The idea for the Hughes H-4 Hercules, more commonly known as the Spruce Goose, was born in 1942 when the American industrialist Henry Kaiser proposed that a fleet of vast flying boats might provide a better way to send American forces—both men and their equipment—across the Atlantic Ocean. At this time, German submarines were sinking hundreds of Allied ships that were bringing supplies and troops to support the war effort.
Howard Hughes was approached with the idea of developing this aircraft. Since the United States was at war, Hughes was required to develop the prototype for this new aircraft without using any strategic materials such as aluminum and steel. Thus Hughes used Duramold, a laminated wooden material. While the primary wood used in the plane’s construction was birch, the press insisted on calling it the Spruce Goose. The Spruce Goose, also known as the Flying Boat, was to be six times larger than any aircraft of its times.
The aircraft was originally designated HK-1 for the first aircraft built by Hughes-Kaiser. When Henry Kaiser withdrew from the project in 1944, the designation was changed to H-4.
When the war ended, Hughes had still not completed the prototype, but in order to avoid reimbursing the government about $40 million he had the airplane completed.
On November 2, 1947, with Howard Hughes and a full crew of 22, the H-4 Hercules made its first, and only flight. Flying about 20 feet above the water, Hughes flew the plane for about 1 mile. It was then placed into storage. Perhaps always dreaming of a second flight, Hughes retained a full crew to maintain the mammoth plane in a climate-controlled hangar up until his death in 1976.
After Hughes’ death in 1976, the Spruce Goose was purchased by entrepreneur Jack Wrather and moved into a domed hangar in Long Beach, California. In 1988, the Walt Disney Company bought the aircraft from the Wrather Corporation. Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum co-founders, Michael King Smith and Delford M. Smith, submitted the winning proposal in 1992 to provide the aviation icon with a proper home.
The massive aircraft was dissembled and transported by barge up the Pacific Coast, then down the Columbia and Willamatte Rivers to Portland, Oregon. The aircraft arrived in McMinnville in 1993 where temporary hangars were built as housing for the aircraft. In 2001, volunteers completed the re-assembly of the Spruce Goose and it was placed on display. According to the Museum:
The largest airplane ever constructed, and flown only one time, the Spruce Goose represents one of man’s greatest attempts to conquer the skies.
The Evergreen Air Museum was especially built to house the Spruce Goose. Photography does not begin to show the massive size of this aircraft.