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Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 5, 1947: Workmen erect framework to hold a canvas canopy over Howard Hughes' flying boat "Spruce Goose." Canvas cover was erected to protech the aircraft during final preparations for flight testing. Photo published in the Aug. 6, 1947 LA Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Aug. 5, 1947: The starboard four engines of the The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" are worked on at the dock on Terminal Island.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Oct. 3, 1947: Sen. Claude Pepper of Florida and Howard Hughes visit the Spruce Goose at Terminal Island.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Charles Crawford / Los Angeles Times

Oct. 31, 1947: Millionaire aviator and industrialist Howard Hughes looks over the multi-metered engineer's panel of his huge flying boat at Los Angeles Harbor, Oct. 31, 1947. Engineer Chal Bowen sits in front of the panel.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

Oct. 31, 1947: Howard Hughes, millionaire plane manufacturer, sits at the control of his giant eight-engine wooden flying boat H-4 Hercules later known as the "Spruce Goose."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Associated Press

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" sits in water next to its Terminal Island dock.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: Journalists gather around the Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" at its dock on Terminal Island.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" at its dock on Terminal Island on the day of its taxi tests.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" at its dock on Terminal Island on the day of its taxi tests.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during taxi tests in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. Howard Hughes is at the controls.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: Spectators gathered on jetty to watch the test runs of the Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" in Long Beach-Long Angeles harbor.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during taxi tests in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. Howard Hughes is at the controls.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during taxi tests in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. Howard Hughes is at the controls.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during taxi tests in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: Howard Hughes, center wearing hat, poses for photographers with his top engineers following the successful test flight of the Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose."

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" during short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. The next image, a cropped version of this 4x5 inch negative, was published eight columns in the Nov. 3, 1947 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 2, 1947: The Hughes Aircraft H-4 Hercules, known as the Spruce Goose, makes a short flight in the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor. This photo was published in the Nov. 3, 1947, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

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The flight of the Spruce Goose

In 1947, the Senate War Investigating Committee called Howard Hughes to testify regarding government money spent on his H-4 Hercules experimental aircraft. During a break in the hearings, Hughes returned to Los Angeles to perform taxi test flights on the aircraft.

The results of the Nov. 2, 1947, taxi tests were reported the next morning in a Page 1 Los Angeles Times story:

Lifting gracefully from whitecapped waters into the teeth of an erratic 20-knot wind, Howard Hughes’ $25,000,000 plywood flying boat yesterday took to the air and flew at 70 feet for a mile during its first taxi tests in Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor.

Hughes was at the controls of the 400,000-pound plane when it took off midway in the third and final trial run before thousands of surprised spectators who jammed the shore line.

Brought down on the choppy waters lightly, the behemoth was towed back to its moorings to await an abatement of the gusty winds that prevented redocking at Terminal Island.

As he returned to shore, the Texan sportsman-pilot was grinning broadly and munching an apple.

“I think the airplane is going to be fairly successful,” Hughes commented. “When we got up to 95 m.p.h., I lowered the flaps to take-off position and it felt so good, I just took it off.”

The flyer said the eight 3,000-horsepower engines were turning up 2,200 revolutions per minute at the take-off, “but I throttled back to 1200 r.p.m. and she settled down like a feather at the end of the course.”

Men aboard the flying boat said the hull skipped from wave to wave when the speed increased and that a violent motion shook the cockpit. An engineer stationed in the plane’s after section reported that the huge fuselage twisted with each wave.

With a hollow booming of its hull, the huge plane began its test runs under the two inboard engines that pulled it to the Outer Harbor at 10 m.p.h.

As the other engines were started, Hughes steered the craft through waves four feet high for the first water-borne trial from east to west. The brisk, gusty wind and choppy sea offered no apparent difficulties to the 219-foot-long plane as it made an initial run at an estimated 40 m.p.h.

The gigantic winged boat maneuvered easily at the end of its first run in turning for a second thundering race at nearly 90 m.p.h. in the opposite direction. On the second sweep the ponderous hull lifted onto its step and completed the downwind taxi in a wide-flung spray of water.

Hughes piloted the boat on a course roughly paralleling the shoreline from Terminal Island Navy Base to offshore from Pier A in Long Beach.

An estimated 15,000 persons jammed beaches and piers along the course to watch the boat’s trials…

Hundreds of small boats ranging from fishing craft to row-boats swarmed waters adjacent to the taxing lane. A Coast Guard cutter stood by to warn spectators clear of the plane.

In addition to the multimillionaire planemaker, 30 engineers, technicians and observers were aboard the plywood giant for its first movement under its own power.

Acting as copilot was Dave Grant, Hughes’ chief hydraulic engineer…

After the flight Hughes was asked if he believed the test would have any effect on the attitude of Senate committee members toward his plane.

“I think not,” Hughes replied. “I don’t think the committee is concerned whether the flying boat flies or not.”

The flyer is scheduled for an appearance Wednesday before the Senate committee investigating war contracts. Hughes’ wartime contract for the construction of the huge plywood seaplane, under investigation by the committee, was under an $18,000,000 government contract handled by the Reconstruction Finance Corp.

Hughes has put more than $7,000,000 of his own money into the project.

Following the flight, the H-4 Hercules returned to its Terminal Island dock — never to fly again. Hughes built a custom climate-controlled building around the airplane. In 1980, the Spruce Goose was moved and put on display next to the Queen Mary.

Today the aircraft is on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Ore.

For more Spruce Goose photos, check out this 1946 move of the Spruce Goose photo gallery.

6 Comments

  1. November 2, 2012, 12:27 pm

    My understanding of the project is that the aircraft was never intended to fly high. It was intended to be freight carrier low across the Atlantic just out of the way of German attack submarines which were creating havoc with war supplies to Britain.

  2. November 3, 2012, 4:38 am

    Another example of wasteful spending of taxpayers' money on war projects. Millionnaires dipping into government funds to toy with lame ideas. Hughes spent $18 million OPM (other peoples' money).

    By: lyngilham
  3. November 3, 2012, 5:20 am

    "The results of the Nov. 2, 1947, taxi tests…"
    "For more Spruce Goose photos, check out this 1946 move of the Spruce Goose photo gallery."

    Anybody else find this time-line confusing?

    By: Edward
  4. November 4, 2012, 7:26 pm

    Derek is correct. It was indented to fly from East coast to England. All fuel is in the bottom of the plane. 12500 gallons in 14 tanks. The front was to have clam shell doors to make loading easy. The wings are dry and can be access ftom the cockpit area. Come up to Oregon and see how well the plane is displayed and kept in 1947 status. I am a docent at the Evergreen Museum.

    By: Tomt
  5. February 7, 2013, 8:13 pm

    I believe this plane was built to be a troop carrier. But the war ended as did the need to carry large numbers of troops rapidly. I may seem that it was a waste of money, as someone said above, but had the war continued it would have been a bargain compared to ships carrying troops, taking weeks instead of hours and sometimes being sunk with large loss of life.

    By: Ray Perry
  6. April 13, 2014, 8:08 pm

    this man was a pioneer in aircraft. god bless his memory.

    By: kay12147@aol.com

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