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The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947


The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The largest wooden airplane ever constructed, and flown only one time, the H-4 Hercules (nicknamed Spruce Goose) represents one of humanity’s greatest attempts to conquer the skies. Henry Kaiser, steel magnate and shipbuilder, conceived the idea of a massive flying transport and turned to Howard Hughes to design and build it.

Six times larger than any aircraft of its time, the Spruce Goose, also known as the Hughes Flying Boat, is made entirely of wood.

The plane would need to carry 150,000 pounds, 750 troops or two 30-ton Sherman tanks. Originally designated the HK-1, the seaplane Hughes designed was absolutely massive. Weighing in at 300,000 pounds, with a wingspan of 320 feet, the plane was the largest flying machine ever built.

Hughes hated the nickname. He felt it was an insult to the prowess of his engineers. After Kaiser dropped out of the project, Hughes renamed it the “H-4 Hercules.” The winged giant made only one flight on November 2, 1947, than the Spruce Goose was kept out of the public eye for 33 years, currently located in McMinnville, Ore.

h/t: rarehistoricalphotos

The Hercules is the largest flying boat ever built, and it had the largest wingspan of any aircraft that had ever flown until the Scaled Composites Stratolaunch first flew on April 13, 2019.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

Howard Hughes inside the “Spruce Goose.” 1947.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The final design chosen was a behemoth, eclipsing any large transport then built.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The “Spruce Goose” is transported from Culver City to Long Beach, California. 1946.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

It would be built mostly of wood to conserve metal (its elevators and rudder were fabric-covered), and was nicknamed the Spruce Goose (a name Hughes disliked) or the Flying Lumberyard.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The huge wings being transported. 1946.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That’s more than a city block.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

In all, development cost for the plane reached $23 million (equivalent to more than $283 million in 2016).
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

A house moving company transported the airplane on streets to Pier E in Long Beach, California. They moved it in three large sections: the fuselage, each wing—and a fourth, smaller shipment with tail assembly parts and other smaller assemblies.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The plane was built by the Hughes Aircraft Company at Hughes Airport, location of present-day Playa Vista, Los Angeles, California, employing the plywood-and-resin “Duramold” process – a form of composite technology – for the laminated wood construction, which was considered a technological tour de force.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The “Spruce Goose” under construction in its graving dock in Los Angeles Harbor. 1947.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

Hughes in the cockpit.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

Hughes prepares to take the “Spruce Goose” out for tests. 1947.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

On November 2, 1947, the taxi tests began with Hughes at the controls. His crew included Dave Grant as copilot, two flight engineers, Don Smith and Joe Petrali, 16 mechanics, and two other flight crew.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The H-4 also carried seven invited guests from the press corps and an additional seven industry representatives. In total, thirty-six people were on board.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

After picking up speed on the channel facing Cabrillo Beach the Hercules lifted off, remaining airborne for 26 seconds at 70 ft (21 m) off the water at a speed of 135 miles per hour (217 km/h) for about one mile (1.6 km).
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

The “Spruce Goose” flies for the first and only time. Nevertheless, the brief flight proved to detractors that Hughes’ (now unneeded) masterpiece was flight-worthy—thus vindicating the use of government funds.
The Story In Pictures Of The Giant Hughes H-4 Hercules Made Entirely Of Wood In 1945-1947
LIFE/Getty Images

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