In 1942, the US Army was faced with the need to transport large amounts of war material and personnel to Europe. With German u-boats prowling in the Atlantic, they turned to the millionaire Howard Hughes and his Hughes Aircraft company. The company designed the US Hughes H-4 Hercules–the largest flying boat, and one of the largest aircraft–which had since been mocked by the media as the Spruce Goose (mainly because it was built out of wood, to conserve metal for the war effort). However, Hughes failed to deliver the plane (capable of carrying 750 fully-equipped troops or two Sherman tanks) before the war ended.
Accusing of having ‘unpatriotic sentiments’ and misappropriating the funds for the plane, Howard Hughes was called to testify before Congress in 1947. The above picture was taken during one of those hearings, which failed to indict or ruffle the ascetic and misanthropic millionaire. Hughes accused the Chair of the Senate War Investigating Committee [Senator Williams (R-Delaware)] of being a crony of his rival PanAm and of using ‘outside pressures’ to collect disputed taxes from his company. During a break in the hearings, he returned to California and on November 2, 1947 with Howard Hughes personally at the controls (below Hughes in cockpit), the Spruce Goose lifted off from the waters off Long Beach, reminaing airborne 70 feet off the water at a speed of 80 miles per hour for just under a mile.
Hughes had proved the critics–who said the plane would never lift off–wrong, but the justification for continued spending on the project was gone. Congress killed the Spruce Goose, which never flew again. It was carefully maintained in flying condition until Hughes’s death in 1976.