On Sept. 13, 1935, one month after its first flight, Howard Hughes flew the H-1 Racer over a specially instrumented course near Santa Ana, Calif., and set a world landplane speed record of 352 mph (566 kph). In 1936 and 1937, Hughes flew the H-1 to set two transcontinental speed records.
The Hughes Aircraft Co., a division of the Hughes Tool Co., was formed in 1934 by Howard Hughes to develop the H-1 Racer. He built the wood and metal single-seat monoplane in Charles Babb's hangar at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, Calif. The Hughes team took 18 months to design and build the plane and to extensively test the H-1 model in the 200-mph (321 kph) wind tunnel at the California Institute of Technology's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory.
The aluminum fuselage was left in its natural polished state, and because Hughes did not need a sponsor for the aircraft, the H-1 had no markings. The license number NR258Y (later NX 258Y) was painted in chrome yellow against the dark blue background of the wings and in black against the rudder.
Hughes had two sets of wings for the H-1. Those installed when the H-1 broke the landplane speed record were of a low aspect ratio and shorter than those fitted when it broke the transcontinental speed record, Jan. 19, 1937. At that time Hughes flew the H-1 from Los Angeles to Newark (N.J.) Airport, outside New York City, in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds, flying 2,490 miles (4007 kph) at an average of 332 mph (534 kph).
Innovative features on the H-1 included a close-fitting bell-shaped engine cowling to reduce airframe drag and improve engine cooling; gently curving wing fillets between the wing and the fuselage to help stabilize the airflow, reduce drag, and prevent potentially dangerous eddying and tail buffeting; and retractable landing gear to reduce drag and increase speed and range. The landing gear were fitted so precisely that the gear fairings and doors were almost invisible. All rivets and joints were flush with the aircraft's skin, and flathead screws were countersunk on the plywood wings. Its ailerons were designed to droop 15 degrees when flaps were fully extended to improve lift. The cockpit was smoothly faired and totally enclosed. It had an adjustable canopy windscreen for easy entry and exit from the aircraft.
These innovations led to development of radial-engine-powered World War II fighters, such as the American Grumman F6F Hellcat and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The H-1 remained at the Hughes factory at Culver City, Calif., until it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1975. The Hughes H-1 is on exhibit in the Golden Age of Flight gallery of the National Air and Space Museum.