A Jubilant Tomaso Flying the Spruce Goose Aeroplane, replete with Howard Hughes "original" (NOT!) Fedora Hat jauntily on. (The Tomaso Collection)
Although knowing of its existence in nearby Oregon for years, it took a 23yr old Book to push me towards insisting on finally visiting thou Behemoth...
Yeah I know, it's only Mwah who continuously marvels in thou Seas 'O Synchronicity that constantly Soak thoust upon Thy mythical Isle 'O Nofendersville, but Alas Mateys!
As I still quite clearly remember my Debutante trek to Thee Valley of The Sun some forty years ago in the summer of 1979, appropriately flying onboard what Tomas Senior, A.k.a. Pops' has instilled in Ye Memory Banks forever as Hughes AerWorst! Aka Hughes Airwest.
As I not only still recall the Airlines bright Banana Yellow paint scheme, but more vividly as a Wee lad' walking down the Boeing 727's rear "Air Stairs" out into a Blast Furnace onto the baking Hot Tarmac of Phoenix's Sky Harbour Airport and having to walk to the nearby terminal in the middle of Gory Summer! Probably sometime in June, as welcome to Arizona; SHEISA!
Thus I found it quite Karmic that last Fall, 40yrs later I'd be not only stepping foot upon another Hughes Aeroplane, but one that's recaptured my imagination after listening to a 1996 book via 'Ol School CD Audiobook format upon thou late Howard Hughes. Thus rekindling my infatuation with his most abstentious creation.
As History denotes, on November 2, 1947 Hughes took the world's largest Aeroplane then, originally designated the HK1 Hercules, then subsequently the H4 Hercules which is better known by its nickname The Spruce Goose out for two taxi tests in Long Beach, CA. Before a lone reporter "Ridin' Shotgun" described the History making moments, when on his third "Taxi" test, Howard took the Spruce Goose Airborne, flying at an altitude of 70-feet for just one mile, and the rest is History...
So it was quite funny, that after paying for my "cockpit tour," as we stepped nearby the massive Flying Boat's entrance early, and having been warned about the stairs being difficult to climb. I could hear said Cashier talking with the Aeroplane's Docents via Walkie Talkie 'bout a Blind Man wanting to go up into the Cockpit and she didn't know if it was a good idea or not?
Hence, asking the two skeptical Docents Unhand if there was a railing? They told F1 Florencian Spotter, Chauffer and Travel Guide Jeannie, she should check-it out to see what she thought about my attempting to go "Upstairs."
Although Jeannie assured them it would be No Problema for Mwah, they convinced her to accompany me, which she did reluctantly, but did so Thankfully, in order to provide me with a bevy 'O pictures, not to mention witnessing my absolute Delight over this visit!
As there's a very narrow, small width and fairly steep Spiral Staircase with minimal handrail one must navigate in order to get upstairs to where the plane's cockpit is situated.
And after I used the railing as much as possible, albeit some portions are missing due to other portions of the Aeroplane's structure intruding, I made it fairly "Easy-Peasy" to the astonishment of the two Docents, who shortly became my two newest "Best Friends!"
As their names were Bruce and Jules, and Bruce simply gushed the entire time of my visit exclaiming I Don't think we've ever had a Blind Person Up here before! And he simply couldn't get over how easily I'd climbed the staircase unassisted, except for Jeannie behind Mwah and Bruce above giving me verbal instructions.
Spiral stairs going down to Main Deck. (floor)
The very tight, confining Spiral Staircase needed to reach the Cockpit & Upper Cabin. (The Tomaso Collection)
Our Cockpit tour was only supposed to be the normally allotted 15mins, and presumably Self-guided. since in the middle of my tour, I heard the next group go around me, the man Smack his Head upon the low Cockpit ceiling! Arse-sumedly for a Selfie' moment? And then Depart past us - while we were still upstairs.
As our two wonderful Docents quickly became known to Mwah as Bruce "The Talking Encyclopedia! and Jules the Quiet One, since he basically let Bruce run the show.
With Bruce being an Amazing Dearth 'O Knowledge, talking non-stop for which I simply couldn't keep-up with his Free-flowing encyclopedic knowledge of this amazing Flying Boat. And I was only able to Jot down some preliminary Notes upon returning home from my Glorious visit!
Bruce claimed to have talked to the very man who produced the actual Hamilton Standard propellers, noting he was the same person who was responsible for Hughes XF-11 counter-rotating propellers. And saying that Hughes ran the XF-11 out of Oil by staying up too long when he almost perilously Crashed!
View of Left Hand Wing from the Rear showing the Four Pratt & Whitney R4360 Wasp Major' 28 cylinder Radial engines.
(The Tomaso Collection)
The Spruce Goose, reputedly a nickname Hughes Detested, was propelled by eight Pratt & Whitney R4360 Wasp Major engines. Each being a Radial Four-row 28 Cylinder Supercharged Behemoth! With 56 sparkplugs and originally rated at 3,000 Horsepower.
After sitting in the pilot's seat in the cockpit, fingering the marvelously small, lightweight eight throttle controls and pretending to be Messer Hughes... Walking Aft on the Upper Deck past the sparse Engineering Station and small passenger area, we continued walking Aft.
As Jules took my White Cane and tapped it lightly upon the 281 gallon reserve Oil Tank, hanging from the ceiling inside the fuselage. Which Bruce said could fill each of the eight monstrous Wasp Major engines once apiece. With each consuming 31 gallons; Aye Karumba!
Bruce said he'd been stationed at McCord during Korea and was quite accustomed to the sounds and smells of a "4360" engine.
Having seen time on the C-124 Globemaster II. Which were legendous' for being very sloppy lumps! If an R4360 wasn't leaking oil then it wasn't performing correctly Bruce noted!
The P & W 4360 was also used upon the Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser, the B-50 Superfortress and Convair B-36 to name a few aircraft variants. As the B-36 during its Day sported the largest Wingspan at 230-feet, which in comparison, the Spruce Goose's record 320-foot Wingspan was nearly a third of a Football Field longer!
Even more mind-boggling to Mwah are the Spruce goose's massive wing's, which measure a ridiculous eleven and one half feet thick, i.e.; 11 and 1/2 Feet Wing Chord which includes a cavity large enough for human's to crawl thru! Not to mention housing the massive fuel tanks.
Tomaso sitting in one of the very roomy seats for Crew/Passengers. Couldn't even stretch my legs far enough to touch seat in front of me! (The Tomaso Collection)
But before we got to that, we momentarily Gawked' at the fairly sparse Engineer station - where three Flight engineers were located behind the Co-pilot's seat, in their own compartmental area. And think Jeannie said they didn't even have revolving seats?
The H4 Hercules had a Normal Crew of 11, but apparently had 18 upon its Historic Flight. While there were some further 14 passengers, mainly Press Onboard, albeit reportedly four Press members Departed before the third flight. Thus making for a total of 28 passengers total.
Although I've also read there were two dozen Press members onboard.., and I'd originally penciled in 19 Crew members. So who really knows the exact total, Eh?
Alas, I was ushered into one of the plush passenger seats, in three rows behind the pilot's seat - marveling at its leg-room.
Naturally there was a Coffee-pot onboard, actually consisting of two silver, presumably Stainless Steel Urns replete with Styrofoam cups centered between the urns. Being positioned nearby the passenger and crew locations.
Bruce then talked in length about the Oscillograph machine Onboard, basically a cylindrical device that spat out "ticker tape" graph paper charts for various loads being measured upon the Aeroplane, for which the person assigned to said machine needed to read 'n report in "Real-time" whilst flying. With other various loads, strains, etc occurring during flight being measured by 24 Accelerometers on the Left Hand Side - with None on Right Hand side of Aeroplane.
Lastly, we briefly took a Look-see' at the Upper Deck's APU compartment, which stands for Auxiliary Power Unit, which All modern Aeroplanes utilize to start Thar mammoth engines, a la today's de riggour Big 'Ol Jetliners.
But unfortunately I've failed to write down the name of these units, which I believe were manufactured by Franklin? Since there were two of these four cylinder lumps' onboard, albeit I know I spent nearly an hour's time trying to find their exact designation on Ye "Intrawoods" to No Avail...
And although the H4 Hercules is best known by its Spruce Goose moniker, due to Hughes being contractually prohibited from using any necessary wartime materials, i.e.; Aluminum, Steel or other precious metals. The monstrous Flying Boat is actually constructed out of 92% Birch, with only a little spruce utilized! Along with minimal fabric being used upon control surfaces.
Also, the H4 Hercules now on Display in Oregon was the initial test version with the contract for two further models, or three total mammoth Flying Boats capable of ferrying 750 fully "Kitted Out" Military Personnel or two Tanks across thou Puddle', nee Atlantic!
Yet due to Howard's constant tinkering over the myriad 'O countless Details, ultimately, these constant Delays caused it to not be completed prior to World War II's end.
Naturally the U.S. Government cancelled this contract, since they were no longer necessary. But Hughes persevered, primarily out of Ego regarding his reputation. Not to mention the ensuing Litigation being waged against him for War Fraud. Hence Howard spent a further $7m of his own money and ultimately triumphed that fall November day in 1947!
As I've mentioned, I was given a most wonderfully unexpected personally guided 45 minutes tour with the two great Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum Docents Bruce and Jules that glorious day's Fall visit. And although I cannot guarantee you'll receive the same treatment, since presumably my blindness partially helped initiate this?
However, if you're intrigued by History, Aviation or just looking for something Different to do, then I Highly recommend making the Trek to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon!
As we didn't even bother visiting the other portions of the Museo' afterwards since I was reportedly "Walking on Clouds!" And we Skipped the Space Museum's portion the next day, as there's simply too much to visit at this massive, sprawling museum. For which hopefully we'll return another day...
Kudos to Bruce & Jules and Jeannie!
(Spruce Goose Photos c/o J & J Images)