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Hughes' plywood plane flies mile at 100 mph

By John Von Der Heide
The H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" designed by Howard Hughes. File Photo courtesy the Federal Aviation Administration
The H-4 Hercules "Spruce Goose" designed by Howard Hughes. File Photo courtesy the Federal Aviation Administration

SAN PEDRO, Calif., -- The world's largest plane flew for the first time this afternoon as Howard Hughes took his $23,000,000 plywood flying boat into the air for a mile flight.

The 200-ton plane, on which multimillionaire Hughes had staked his reputation as an airplane designer, lifted 70 feet into the air on its third and final taxi run this afternoon, and flew at 100 miles an hour for a mile.

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A crowd of 1,000 lining the breakwater at Los Angeles Harbor burst into cheers.

Decision Was Sudden.

"I didn't decide to take it off until I actually did it," he explained to newspapermen, who did not expect him to put the craft into the air until March or April.

"We were up on the step and it felt so good I just took it off. The landing was really gratifying. I had to use a rather confined area which did not permit any great flight length. I thought the controls operated well," he added.

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The plane was the object of a senatorial investigation last summer as a committee questioned the wisdom of the Government financing such a project during the war. The Senate committee is to resume its hearings in Washington Wednesday on the $40,000,000 in war contracts given to Hughes.

Flight Plans Unaffected.

"I don't think the plane's flight today will have any effect on the committee's resuming its hearings," Hughes said. "As you know, I've often said the plane hasn't much to do with that investigation anyway."

Hughes said his plans for a flight in March or April were not altered.

"I think the airplane is going to be fairly successful," he said.

His takeoff speedvas 95 miles an hour, and he used about 2,200 horsepower from each of the eight engines, which are rated at 3,000 horsepower each.

Shifting winds, sweeping the harbor at 16 knots, caused some difficulties, he said. As the Coast Guard cleared a channel of pleasure craft, the winds would shift and the boats would be in the course before he could make a run.

Takes Off At 95 M.P.H.

Hughes nonchalantly drank a cup of coffee as he told newsmen of the first taxi tests made a day after the big plane was eased yesterday out of its graving dock, where it was assembled. On the first run over a 10-mile course, the plane taxied at a speed of 45 miles, then reached 90 miles on the second dash, and finally 95 miles to take off.

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He wore his 'lucky" felt hat during the interview. He said credit for the ship's success went to the men who helped him during the four years of construction.

After the tests, the plane, with its 320-foot wingspread, was anchored in the harbor, and water taxis did a land-office business by taking sightseers to the big craft.

"So far I am extremely satisfied with the taxi tests," Hughes said after making his second run during which the plane reached a speed of 90 miles an hour over the wind-ruffed waters.

Skips From Wave to Wave.

I rode with Hughes and a score of engineers on the first two taxi runs. When the plane hit its peak speed as the eight roaring engines drove it through the water, the big ship skipped from wave to wave. There was a violent shaking motion in the cockpit. In anticipation of this motion, the command had been given earlier to "spread out and secure yourself."

An engineer stationed in the tail said the plane twisted with each shock of the wave and looking down the center ramp, he was reminded "of an earthquake" as the deck rippled.

Rea Hopper, Hughes' chief engineer, said the plane reacted "especially well" with every portion performing better than expected. He said the plane could use jet-assisted take-off if necessary.

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