On November 2, 1947, the largest flying boat ever constructed lifted off on its maiden flight near Long Beach, California. Officially called the H-4 Hercules, it was built by billionaire aircraft designer (and noted eccentric) Howard Hughes, and it was immense. The contract for three prototypes, which was awarded to Hughes in 1942 with the help of famous shipbuilder Henry Kaiser, came during wartime, when aircraft metals were scarce and mostly spoken for. The size of the plane dictated that more abundant materials be used, so it was made almost entirely of birch wood.
The time required to design and build the prototype (partially due to Hughes’ fanatical attention to detail) meant that it was finished too late to serve in the Second World War, but it was still a very impressive aircraft. It’s 320-foot wingspan was (and still is and probably will be in the future) the largest ever. It’s also one of the tallest, with it’s rear stabilizer reaching nearly 80 feet skyward.
It was powered by eight 3000-horsepower Pratt and Whitney engines, the same engines powering the brand-new Convair B-36 Peacemaker. Those engines (with a bit of jet assistance) would keep B-36′s aloft for more than a decade.
But for the H-4, just 30 seconds over the water would suffice, because that’s all the longer the flight lasted…and Howard Hughes’ labor of love would never fly again. The public, in an attempt to ridicule this “one-flight-wonder”, called the plane the “Spruce Goose”. Hughes loathed the name, and not just because the public got the type of wood wrong. But it was the name that stuck.
Recommended Activity: Visit the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum – The Spr…the H-4 Hercules is there, along with a bunch of other cool stuff.