PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Spruce Goose flew November 2, 1947 — 70 years ago — the only time the largest airplane ever built took flight.
Officially the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the Spruce Goose now lives at the Evergreen Space Museum in McMinnville. Its legend has lasted far longer than its flight — about a minute in the air.
Designed and piloted by Howard Hughes, the aircraft “had a wingspan longer than a football field and was designed to carry more than 700 men to battle,” the History Channel said.
Hughes, the eccentric billionaire who glided effortlessly between the high profile industries of movies and aircraft, was an experienced pilot. In 1932 he founded the Hughes Aircraft Company and six years later he flew around the world in 3 days, 19 hours, 14 minutes — a record at that time.
The Spruce Goose was born after the US entered World War 2 in late 1941. The government hired Hughes Aircraft to build a large flying boat able to carry hundreds of men over long distances.
The plane was built with laminated spruce and birch, in part because of wartime restrictions on steel.
“It had a wingspan of 320 feet and was powered by eight giant propeller engines,” the History Channel said. “Development of the Spruce Goose cost a phenomenal $23 million and took so long that the war had ended by the time of its completion in 1946.”
Congress demanded to see its development money wasn’t wasted, so Hughes agreed to fly the giant plane.
On November 2, 1947, Hughes piloted the Spruce Goose in a heavily-documented flight over Long Beach Harbor in California.
It never flew again, but Hughes made his point.
Hughes himself dealt with inner demons.
Biography reports, “After a terrible plane crash in 1946, Hughes began to retreat from the world. He bought part of RKO Pictures in 1948, but he never visited the studio. In the 1960s, he lived on the top floor of the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada, and conducted all of his business from his hotel suite. Few people ever saw him, which led to much public speculation and rumors about his activities.”
He died on April 5, 1976. In 2004, Leonardo Di Caprio portrayed Hughes through the Spruce Goose era in his Oscar-nominated role in “The Aviator.”