Issue 6.2: April/May 2003

Golden Goose

Story by Aarin Correa

photo: Katherine Huit
Evergreen Avaiation Museum

With all the advances in modern technology, who would have thought that the largest plane on record would still be made of wood? Famously dubbed the "Spruce Goose" (though it’s really made mainly of birch), the 200-ton flying boat was built in the 1940s by aviator and eccentric multimillionaire Howard Hughes in response to a wartime shortage of metal and the need to ferry supplies across dangerous Atlantic waters ruled by enemy U-boats.

Even during its own time, the plane was an oddity, with a wingspan of 320 feet, the height of an eight-story building and enough cargo space to carry 700 troops. The war ended before the plane was finished, and few people other than Hughes and his design team had faith that the overgrown bird would ever fly. But on Nov. 2, 1947, Hughes proved them wrong by piloting his Hercules, as he called it, for one very brief moment of history over Long Beach Harbor. The flight lasted less than a minute, reaching a top speed of 80 mph and covering a mile at just seventy feet above the water.

photo: Steve Shrader

Following its one and only flight, the Hughes Flying Boat was retired to a hangar in Long Beach, where Hughes paid an annual $1 million in lease and maintenance fees to house it until his death. In 1992, the craft was hauled piece-meal to McMinnville, Oregon, where volunteers spent eight years restoring and preparing it for a reintroduction to the public. Having completed its migration north, the Spruce Goose is now on display in its full glory at McMinnville’s Evergreen Aviation Museum.

Evergreen Aviation Museum
(503) 434-4180