On November 2. 1947, Howard Hughes piloted the Hughes Flying Boat, the largest aircraft ever built, on its first and only flight. Built with laminated birch and spruce, the massive wooden aircraft had a wingspan longer than a football field and was designed to carry more than 700 men to battle.
Howard Hughes was a successful. Hollywood movie producer when he founded the Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932. He personally tested cutting-edge aircraft of his own design and, in 1937, broke the transcontinental flight-time record. In 1938, he flew around the world in a record three days, 19 hours and 14 minutes.
Following the United States entrance in World War II. in 1941, the U.S. government commissioned the Hughes Aircraft Company to build a large flying boat capable of carrymg men and materials over long distances. Because of wartime restrictions on aluminum, Hughes decided to build his aircraft out of wood laminated with plastic and covered with fabric.
Although it was constructed mainly of birch, the use of spruce (along with its white grey color) would later earn the aircraft the nickname "Spruce Goose". It had a wingspan of 320 feet and was powered by eight gigantic propeller engines. Development of the Spruce Goose cost a phenomenal $23 million and took so long that the war had ended by the time of its completion in 1946.
The aircraft had many detractors, and Congress demanded that Hughes prove the plane airworthy. On November 2, 1947, Hughes obliged, taking the Spruce Goose out into Long Beach Harbor. Thousands of onlookers had come to watch the aircraft taxi on the water and were surprised when Hughes lifted his wooden behemoth 70 feet above the water and flew for a mile before landing.
Despite his successful maiden flight, the Spruce Goose never went into production, primarily because it was alleged that its wooden framework was insufficient to support its weight during long flights. Nevertheless, Howard Hughes refused to neglect what he saw as his greatest achievement in the aviation field.
From 1947 until his death in 1976, Hughes kept the Spruce Goose prototype ready for flight in an enormous, climate-controlled hanger at a cost of $1,000,000 a year.