GIANT HUGHES SEAPLANE MAKES BRIEF TEST FLIGHT
By Gene Dawson
The News Aviation Editor
Howard Hughes prepared today to head for Washington and resumption of the Brewster Committee investigation of his war contracts, armed with the knowledge that his $25,000,000 plywood flying boat, storm centre of the inquiry really flies.
The huge boat powered with eight 3,000-horsepower engines, took off the choppy waves of Long Beach harbour here Sunday. It flew about a mile at an altitude estimated by the millionaire pilot to be about 70 feet. Its speed was little more than a hundred miles an hour.
Actually, Mr. Hughes may have been as surprised as the thousands who lined the shore when the 400,000-pound flying machine took to the air. Earlier, he had told newsmen that he would conduct only taxi tests and would not attempt to fly the boat until March or April.
He had made two taxi runs at speeds of 45 and 90 miles an hour in the harbour. It was when he lowered the huge flaps on the 300 foot wing and again hit 90 miles an hour that the ship slowly lifted from the water.
“Because of the restricted space in the harbour and the presence of so many pleasure craft,” Mr. Hughes said, “it was necessary for me to land almost as soon as the plane left the water. I don’t think we’ll fly it again for a while.”
Turns Down Stars Yacht
In the crowd which witnessed the tests of the biggest machine ever to fly were aviation writers and Washington newspapermen who had covered the first Brewster committee hearings centering around the Hughes contract to build the gigantic plane. They had been flown here as the guests of the Hughes organisation. Committee members – also invited- were not present.
The millionaire manufacturer, movie producer and pilot with something like 25,000 landings to his credit has not been known among newspapermen as the most cooperative person in the business. But when he walked up the gangplank after his first flight, he was a changed man.
He sent his regrets to a group of movie stars, including Cary Grant, Walter Pidgeon, James Stewart, Hedda Hopper, Randolph Scott, Veronica Lake and others waiting in a yacht nearby. He spent the rest of the day showing the writers through the huge plane anchored in the harbour.
The plane is called the Spruce Goose, (actually it is made of birch), the Hercules and other names, Mr. Hughes pointed out it is three times larger than the Mars, previously the largest flying boat. It is seven times larger than the DC-6, the largest transport plane in regular use. Its wing span is 320 feet, it is 219 feet long and the cockpit is about as high off the water as a the top of a four-story building. Mr. Hughes said that it could probably accommodate about 700 passengers.
He believes, he said, that the flying boat is approximately the “critical size,” that stage at which it would become impractical to build airplanes any bigger. While the present plane was never intended for any other than experimental use, Mr. Hughes said he foresaw the possibility of great good from production models of the same craft.
He pointed out that the plane was constructed of plywood because he got the contract in a wartime period when metals were critical materials. There would be few problems he said, involved in changing from wood to metal construction.
The plane, he told writers, was practically a hand made job. Nothing so big had ever been undertaken before, and few if any, standard parts could be utilized.
One of the most difficult problems was the control system. To work the control surfaces required the instillation of a hydraulic system that builds up to 26,000 pound of pressure, enough to pull the Santa Fe Super Chief train fully loaded. The system multiplies 200 times the pressure exerted by the controls.
Likewise, there was a problem of engine controls, such as throttles, etc. Usually, these connections are made by cables and pulleys.
These engines are so far away from the cockpit, he said, that the cables long enough to do the job would have developed so much slack that they would have been ineffective. So Mr. Hughes and his engineers developed a system of compresses air for energising these and other engine controls.
The intricate electrical system in the plane is driven by a power plant sufficient to meet the normal needs of 25 families. The plane is equipped with 14 gasoline tanks of 1,000 gallons capacity each.
The gasoline flows to the engines in 2-inch lines, whereas the standard aircraft gasoline line is ½ inch.
Mr. Hughes would not discuss top speed or range. He said take off speed is about 95 miles an hour. When newspapermen called attention to the fact that the plane is equipped with an automatic pilot and radio compass, both standard equipment on large planes for long flights, Mr. Hughes would not comment.
On his flight, Mr. Hughes said he was using only about 2,200 of the 6,000 horsepower in each engine. He said the plane was sustained in flight by engines throttled back to 1,200 horsepower each.
Most of the writers believed Mr. Hughes actually had not intended to fly the plane Sunday. He put it this way.
“Well, I had the flaps down, and the controls felt so good that I just pulled her off.”
He expressed regret that the members of Senator Brewster’s War Investigating Committee had not accepted his invitation to attend the tests. In the only display of temper all day, he added, “I don’t think some of the committee members, including Mr. Brewster, cared whether the boat flew or sank. I stated my belief of the reason for that investigation and I’m sticking with it.”