The True Aviator
‘I want to be remembered for only one thing – my contribution to aviation’ – Howard Hughes
Howard Robard Hughes Junior keen passion for aviation began with his first flight as a student pilot in 1926, achieving his private pilot license less than a year later. Almost twenty two years of age, Hughes purchased his very first aircraft. The Waco 10 was a two-seater single engine aeroplane that was built mainly for speed. Upon purchase and several introductory flights on his Waco 10, Hughes ordered for his aircraft to be remodelled to provide more safety. He sent his aircraft to Douglas Aircraft at Clover Field where the aircraft were stripped and refurbished and a leather covered rubber cushion built around the cockpit. Howard Hughes stopped by the maintenance facility everyday to inspect the latest changes of his modified aircraft. Each time, we would command the mechanics to strip the aircraft down and re-do the entire project because he was dissatisfied with its lack of perfection. His persistence in this incident was a mere tip of the iceberg compared to the inventions and improvements in aircraft engineering he would conjure during his lifetime and earned him the label “aircraft surgeon”.
1. Hell's Angels
In late 1927, Hughes set out to make what was known as the greatest motion picture of that era, “Hell’s Angels”. Hell’s Angels told the story of two young British pilots competing for the affection of an English society girl. Howard Hughes creative and eccentric demeanour signalled an upcoming innovator in the world of aviation.
2. Modification of the Boeing 100A
Hughes attention to such minute detail soon gave birth to his desire to create an aircraft that would outshine every production airplane that existed in the aviation industry. Soon after the Hell’s Angels saga, Hughes placed an order for a Boeing 100A, a two seater open cockpit civilian biplane. By 1931, Hughes put in hard work and finances into his beloved airplane to improve its performance. The plane received every conceivable aerodynamic improvement, rivets on the cowling and fuselage were filed flush for added streamline, wheel covers were added to the undercarriage, fairing was placed all over the aircraft and an astounding 450 hp engine to enhance the aircraft’s power. The modified Boeing had such exceedingly improved performance that Hughes took it to the sky to show the world how his “civilian” aircraft could easily outrun the P-12 fighter planes used by the U.S Air Force.
3. The Record Breaking H-1 Racer
Howard Hughes obsession with speed soon reached its culminating point when he embarked on a mission to create the fastest aircraft of that time. Simply named the “H-1 Racer”, the aircraft was designed for the sole purpose of sheer speed with its sleek polished aluminium fuselage that held steady its massive 50 foot wingspan. The Racer marked significant design and aerodynamic improvements that shaped the modern world of aviation. It featured a close fitted bell shaped engine cowling that reduced drag and improved engine cooling. It also had gently curved wing fillets between the wings and fuselage that stabilised airflow and reduced drag. Accustomed to their employer’s preference, the engineers of Hughes Aircraft also had to ensure the rivets all over the plane were flush with the aircraft’s skin.
On 13 August 1935, Hughes presented the Racer to a panel of five official timers, with the intention of breaking the existing record of 314 miles per hour (mph). Hughes himself decided to fly the aircraft for this record breaking feat despite having countless test pilots at his disposal. Clocking a sonic 352.28 mph, Howard Hughes had his name and the Racer inked in the record books of aviation for the first time
4. Around the world
Pushing the limits even further, Howard Hughes soon set his eyes on circumnavigating the globe and setting a new record. Hughes bought a new Lockheed twin engine Model 14 for his round-the-world expedition. This aircraft was chosen due to large capacity to hold additional fuel tanks and the bulky yet latest navigation and communication equipment.
After nearly a year of preparation and training, on July 10 1938, weather reports showed positive readings for Hughes to begin his greatest expedition. He departed from Floyd Bennet Field in New York and set his heading across the Atlantic Ocean towards France. Fighting gusting headwinds, Howard successfully landed in Le Bourget Field in Paris where he discovered that his tail wheel strut had been damaged during take-off in New York. Hughes had no qualms in spending as much funds and time on the ground to rectify the issue because after all, flight safety was his primary aim. Soon, Hughes was airborne again and headed towards Germany. Hughes then continued his journey to Moscow where he had to stop for fuel. He then followed through to Siberia, Alaska, Winnipeg and finally back to the air field in New York.
Hughes set a new record of 3 days, 19 hours and 8 minutes, almost half the time of the previous record held by Wiley Post.
The Lockheed Model 14 support and ground crew
5. The Hughes H-4 Hercules a.k.a The Spruce Goose
The creationg of the largest flying ship in history was by far Howard Hughes most trying and yet culminating innovations. Built from wood because of wartime raw material restrictions on the use of aluminum, it was nicknamed the "Spruce Goose". The Hercules is the largest flying boat ever built, and has the largest wingspan and height of any aircraft in history. Howard Hughes himself declared to the United States senate that,
"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"