Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 02: The Spruce Goose - Disney Connection

On this day in 1947, a prototype heavy transport aircraft called the Hughes H-1 Hercules made its one and only flight over the waters of Long Beach, California.

Five years earlier the world was at war and famed industrialist and builder of "Liberty" ships Henry Kaiser saw a need for a fleet of giant flying transports that the U.S. could use to safely move troops and materials across the Atlantic. Kaiser approached one of the wealthiest men in the world, Howard Hughes, with his idea. Together they formed the Hughes Kaiser Corporation and obtained an $18,000,000 government contract to build three "flying boats."

Hughes, an oil and business man and movie producer, was also an aeronautical engineer and world-class aviator. His team set about designing a single hull flying boat capable of carrying 750 passengers. Their plans called for eight 3,000 horsepower engines and wings 20 feet longer than a football field! They called the prototype HK-1.

Adhering to the government mandate not to use material critical to the war effort, Hughes had to make the airplane completely out of wood. Because the research and development that went into the seaplane delayed actual construction, Kaiser withdrew from the project leaving Hughes totally in charge. He renamed the plane H-1.

After the war's end in 1945, criticism of the Hughes project  mounted, as he had exceeded the government's funding allowance. Investing $7,000,000 of his own money, Hughes was determined to finish construction and later fly the H-1.

On this day in 1947 a crowd of observers and newsmen gathered to witness a demonstration of the Flying Boat (that critics had now come to call the Spruce Goose). With Hughes behind the controls, the seaplane lifted off the water and flew for little over a mile at an altitude of 70 feet. The short flight proved that the Spruce Goose could really fly!

After that one famous flight, the plane was placed in a custom-built hangar where it remained for 33 years. In 1976, after Hughes' death, his holding company donated the aircraft to the non-profit Aero Club of Southern California - who in turn leased it to the Wrather Corporation, headed by entrepreneur Jack Wrather (who at the time owned the Disneyland Hotel).

Wrather Corporation built a custom dome for the H-1 (near the RMS Queen Mary) and placed the seaplane on exhibit in 1983 on the Long Beach waterfront. After the death of Jack Wrather, Disney purchased his Disneyland Hotel and other holdings ... which included the dome in which the Flying Boat stood.

In March 1990, Disney informed the Aero Club that it wished to discontinue the domed exhibit. The Flying Boat found a new permanent home at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in Oregon.

Interesting to note - in Walt Disney Pictures' 1991 action feature The Rocketeer, the film's hero uses a large-scale model of the famous plane to escape federal agents and Howard Hughes!

Click HERE for much more November 2 Disney history.

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