Last month, we took a trip to see the Spruce Goose at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. This museum is in McMinnville, about 50 miles southwest of Portland, Oregon. Its star attraction is the airplane associated with Howard Hughes, Jr.
In 1942, steel magnate Henry Kaiser approached Hughes about creating a massive flying boat. Hughes was well known for breaking records as a pilot, including a 1935 landplane airspeed record of 352 miles per hour. In 1938, Hughes flew around the world in 3 days 19 hours 17 minutes, beating the previous record by almost four days. He was also a brilliant engineer.
After Kaiser withdrew from the flying boat project in 1944, Howard Hughes renamed the plane H-4 Hercules. It’s also called the Hughes Flying Boat and the Spruce Goose. Hughes become obsessed with the project. Though the original intention was for the aircraft to help with war efforts, by the time they completed the project, the war was over.
Hughes flew the plane on November 2, 1947. He wanted to prove it was airworthy and not just a flight of fancy. In its first and only flight, he flew it at an altitude of 70 feet for 26 seconds. The aircraft flew for about one mile at a speed of 135 miles per hour.
Exterior of the Spruce Goose
I knew the Spruce Goose was large, but I had no idea how enormous it was. I’m including several exterior photos to show the scale of this massive aircraft. The first picture shows a view from the second-story balcony.
The next two show aircraft on display under one wing and then the other. They look so small in comparison.
There’s a diorama showing the construction in progress on the left side of the photo below. Helpful volunteers are stationed nearby.
This view is of the huge nose section. Vintage airline seats are set up under the nose for those seeking a brush with greatness.
There are informational displays in and around the Spruce Goose. A photo of Howard Hughes, Jr. is in the lower right on the display board below and you can also see him speaking with congress. This display shows several pictures of parts of the plane being transported.
The next display shows construction photos and a construction breakdown drawing.
The original plans included clamshell opening nose gear to make the plane easier to unload. This diorama shows how Hughes envisioned the Spruce Goose doing its job.
After the flight
After its flight, Hughes paid around one million dollars a year to retain a crew and maintain the aircraft. He passed away in 1976, but he always hoped it would fly again. Initially, plans were made to part out the Spruce Goose to eight museums.
After aviation officials and the public expressed concern, the Spruce Goose was gifted to the Aero Club of Southern California and put on display in Long Beach. When Disney took over ownership of the location, they displayed it for two more years but decided it no longer fit with their plans. In 1992, the plane was put up for auction and Michael King Smith and Delford M. Smith, founders of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, had the winning bid.
Moving and reassembling the Spruce Goose was a big undertaking. After many hours of painstaking work by volunteers and staff, the aircraft was open to the public in its new home on June 6, 2001. On November 5, 2022, the museum will host the Spruce Goose’s 75th Anniversary Gala.
This 9-minute video from the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum about the Spruce Goose shows its flight, temporary home in California, long trip to Oregon, and its current home in McMinnville.
There are carefully preserved artifacts near the aircraft, including Hughes’ original log book.
Do you know what’s pictured below and why it’s important to the path Howard Hughes, Jr. chose? The answer is at the end of this post.
Interior of the Spruce Goose
The inside of the aircraft can be seen by climbing a stairway or taking an elevator. For an additional $30, visitors get a 15-minute guided tour of the cockpit.
This view shows the fire suppressing canisters.
Here’s a more distant view. What are those colorful objects on the right side of the picture?
If you guessed beach balls, you’re right! Howard Hughes was worried the Flying Boat may not float, so he had these inflatable balls put in the lower hull and wing floats.
A few more Spruce Goose facts for you:
- The plane is actually made from birch, not spruce.
- Wingspan 320 feet 11 inches; length 218 feet 8 inches; height 79 feet 4 inches; weight empty 300,000 pounds.
- Still the record holder for largest wooden aircraft, largest seaplane, and largest propeller plane ever built.
Did you guess what the odd object pictured above the first interior shot was? That’s a drill bit that made Howard’s father, Howard Hughes, Sr., a rich man. He disliked the bits used to drill for oil and bought the rights to a bit created by Granville A. Humanson for $150. He improved the design significantly and applied for several patents. The bit, with its 166 cutting edges, became the industry standard. Howard, Sr. created the Hughes Tool Company and leased the bits to drillers.
The money Howard, Jr. inherited at the age of 19 helped him tremendously when pursuing his aviation interests. He increased his personal wealth with forays into entertainment and real estate businesses. Later in life, his eccentric behaviors affected him personally and financially.
When you have a lot of time one day, read the long entry about Howard Hughes, Jr.’s fascinating history on Wikipedia. Wow, what a life!