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HOWARD HUGHES’ SPRUCE GOOSE, LOS ANGELES HARBOR, 1947

Spruce Goose

It is the largest airplane ever built – far larger than the world’s biggest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380, unveiled earlier this week in France. The Spruce Goose’s tail is almost eight stories high – the wingspan wider than three football fields. Really it’s a cargo ship with wings.

Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose for the US government to carry troops and supplies to Europe during World War II. But by the time it was finished the war was over. To get paid by the government, Hughes had to prove that it would fly. And it did -but just once for one mile, right before or after this slide was taken, on November 2, 1947. The giant monster airplane was then mothballed in a giant hanger hidden from the public and shrouded in secrecy until after Hughes’s death in April 1976.

Between 1980 and 1990 it was on display for all the public to see in a giant custom built dome next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. I saw it there in 1989 — and of course I was flabbergasted by just now big it really was. Miraculously the big bird still exists perched at the Evergreen International Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

Speaking of Howard Hughes, a few weeks ago a friend invited me to a screening of The Aviator. Since I’ve been fascinated with Howard Hughes and airplanes since I was a kid I decided to give it a whirl even though I’m not much of a movie goer – in fact, frankly, I rarely go at all. I prefer home movies. But I was glad I went. The story of the lunatic-playboy-movie maker-thrill seeker-aviation pioneer is more than a movie, it’s an epic grander than anything I’ve ever seen on the silver screen. The scene with all the TWA Constellations caused me to nearly pass out. Even if they were computer generated. If you haven’t seen The Aviator already I do recommend it!

Here’s to you and Howard Hughes!!