The War Years: 1939-1945

Hughes Aircraft Co. ... Spruce Goose

Besides the H-1 Racer, the Hughes Aircraft Co. developed the XF-11 reconnaissance aircraft. Only two prototypes were built before the original order was cancelled at the end of World War II.

In 1940, the company was awarded a government contract to build the largest airplane ever constructed. The H-4 Hercules was a massive flying boat to be used to ferry large numbers of troops by air over the oceans, thus avoiding the threat to cargo ships from submarines. Because it was built primarily of wood, many people wondered if the enormous and cumbersome-looking plane could actually fly.

But in 1947, during what was to be a ground-only demonstration of the seaplane, Howard Hughes surprised onlookers by flying the "Spruce Goose," as it was known, for 60 seconds. While the plane was too late for wartime use, its brief flight was one of the most famous in history. The airplane, which was never flown again, still holds the record for the largest wingspan at 319 feet, 11 inches.

During World War II, the Hughes Aircraft Co. and the Hughes Tool Co. Aircraft Division would build numerous subassemblies for other aircraft manufacturers. Their contracts included 5,576 wings and 6,370 rear fuselage sections for Vultee BT-13 trainers. Hughes' companies also produced more aircraft ammunition belts than any other American manufacturer until that time.

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