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.