The Hughes H-4 Hercules, registration NX37602, was a heavy strategic airlift military transport aircraft, designed and built by the Hughes Aircraft Company. The mammoth aircraft was intended as a transatlantic flight transport for use during World War II to avoid mounting shipping losses due to German U-boats patrolling the Atlantic waters.
Amid great political opposition to the project, Howard Hughes was called to testify before the Senate War Investigating Committee in 1947 over the use of government funds for the aircraft. During a Senate hearing on August 6, 1947 (the first of a long series of appearances), Hughes said:
"The Hercules was a monumental undertaking. It is the largest aircraft ever built. It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That's more than a city block. Now, I put the sweat of my life into this thing. I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if it's a failure, I'll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it!"
On November 2, 1947, the taxi tests began with Hughes himself at the controls. His crew included Dave Grant as copilot, two flight engineers, Don Smith and Joe Petrali, 16 mechanics, and two other flight crew. In addition, the H-4 carried seven invited guests from the press corps and an additional seven industry representatives. Thirty-six were on board.
After the first two taxi runs, four reporters left to file stories, but the remaining press stayed for the final test run of the day.
After picking up speed on the channel facing Cabrillo Beach, the Hercules lifted off, remaining airborne at 70 ft off the water at a speed of 135 miles per hour for a distance of approximately one mile.
The brief flight proved to detractors that Hughes' masterpiece was flight-worthy—thus vindicating Howard Hughes, and his use of government funds for the mammoth project.
For years, a full-time dedicated crew of 300 workers, all sworn to secrecy, maintained Howard Hughes vision in flying condition in a climate-controlled hangar. The company reduced the crew to 50 workers in 1962, and then disbanded it after Hughes' death in 1976.
The media labeled the goliath birch aircraft "Spruce Goose" a nickname Howard Hughes personally despised. For Hughes, she was known as the Hercules...