). Howard Hughes’ “around the world flight” circled the Northern Hemisphere and was at least 8,058 miles (12,968 kilometers) short of the required distance, so no official record was set. (The same is true of Wiley H. Post’s two earlier “around the world” flights which used a similar route.)
The National Aeronautic Association awarded the Aero Club Trophy (after 1944, known as the Robert J. Collier Trophy, or simply, The Collier Trophy) to Howard Hughes and his associates, “For their epoch making round the world flight in 91 hours and 14 minutes.” The Collier is an annual award, “. . . for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.”
The Lockheed Super Electra 14-N2, serial number 1419, was offered to Hughes by the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, at no cost.
Company officials believed that publicity generated by an around-the-world flight would justify the expense. The airplane underwent modification for two months at the Burbank factory. The Curtiss-Wright Corporation provided new engines. Fuel capacity was increased to 1,844 gallons (6,980.3 liters). Three radio systems were installed.
The Lockheed Model 14 Super Electra was an all-metal, twin-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, designed as a medium-sized airliner. It was flown by two pilots and could carry up to 12 passengers. Based on aerodynamic studies carried out by Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson on the earlier Model 10 Electra, the airplane was configured with an “H-tail”, with vertical fins and rudders placed at the ends of the horizontal stabilizer. This was a characteristic design feature for Lockheed aircraft through the 1950s.
The Model 14 was 44 feet, 4 inches (13.513 meters) long with a wingspan of 65 feet, 6 inches (19.964 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). Hughes’ Model 14-N2 Special differed, but a Model 14-WF-62 airliner version had an empty weight of 10,750 pounds (4,876 kilograms), gross weight of 15,650 pounds (7,098 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms). The airliner had maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters).
NX18973 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone GR-1820-G102 nine-cylinder radial engines with a normal power rating of 900 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 1,100 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m for take-off. The engines had a compression ratio of 6.7:1 and required 91-octane gasoline. They turned three-bladed Hamilton Standard constant-speed propellers through a 0.6875:1 gear reduction. The GR-1820-102 was 4 feet, 0.12 inches (1.222 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.10 inches (1.400 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,275 pounds (578 kilograms).
Representative performance figures are maximum speed of 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 24,500 feet (7,468 meters). NX19783 had an estimated maximum range of 4,500 miles (7,242 kilometers).
Following Hughes’ flight, NX18973 was returned to Lockheed. The manufacturer then sold the Super Electra to the Royal Canadian Air Force. It was assigned fuselage identification AX688. (A militarized version of the Super Electra was produced as the Hudson light bomber.)
On 10 November 1940, the Super Electra took off from Nairobi, Kenya, on a transcontinental ferry flight to from South Africa to Egypt. There were high winds and it was raining. After climbing to 500 feet (152 meters) AGL, the Electra banked to the left. It stalled, entered a spin and crashed. The wreck caught fire. All persons on board were killed.
7 July 1946: At the Hughes Aircraft Company’s private airport in Culver City, California, the first of two prototype XF-11 photographic reconnaissance airplanes took of on its first flight. In the cockpit was Howard Robard Hughes, Jr.
The Hughes XF-11 was designed to be flown by a pilot and a navigator/photographer. Its configuration was similar to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Northrop P-61 Black Widow, as well as the earlier Hughes D-2. The prototype was 65 feet, 5 inches (19.939 meters) long with a wingspan of 101 feet, 4 inches (30.886 meters) and height of 23 feet, 2 inches (7.061 meters). The empty weight was 37,100 pounds (16,828.3 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 58,300 pounds (26,444.4 kilograms).
The XF-11 was powered by two air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.49 liter) air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney R-4360-31 (Wasp Major TSB1-GD) four row, 28-cylinder radial engines. This engine had a compression ratio of 7:1. It had a normal power rating of 2,550 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and 3,000 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff. The R-4360-31 was 4 feet, 4.50 inches (1.334 meters) in diameter, 9 feet, 6.25 inches (2.902 meters) long and weighed 3,506 pounds (1,590 kilograms). The engines drove a pair of counter-rotating four-bladed propellers through a 0.381:1 gear reduction.
The planned maximum speed was 450 miles per hour (724 kilometers per hour), service ceiling 44,000 feet (13,411 meters) and planned range was 5,000 miles (8,047 kilometers).
After about an hour of flight, a hydraulic fluid leak caused the rear propeller of the right engine to go into reverse pitch. Rather than shutting the engine down and feathering the propellers to reduce aerodynamic drag, Hughes maintained full power on the right engine but reduced power on the left, attempting to limit adverse yaw to the right side.
Unable to make it back to the Culver City airport, Hughes planned to land at the Los Angeles Country Club. At 7:20 p.m., the airplane crashed into three houses on North Whittier Drive, Beverly Hills, California. The fire destroyed the prototype and one of the houses and heavily damaged the others. Howard Hughes was seriously injured in the crash.
The investigating board criticized Hughes for not following the flight test plan, staying airborne too long, and deviating from a number of standard test flight protocols. The cause of the actual crash was determined to be pilot error.
A second XF-11 was completed and flew in April 1947, again with Hughes in the cockpit. The project was cancelled however, in favor of the Northrop F-15 Reporter and Boeing RB-50 Superfortress, which were reconnaissance aircraft based on existing combat models already in production.
19 January 1937: Howard Robard Hughes, Jr., departed Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California, at 2:14 a.m., Pacific Standard Time (10:14 UTC) aboard his Hughes Aircraft Company H-1 Racer, NR258Y. He flew non-stop across the continent to Newark Metropolitan Airport, Newark, New Jersey, and arrived overhead at 12:42:25 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (17:42:25 UTC).
Hughes completed the 2,490-mile (4,007.3 kilometer) flight in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds, at an average speed of 332 miles per hour (534 kilometers per hour). He broke the existing record, which he himself had set just over one year previously in a Northrop Gamma, by more than two hours.²
The New York Times reported:
All landplane distance speed records were broken yesterday by Howard Hughes, millionaire sportsman pilot, who reached Newark Airport 7 hours 28 minutes and 25 seconds after he took off from Los Angeles, Calif. He was forced to stay aloft until the runway at the field was clear and landed at 1:03 P.M. His average speed was 332 miles an hour for the 2,490 miles he traveled.
Grimy from the smoke of his exhaust stacks the lanky pilot climbed out of his cramped cockpit and grinned. In recounting his experiences on the flight he said that the skies were overcast all the way and he had to fly on top of the clouds . . .
It was 2:14 o’clock in the morning and pitch dark when he opened the throttle at the Union Air Terminal at Burbank and released the 1,100 horsepower sealed in the fourteen cylinders of his supercharged Twin Row Wasp engine. The sleek gray and ble low-winged monoplane, designed and built under his own direction, staggered, accelerated and then literally vaulted into the air. Within a few seconds Hughes climbed into the low-hanging clouds and swung eastward . . .
At 14,000 feet, at which altitude he flew most of the way, he passed over the clouds, set his course and leveled off. He throttled his engine back until it was delivering only 375 horsepower and hunched himself over his instrument panel . . .
His arrival at Newark was unheralded and a surprise. It was thought that he was going to land at Chicago. The new United Air Lines extra-fare plane was loaded for its initial run and already had its door locked when the propeller whir of the hurling racer apparently made the buildings tremble from sound vibration as Hughes swept low across the field. William Zint of the Longines Watch Company, official timer for the National Aeronautic Association, noted the time. It was exactly 42 minutes and 25 seconds after noon.
Hughes pulled up in a sweeping chandelle maneuver and circled. The United Air Liner was already on the runway when Hughes swung back toward the flaps on his wing to slacken speed for landing . . . and the plane settled fast toward the earth. Still the pilot had no signal from the control tower where the dispatchers act as traffic patrols at the busiest airport in the world. Hughes had to open his throttle again and cruise around the field for some time before the green light at last came on. The United plane was then well on its course toward Chicago. Hughes’s plane slid in over the airport boundary, dropped it’s retractable undercarriage and tail wheel and touched both wheels and tail wheel in a perfect three-point landing at 1:02:30 P.M. . . .
— Excerpted from an article in The New York Times, Wednesday, 20 January 1937, Page 1 at Columns 6 and 7.
After landing at Newark, Hughes told newspaper reporters, “I flew at 14,000 feet most of the way,” Hughes said, “with my highest speed 370 miles an hour. I used about 200 of the 280-gallon load. I am very tired—a bit shaky.”
[Richard W.] Palmer met Hughes at Newark Airport. The two men shook their heads at each other. “I knew she was fast,” Hughes told his chief engineer, “but I didn’t know she was that fast.”
— Newark, N.J., Tuesday, Jan. 19.—(AP)
The Hughes H-1 (FAA records describe the airplane as a Hughes Model 1B, serial number 1) was a single-seat, single-engine low wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. Emphasis had been placed on an aerodynamically clean design and featured flush riveting on the aluminum skin of the fuselage. The airplane is 27 feet, 0 inches long (8.230 meters) with a wingspan of 31 feet, 9 inches (9.677 meters) and height of 8 feet (2.438 meters). (A second set of wings with a span of 25 feet (7.6 meters) was used on Hughes’ World Speed Record¹ flight, 13 September 1935.) The H-1 has an empty weight of 3,565 pounds (1,617 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,492 pounds (2,491 kilograms).
The H-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,534.94-cubic-inch-displacement (25.153 liter) Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Jr., a two-row, fourteen-cylinder radial engine. Pratt & Whitney produced 18 civil and 22 military versions of the Twin Wasp Jr., in both direct drive and geared configurations, rated from 650 to 950 horsepower. It is not known which version powered the H-1, but various sources report that it was rated from 700 to 1,000 horsepower. The engine drove a two-bladed Hamilton Standard controllable-pitch propeller.
¹ FAI Record File Number 8748: World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, 567.12 kilometers per hour (352.39 miles per hour)
² FAI Record File Number 13237: World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course, 417.0 kilometers per hour (259.1 miles per hour)