The Monumental Folly of Howard Hughes: 65th Anniversary of Billionaire’s 800-Ton Spruce Goose Labor of Love That Flew for Just a Mile

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by Laura Clark Daily Mail

     

Built with the ‘sweat of his life’ the H-4 Hercules was meant to be engineer Howard Hughes’ crowning glory in his aviation career.

But the ‘Spruce Goose’ turned out to be a painstaking project which sucked up time, money and ultimately only flew once.

As the 65th anniversary of the huge plane’s solitary flight is marked, MailOnline looks at how the billionaire’s ambitious dream became marred by his quest for perfection with a series of photos from LIFE, many of which have never been seen before.

Contracted by the U.S. government in 1942 to build a military transport plane to ship materials and equipment to Britain, the H-4 Hercules was dreamt up by Henry J. Kaiser, a leading Liberty ship builder.

He asked aircraft designer Howard Hughes to produce what would become the largest aircraft built at that time.

The huge aircraft was designed to be capable of carrying 750 troops or one M4 Sherman tank.

However, because of restrictions by the government on what materials could be used, the ship was made from wood – it was primarily made from birch wood, but the nickname ‘Spruce Goose’ caught on.

Although the billionaire’s life ambition was to be known for his contribution to aviation, the Spruce Goose meant he was remembered for all the wrong reasons.

The ship took so long to build that it was only finished after World War II ended in 1947. In fact, the ship was so big it was a miracle that the plane even managed to take off.

Completed, it was the largest flying machine ever built, and its wingspan of 320 feet remains the largest in history.

It was a colossal construction, measuring 220 feet long, 25 feet high and 30 feet wide.

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