Wednesday November 26, 2014
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03-143 The Spruce Goose II

Wednesday Nov 26, 2014

Lead: With Allied shipping in serious jeopardy due to German submarine attacks during the early years of World War II, military planners turned to aircraft manufacturers. Howard Hughes responded with the Spruce Goose.

Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Metal for the construction of experimental aircraft was scarce in 1942; therefore, when the designers at Hughes Aircraft began their mockup of the gigantic new cargo plane they built their model using Duramold, lightweight plywood saturated with synthetic glue to make it waterproof and very strong. The basic airframe had no nails, screws, or rivets, no metal at all. Skilled woodworkers crafted special joints that were bonded with glue for strength.

For the power plant Hughes selected the most powerful engine available, a Pratt and Whitney monster that, with 28 cylinders, turned out 3000 horsepower. Eight of them stretched out across the 320 feet of giant wing, 60 percent wider than a Boeing 747. The plane was designed to carry 700 fully equipped troops or a totally loaded Sherman tank.

The project was five years in the making and from the beginning was charged with controversy. One of the main problems was Hughes' style of leadership. He rarely showed up at the plant and refused to give anyone the final decision-making authority. Repeated delays and funding restrictions kept pushing back the completion of the HFB-1 and, much to Hughes' disgust, politicians and the press took to calling the plane the "Spruce Goose," although it was mainly constructed of birch harvested in the forests of Wisconsin and Michigan.

Finally, on November 1, 1947, more than two years after Japan's surrender, Hughes called in the press and flooded the dry dock in which the giant flying boat rested. At the controls himself, he revved the engines through two taxi runs, turned the plane into the wind and with the bright sun reflecting off its aluminum paint caused the huge craft to lift, surge, and fly. That one-mile was the single flight of the Spruce Goose. Originally displayed in Long Beach, California, a tribute to innovation and clever design in a period of desperate circumstances, it was moved to McMinnville, Oregon in 1993. The Spruce Goose remains at the Evergreen Aviation museum today as a vivid memorial to the life of one of the most creative and peculiar players in mid-twentieth American life, Howard Hughes.

The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.


Barlett, Donald L. and James B. Steele. Empire: The Life, Legend, and Madness of Howard Hughes. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1979.

Drosnin, Michael. Citizen Hughes. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985.

Evergreen Aviation Museum

Nixon, Stuart. "Big Spruce Goose Will Settle Down in a New Nest," Smithsonian 11 (9): 107-114.

Copyright 2014 by Dan Roberts Enterprises, Inc.


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