Today in History... The Spruce Goose takes its maiden flight in California

On November 2, 1947 a remarkable event in the history of aviation occurred as the Hughes H-4 Hercules took to the air for its first, and as it turned out only, flight.

The Spruce Goose takes flight

It was built largely from wood, due to shortages of metal during WWII leading it to be nicknamed the Spruce Goose, much to its designer Howard Hughes's annoyance. It had been intended for wartime use as America hoped for a means to transfer men and supplies across the Atlantic whilst avoiding German U-boats.

Charles Lindbergh had flown solo across the Atlantic in 1927 on the Spirit of St Louis, but crossing the ocean by air was still a major feat. To face the challenges required, Hughes designed it as the largest flying boat ever built, and the Spruce Goose has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history.

Developing the Spruce Goose cost a staggering $23m and took so long that the war was over when it was completed in 1946. The aircraft had many detractors, and Congress demanded that Hughes prove the plane airworthy.

On November 2 with Hughes at the controls, a crew of 21 and several invited guests and members of the press, the Spruce Goose began taxiing tests. The place finally lifted off from a channel facing Cabrillo Beach near Long Beach, California.

The aircraft never flew again, though it was maintained ready for such a purpose until Hughes's death in 1976, and is now on display in the Evergreen Aviation Museum. It is often referred to in the media, for example in a Simpsons episode where Mr Burns acts like an aging Howard Hughes and refers to his 'Spruce Moose' plane.

Those interested in owning a piece of aviation history, such as the Wright Brothers' first company cheque, should click here.


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