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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Wild Goose Chase

"The Spruce Goose" landing on November 2, 1947.
Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 371, Box 2, Folder: March 1975
On November 2, 1947 Howard Hughes, famed businessman, philanthropist, director, and aviator, flew the HK-4 Flying Boat for its first and only flight. “The Spruce Goose” now lives at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. But did you know that for a brief moment the plane was a part of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s collections?

Before the “The Spruce Goose” moved around the country in search of a permanent home, the plane had an interesting history of its own.  Hughes designed and built the HK-4 during World War II under a contract with the Defense Production Corp. Hughes’ company, Hughes Tool Company, built the plane with a 320-foot wingspan, sixty percent longer than a Boeing 747, and large enough to transport about 700 soldiers into battle. The plane made of birch, poplar spruce, maple and balsa wood, because of wartime restrictions on metal, was given the nickname “The Spruce Goose”, even though birch was the primary material used. However, the plane’s astonishing twenty-three million dollar cost and years of slow progress set the project back. It was completed in 1946 after the war had ended and despite its successful maiden journey, fears about the strength of a wooden plane devalued its worth and the plane was never put into production. Hughes, who called the plane “Hercules”, maintained a crew for his beloved plane’s prototype until his death in 1976.

In 1975, the Summa Corporation (a Hughes Company) owned Hughes’ H-1 Racer, the fastest landplane of its time. The Smithsonian wanted this plane for its exhibits, while the Summa Corporation wanted to purchase “The Spruce Goose.” However, since “The Goose” was built under a government contract and held by the US General Services Administration, it could not be directly sold to the private Summa Corporation. Thus, the plane was transferred to the Smithsonian and shortly thereafter sent to the Summa Cooperation in exchange for the H-1 Racer. The H-1 Racer was placed on display in the National Air and Space Museum’s “Golden Age of Flight” exhibit.

“The Spruce Goose’s” tale does not end there. After Hughes’ death in 1976 the Wrather Cooperation bought the plane and housed it in a hanger in Long Beach, California.  In 1988, the Walt Disney Company bought the plane. Finally, in 1992 co-founders of the Evergreen Aviation Museum submitted a proposal to Disney, who were soliciting a permanent home for “The Spruce Goose.” The proposal stated that the new museum would design a state-of-the-art exhibition space around the plane. Disney accepted the proposal and in 1993 Hughes’ plane finally landed for the final time. “The Spruce Goose” underwent a full restoration and in 2001 made its debut in a new exhibit.


  1. If I remember right the plane pilotted by Howard Hughes on flew about 30 feet above the water on its only flight.

  2. Hi Bruce,

    Yes you remember correctly, the flight was short and low. According to the Evergreen Air and Space Museum's page dedicated to the Spruce Goose it flew 70 ft. for one minute for just over one mile. For more info on the topic you should check out their site:

    Thanks for reading!