The Spruce Goose takes Flight

November 2, 2021

On November 2, 1937, business magnate, engineer, and record-setting pilot Howard Hughes’s Spruce Goose, or the Hughes H-4 Hercules, took flight. At the time of construction, the Spruce Goose was the largest aircraft that had ever been built and boasted a wingspan nearly the length of a football field. Laminated with birch and spruce, the flying boat cost a total of $23 million to build; adjusted for inflation, that would be the equivalent of over $200 million today.

Despite its impressiveness in both size and appearance, the aircraft only touched the skies once. Determined to prove the prototype worthy of flight, Hughes brought the Spruce Goose to Long Beach Harbor, California for its first and only test flight on November 2, 1937. Thousands of onlookers watched and waited as the famed magnate taxied the massive aircraft on the water, and were astounded when he managed to lift it 70 feet off the surface. The Spruce Goose flew one mile before the test flight was completed, and the crowd dispersed.

The H-4 Hercules would never fly again, however, not due to structural catastrophe but to structural concern. In other words, many doubted the plane’s wooden frame would be able to sufficiently support its massive weight during long-range flights, of which it had originally been designed. This would have been a relatively straightforward fix, but it was ultimately not one Howard Hughes wanted to make. His reasons behind the decision were unclear, although some speculate it may have been tied to his notable eccentricity.

Hughes regarded the plane highly, despite it never having gone into full production, and kept it in a climate-controlled hanger for the rest of his life. Today, the Spruce Goose lives on and is currently on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

13 Comments

  1. Coleman Hilderbrand

    I believe the Goose first flight was in 1947, not 1937

    Reply
  2. Kevin

    Liked the info, but the Spruce Goose flew its only flight on November 2, 1947.

    Reply
  3. John M Clifford

    Correction: The H-4 Herclues (aka, the Spruce Goose) first flew on November 2, 1947.

    Reply
  4. Jon

    The writer is off by ten years. It didn’t fly until 1947.
    Does anyone in “journalism” check their articles anymore?

    Reply
  5. Tom Beebe

    Where did Diana die?

    Reply
  6. Alvin McBride

    I enjoyed reading about the Spruce Goose

    Reply
  7. John Burtis

    As a university trained historian, I’d like to kindly suggest that Howard Hughes gently nudged the Spruce Goose aloft in Long Beach harbor for its only historic flight on November 2, 1947.

    in 1941, the U.S. government commissioned the Hughes Aircraft Company to build a large flying boat capable of carrying men and materials over long distances. The concept for what would become the “Spruce Goose” was originally conceived by the industrialist Henry Kaiser, but Kaiser dropped out of the project early, leaving Hughes and his small team to make the H-4 a reality. Because of wartime restrictions on steel, Hughes decided to build his aircraft out of wood laminated with plastic and covered with fabric. Although it was constructed mainly of birch, the use of spruce (along with its white-gray color) would later earn the aircraft the nickname Spruce Goose. It had a wingspan of 320 feet and was powered by eight engines*.

    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. The aircraft had many detractors, and Congress demanded that Hughes prove the plane airworthy. On November 2, 1947, Hughes obliged, taking the H-4 prototype out into Long Beach Harbor, CA for an unannounced flight test. Thousands of onlookers had come to watch the aircraft taxi on the water and were surprised when Hughes lifted his wooden behemoth 70 feet above the water and flew for a mile before landing.

    * Eight Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radials (largest radial reciprocating engines ever built) Horsepower 3,000 shp** each; with Eight four-bladed Hamilton Standard propellers with a diameter of 17 feet, 2 inches (the four inboard propellers having reverse pitch capability).

    ** the horsepower delivered to the driving shaft of an engine, as measured by a torsion meter. Abbreviation: shp, SHP

    See: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/spruce-goose-flies

    See: https://www.theaviationzone.com/factsheets/hk1_specs.asp

    Reply
  8. Raymond

    I was just a 14 year kid when I read about the flight.

    Reply
  9. Rex Thornhill

    I worked at hughes aircraft in the 70’s. A little known fact was the hanger used to build the goose had to be wide and long enough to build the plane in one piece. So Huges designed and built it out of wooden rafters with no central pillars of any kind. It had never been done before. It was this same hangar that was used to build the HUEY copters sent to Viet Nam.

    Reply
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    Hi there, just wanted to mention, I enjoyed this blog post.It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

    Reply
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  13. Jerry

    WOW! Just think how heavy the engines were!
    Very interesting article; appreciate the additional from John Burtis.

    Reply

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