Tag Archives: Hughes Aircraft Company

19 January 1937

Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the H-1 Racer, NX258Y, 19 January 1937. (LIFE Magazine)
Howard Hughes climbs out of the cockpit of the H-1 Racer, NX258Y, at Newark Metropolitan Airport, 19 January 1937. “Grimy from the smoke of his exhaust stacks the lanky pilot climbed out of his cramped cockpit and grinned.” (LIFE Magazine)

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 North American 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.¹ (The 1937 flight is not recognized as an FAI record.)

Hughes H-1 NX258Y
Hughes H-1 NX258Y. (Hughes Aircraft Company)

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)

Howard Hughes with his H-1 Racer, NR258Y.
Howard Hughes with his H-1 Racer, NR258Y.

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, designed by Richard W. Palmer. 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 Record ² 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, 1,534.943-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.

Hughes H-1 NX258Y at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes H-1 NX258Y, left front quarter, at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes H-1 NX258Y, right profile. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes H-1 NX258Y, right profile, at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
Hughes  H-1 NX258Y. (Ray Wagner Collection, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)
The Hughes Aircraft Co. H-1 Racer, NR258Y at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Hughes Aircraft Co. H-1 Racer, NR258Y at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 13237: World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course, 417.0 kilometers per hour (259.1 miles per hour)

² FAI Record File Number 8748: World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, 567.12 kilometers per hour (352.39 miles per hour)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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

23 October 1952

The Hughes XH-17, 50-1842, before its first flight, 23 October 1952. (Old Machine Press/LIFE Magazine)

23 October 1952: At Culver City, California, Hughes Tool Company Aircraft Division test pilots Gale Joseph Moore and Chalmer Donald  Bowen,¹ with flight test engineer Wallace Marion, took the Hughes XH-17, U.S. Air Force serial number 50-1842, for its official first flight. At a height of 20 to 40 feet (6 to 12 meters) above the runway, the helicopter maneuvered for about nine minutes. It reached a speed of 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour), flew backwards, and rotated 360°. (The helicopter had actually become briefly airborne for the first time 16 September 1952.) The crew nicknamed the aircraft “The Monster.”

The Hughes XH-17 airborne 19 September 1952, during a “bounce drill.” (Los Angeles Times, 20 September 1952, Page 1, Columns 3–6)

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Although it was termed a “first flight,” the great machine had previously been airborne frequently in recent weeks at the Hughes strip in Culver City. . . Its fledgling flights have been witnessed by thousands of persons from nearby highways. . . .” Test pilot Moore did not call these flights, referring to them as “bounce drills.”

From left to right: Rea E. Hopper, Chief Engineer, Hughes Aircraft; Howard Robard Hughes, Jr.; Clyde Jones, Director of Engineering; Warren Reed, Assistant; Colonel Carl E. Jackson, U.S. Air Force, Air Research and Development Headquarters, Baltimore, Maryland; Gale Joseph Moore, pilot; Chalmer Donald Bowen, co-pilot; and Marion Wallace, flight test engineer. (Old Machine Press/LIFE Magazine)

The XH-17 was primarily built by the Kellett Aircraft Corporation, a manufacturer of autogyros at Upper Derby, Pennsylvania, in response to a 1946 U.S. Army Air Forces request for a heavy lift helicopter, and originally designated XR-17. It was redesignated XH-17 in June 1948. When Kellett entered bankruptcy, the incomplete helicopter was purchased by the Hughes Tool Company for $250,000 and moved to Culver City, California in 1949.

The Hughes XH-17 was a single main rotor tip-jet-driven helicopter with an auxiliary tail rotor for yaw control. The main rotor diameter was 130 feet (39.624 meters).² The fuselage was 53 feet, 4 inches (16.256 meters) long, and the helicopter had an overall height of 30 feet, 1 inch (9.169 meters). The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above (the advancing blade is on the right), at 88 r.p.m. The main rotor blade was 12 inches (30.38 centimeters) thick and had a chord of 4 feet, 10 inches (1.473 meters). Each blade weighed approximately 5,000 pounds (2.268 kilograms) and was fully articulated. Unlike a normal helicopter, the tip-jet-driven blades do not produce torque which needs to be counteracted by a tail rotor. However, an auxiliary tail rotor was used for yaw control. With a diameter of 8 feet, 8 inches (2.642 meters), it was borrowed from a Sikorsky S-55, and turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left side (the advancing blade is below the axis of rotation).

The XH-17’s empty weight was 28,562 pounds (12,956 kilograms), and its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 43,500 pounds (19,731 kilograms). On 15 December 1955, the helicopter lifted a trailer van weighing 7,800 pounds (3,538 kilograms), at that time the heaviest load ever lifted by a helicopter.

The XH-17 was powered by two modified General Electric J35 (7E-TG-180-XR-17A) turbojet engines, mounted on each side of the fuselage. The engines were rated at 1,740 horsepower, each. Bleed air from the engines’ compressors was directed through ducts to the rotor blades to exit through the blade tips. Fuel was injected through GE 33F pressure jet burners and ignited to produce thrust to drive the rotors.

The XH-17 had a cruise speed of 85 miles per hour (137 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 90 miles per hour (145 kilometers per hour) at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). The helicopter’s service ceiling was 13,100 feet (3,993 meters). With a maximum fuel capacity of 635 U.S. gallons (2,404 liters), the XH-17 had a maximum range of only 30 miles (48 kilometers)

The XH-17 was grounded in December 1955 when its main rotor blades reached their design limit, 10 flight hours. The helicopter was later scrapped.

Gale Joseph Moore, was born at Mauston, Wisconsin, 24 January 1921. He was second of four children of of George Joseph Moore, a dairyman, and Amy Dell Priessnitz Moore. By 1940, the family had moved to Inglewood, California, where Moore worked in a dairy with his father.

Moore attended John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, graduating in 1938, and Compton Community College, in Compton, California.

Moore registered for Selective Service (conscription), 15 February 1942, at Hawthorne, California. He was described as having a light complexion, red hair and hazel eyes. He was 5 feet, 11½ inches (1.82 meters) tall and weighed 145 pounds (66 kilograms).

Moore joined the United States Army Air Forces. He trained as a pilot and was commissioned a second lieutenant at Douglas Army Airfield, Arizona, in June 1943. Pilots at Douglas trained on the North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell twin-engine medium bomber. After the war, he left the service as a first lieutenant.

Gale Joseph Moore married Miss Patricia Elise Diehl at the Little Chapel of the Dawn, Santa Monica, California, 13 January 1948. They had one child, Richard D. Moore. They later divorced.

During 1948, Moore joined Los Angeles Airways to fly the Sikorsky S-51.

The Los Angeles Times, 2 October 1947 published photo caption: “NEW MAIL SERVICE — Los Angeles Airways helicopter shown landing on the roof of Terminal Annex Post office yesterday to inaugurate helicopter air-mail service, the first of its kind in the United States. Two flights daily are planned on this run with another to start Oct. 16.” (L.A. Times Photo Archive/UCLA)

On 2 October 1956, Moore took the prototype Hughes Model 269, N78P, for its first flight. This helicopter was later adopted by the United States Army as the TH-55A Osage.

Moore next married Thais E. Hildebrand, three years his senior, in California, 15 December 1961.

Gale Joseph Moore died 18 Nov 2015, at Fernley, Nevada, at the age of 93 years. His remains were interred at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.

Chalmer Donald Bowen and Gale Joseph Moore. (Pauline Annette DiSipio)

Chalmer Donald Bowen was born 21 August 1912 at Delta, Iowa. He was the third of five children of Perman Montague Bowen, a farmer, and Martha (“Mattie”) Esther Taylor Bowen. He attended Van Buren and Wilson schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and graduated from the State University of Iowa.

Bowen married Miss Emma Louise Brink at Cedar Rapids, 17 August 1931. They would have two sons. Mrs. Bowen died in 1988.

In 1940, Bowen worked for the Quaker Oats Company in Cedar Rapids as a package room laborer. He registered for conscription 16 October 1940. At that time he was described as having a light brown complexion, with brown hair and blue eyes. He was 5 feet, 7 inches (1.70 meters) tall, and weighed 165 pounds (75 kilograms). He then moved to Burbank, California, in 1942, where he was employed as a flight engineer by the Lockheed Aircraft Company.

Bowen worked as a pilot for Hughes Aircraft for 31 years. He had acted as Howard Hughes’ co-pilot for the only flight of the Hughes H-4 “Spruce Goose,” 2 November 1947.

Charles Donald Bowen died at Montrose, Colorado, 28 February 2011. His remains were interred at Cedar Memorial Park, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

¹ The rotor diameter has been variously described as being 125 feet (38.1 meters) and 136 feet (41.45 meters).

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

13 September 1935

Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the H-1 Special, NR258Y, 1935. (FAI)
Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, 1935. (FAI)

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 seven passes over the measured course, each in opposite directions, 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, set by Raymond Delmotte, 25 December 1934, flying a Caudron C.460 Rafale

Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1935, Page 3, Columns 2–5

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.

Howard Hughes with his H-1, NR258Y, in a been field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1935.
Howard Hughes with his H-1, NR258Y, in a farmer’s field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1935. (AP)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

HUGHES WINS SKY RECORD AND CRASHES

Death Escaped in Mishap

Millionaire Flyer Forced Down After Averaging 347 Miles and Hour

     Howard Hughes, Millionaire sport flyer, missed death by a narrow margin yesterday morning a few seconds after he brought back to the United States the world’s speed mark for land planes when he averaged 347 miles an hour near Santa Ana.

Official confirmation of the new mark must await calibration of the speed over the measured three-kilometer course, bordering the Eddie Martin Airport, by the Federation Aeronautic Internationale of Paris, France. The figures are to be submitted following a conference between officials of the National Aeronautics Association and representatives of the California Institute of Technology.

TIMER CONFIDENT

     “I don’t expect any difficulty in having Hughes’s speed marks officially allowed,” said William R. Enyart, official timer, shortly after the mystery racing plane made a forced landing in a beet field and ploughed a furrow for sixty yards.

     Hughes had just completed his seventh lap against the former world record of 314.319 miles an hour, held by Raymond Delmotte of France, when he suddenly lifted the silver monoplane into the air as his fourteen-cylinder Wasp radial air-cooled engine sputtered.

     The pilot sought altitude, climbing to 500 feet. Then he turned and headed for the beet field, his engine stopped.

DEAD STICK LANDING

     Despite his landing speed of about eighty miles and hour, Hughes made a perfect “dead stick” landing as the ship flattened out on its lower side and slid through the soft ground. A bent propeller and wrenched landing gear were the only visible damage.

     “My gas supply in one tank was exhausted,” Hughes said as he stepped unhurt from the racer. When I switched on the other tank the motor didn’t take it. An air lock—pressure built up from the dry tank—had developed in the line and the only thing I could do was attempt a forced landing.”

WINS CONGRATULATIONS

     Hughes received the congratulations of numerous officials gathered to witness the assault on the speed record for his manipulation of the speedy ship and the perfect landing. Amelia Earhart, who had been flying as an observer, was one of the first to praise the pilot.

     “The stoppage in gas came so suddenly, Hughes said, “that I did not have time to lower the retractable landing gear. It was only partially down when the plane hit. The force drove it back into the ship and probably aided in preventing additional damage.”

SERIES OF CHECKS

     Six record-breaking tests were made as Hughes streaked over the course. An electronic chronograph photographed and clocked each flight. Four are required to officially set a new speed mark.

     Determination of Hughes to make his second record-breaking attempt early yesterday morning came as a surprise and after he and his assistants had spent the night checking over difficulties faced in the flight late Thursday afternoon.

     Hughes rolled his $120,000, 1000-horsepower, low-winged monoplane from the hangar at Union Air Terminal shortly after daylight and awaited word from officials at the measured course that all was in readiness.

     At 6:30 a.m. he flashed into the air and an hour and ten minutes later had made his successful seven flight when halted by the gas supply stoppage.

     Hughes and associates announced that the next speed record he will attempt to break in his specially constructed racer will be the flight from Los Angeles to New York. The present time, 10 hours and 2 minutes, is held by Col. Roscoe Turner.

SCENE OF FLIGHT

     The record-breaking flight was made over the course on the Irvine ranch surveyed for the late Dr. Albert A. Michelson’s experiments to measure the speed of light. Joe Nikrent and W.H. Hitchman, representing the National Aeronautic Association, helped time the dashes.

     In beating the Delmotte record by approximately twenty-nine miles an hour, Hughes brings back to America, the record once held by the late James Wedell. Wedell set a world mark of490.8 kilometers an hour, only to have it bettered by the French flyer last December 24.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. LIV, Saturday, 14 September 1935, Page 1, Column 4, and Page 3, Columns 3 and 4

The Hughes H-1, NR258Y, at rest in a farm field near Santa Ana, California, 13 September 1934. (Corbis)

The Hughes H-1 (Federal 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).

Hughes H-1B NX258Y at Hughes Airport, Culver City, California. (SDASM)

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. According to a 1937 article in Popular Mechanics,

“Hughes’ motor is a stock air-cooled fourteen-cylinder twin-row Pratt & Whitney wasp junior that develops 700 horsepower at 2,500 revolutions per minute at 8,500 feet altitude. The engine has an outside diameter of forty-four and one-eighths inches, a dry weight of 1,060 pounds, and a displacement of 1,535 cubic inches. Compression ratio is 6.7 to one and the supercharger ratio is ten to one. Carburetion and magneto ignition are stock.”

Popular Mechanics Magazine, Vol. 67, No. 4, April 1937, at Page 502, Column 2

The data cited by Popular Mechanics seems to match the characteristics of P&W’s Twin Wasp Jr. S3A5-G aircraft engine.

The Hughes H-1 Racer, NR258Y, at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Hughes H-1 Racer, NR258Y, at the National Air and Space Museum. (Eric Long/NASM)

¹ FAI Record File Number 8748

² FAI Record File Number 8749: 505.85 kilometers per hour (314.32 miles per hour)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

7 July 1946

Hughes XF-11 44-70155 at Culver City, California, 7 July 1946. A Lockheed C-69 Constellation is in the background. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)
Hughes XF-11 44-70155 at Culver City, California, 7 July 1946. The prototype Lockheed XC-69 Constellation, 43-10309, now registered NX67900, is in the background. Note the XF-11’s counter-rotating propellers. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)

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.

Howard Hughes in teh cocpit of the first prototype XF-11, 44-70155, with all propellers turning, at Culver City, California. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)
Howard Hughes in the cockpit of the first prototype XF-11, 44-70155, with all propellers turning, at Culver City, California. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)

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).

Howard Hughes in teh cockpit of the XF-11 prototype. (Houston Chronicle)

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 contra-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).

The first prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70155, taking off from the Hughes Aircraft Company's private airport, Culver City, California. 7 July 1946.(University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)
The first prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70155, taking off from the Hughes Aircraft Company’s private airport, Culver City, California. 7 July 1946. (University of Nevada, Las Vegas Libraries)

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.

Burning wreckage of Hughes' prototype XF-11 in the yard at 808 N. Whittier Street, Beverly Hills, California. (Unattributed)
Burning wreckage of Hughes’ prototype XF-11 in the yard at 808 N. Whittier Drive, Beverly Hills, California. (Los Angeles Times)
Howard Hughes in an ambulance following the crash of the XF-11. (Los Angles Times)

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.

The second Hughes XF-11 landing at Culver City. (Los Angeles Times)

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.

The second prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70156, on a test flight near Anacapa Island, off the coast of Southern California, April 1946. (Hughes Aircraft Company)
The second prototype Hughes XF-11, 44-70156, on a test flight near Anacapa Island, off the coast of Southern California, 1947. This airplane does not have counter-rotating propellers. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes