On November 2nd, 1947, the Spruce Goose made its first and only flight. We decided to take a look back at this famous event and see how much you know about the aircraft with the largest wingspan ever.
Who Built the Spruce Goose? The eccentric film producer Howard Hughes was behind the project. Hughes had already established a successful career for himself in Hollywood when, in 1932, he founded the Hughes Aircraft Company. But, the company wasn't just some millionaire's pet project: Hughes was a serious pilot and aircraft engineer and proved it when he broke the trans-continental flight time record in 1937. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Hughes Aircraft Company was commissioned to build a large aircraft capable of carrying soldiers and materials across the Atlantic and Pacific. Though the war was over by the time Hughes finished, the Hughes H-4 Hercules — better known as the "Spruce Goose" — was completed in 1946.
Why was the Plane Nicknamed the Spruce Goose? World War II brought metal shortages to the U.S. homefront and as a result, Hughes needed to get creative in the materials he used to create the commissioned aircraft. He elected to build the plane from wood that was laminated with plastic and then covered in fabric. The combination of the wood material and the white-gray color of the plane gave birth to the "spruce" part of the plane's nickname. The "goose" portion comes from the fact that the plane took off from the water. Many referred to the aircraft as a "large flying boat."
Why Did Hughes Fly the Plane if the War was Over? Construction of the Spruce Goose cost $23 million — a huge cost today, but a monstrous cost in the 1940s. As a result, many contested the construction of the plane and demanded to see it in flight to ensure Hughes had fulfilled his end of the government contract that funded construction. Hughes obliged with the unannounced flight test on November 2, 1947. After two runs of the Spruce Goose taxiing across Long Beach Harbor, Hughes brought a crew and several reporters on board and lifted the plane off the water by 70 feet for about a mile. Doing so proved the Spruce Goose had met the obligations of the government contract.
What Happened to the Plane After the Maiden Flight? It never flew again. With the war over and concerns over the plane's wooden frame, it never went into production either. Hughes refused to see his biggest achievement as a failure. Following the flight on November 2, 1947, Hughes had the aircraft moved to a climate-controlled hangar with a staff of 300 keeping it in operational condition at the cost of $1 million per year. Today, the Spruce Goose is at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.