Perhaps the most outstanding example of assonance in history, the Spruce Goose could be considered an epic fail. It was poised for greatness. Howard Hughes was at the helm, and it was backed by the government and its developer with millions of dollars. And did it take flight?
Once. For less than a minute. Flying about a mile. And getting about 70 feet off the ground.
While most of the world gave the Goose two thumbs down, it really was a triumph. A modern marvel, if you will. And the world of aviation was better for its ambitious existence.
Laying the Golden Egg
During World War II, the American military found itself in need of a craft that could deliver supplies to US forces overseas yet somehow avoid detection and damage (or worse) by German U-Boats. In 1942, the military turned to two aviation development powerhouses, Henry Kaiser and Howard Hughes, to solve this dilemma.
Hughes, the once-famous movie producer turned aviator and aircraft designer, had established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the arena. Kaiser, the famous industrialist known for helping build Liberty ships, was initially brought on to design and produce this aircraft alongside Hughes. However, due to Hughes’s eccentricities, Kaiser ultimately bowed out of the project.
Hughes’s challenge was to create an aircraft that could transport around 750 troops and two massive Sherman tanks long distances. He agreed to a military contract of 18 million dollars. He came in a considerable amount over budget.
Hughes was faced with a dilemma concerning construction from the project’s onset: metals were being rationed due to the ongoing war. Because of that, Hughes, being the “outside the box thinker” he was, decided to substitute wood for aluminum. Though birch was the primary wood sourced for the project, the flying boat garnered its nickname from the wood, spruce, hence, Spruce Goose.
Though the craft’s nickname would stick throughout the coming times, Hughes took offense to the term and insisted it be referred to by its given name, the H-4. Its only acceptable nickname was granted by Hughes: Hercules.
Hatching the “Goose”
Before its inaugural flight/swan song in 1947, the Spruce Goose found itself incubating much longer than planned. Hoping to get the Goose up and flying to use during the war effort, the US military was not pleased when the war ended, and the Goose had not flown the coop.
In the same year, the Senate brought sanctions against Hughes, stating that he had squandered the government funds given to him for the H-4’s production.
Hughes assured the government that he had funneled plenty of his own money into this passion project. He even went so far as to bet his citizenship on its success. On record, he said that he would relinquish his US citizenship if the Goose didn’t spread its wings and fly.
They took him up on his claim, and the eccentric was left to complete the project that he staked so much on.
The Spruce Goose was immense. Period.
The air boat’s impressive stats included:
- A length of 218 feet.
- An INCREDIBLE wingspan that surpassed the length of a football field.
- Eight massive engines putting out 3,000 hp each.
- A weight of 150 tons.
The Goose Leaves the Nest
Towards the end of 1947, long after the end of WWII, a moving company met Hughes at the hanger housing the H-4, loading it up for its debut flight.
On November 2, 1947, the Spruce Goose spread its massive wings and flew. A little.
Though it only achieved a few seconds of air time, one mile of distance, and a speed that a modern Vespa can almost achieve, the Spruce Goose DID do what Hughes claimed: it flew.
While it might not have achieved the expected statistics, the Goose still became an aircraft that was of great interest to the military and airlines the world over. It became an extremely coveted craft to study.
Retreating to the Nest
Once the Goose flew, Hughes soon recoiled from society, becoming reclusive. Regardless of his lack of need for personal connection, Hughes ensured the Goose was well cared for the remainder of his life.
At a price of over 1 million per year, Hughes had a custom hub built for the Goose, and he employed between 50 to 200 per year by the time he died in 1976.
Today the Spruce Goose is housed in an aircraft museum so the world can get a glimpse of what could have been.
Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky: The Spruce Goose
Though Hughes retreated into obscurity after the Goose’s flight, his efforts will no doubt live on.
Though only “catching air’ on time, the Spruce Goose is an aircraft of legendary status, and it is unlikely anyone will knock it out of contention for that title any time soon.
The Spruce Goose can show its feathered backside to nay-sayers the world over and say, “excuse me while I kiss the sky.”