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Inspiration: Hughes H4 Hercules

Slap on a 24,000 horse-powered wings on Noah’s Ark and you have some realization on the massive size of the biggest wooden plane of its time – Howard Hughes’s H4 Hercules. From head to tail, it measures up to 219 feet. It is so tall that its wings are able to clear a 2-story building with room to spare. Moreover, Hercules’s wing span is as long as a football field. Even today, it is still considered an engineering behemoth. At the height of World War 2, U.S.A needed cargo and troop carrier which can bypass Axis submarines – Specifically German U-boats. Hence in 1942, the U.S government seek out Howard Hughes and Henry J. Kaiser to build this massive aircraft but without the use of crucial wartime materials. The H4-Hercules was to be made from layers of glued wood, albeit rather involuntarily. To support wartime demands, H4-Hercules was made to carry a large amount of cargo through the Atlantic in one sitting. With a carrying capacity of 65 tonnes, it is able to transport a battalion of 700 troops or 3 light tanks, or 2 battle-ready Sherman Tanks with some room for extras. Not only it will be able to carry supply across the Atlantic, It will also be able to bring home a lot of wounded soldiers very quickly. Together with its 65 tonnes carrying capacity, the plane’s gross weight is more than 200 tonnes! This is including 14,000 gallons of fuel needed to cross the Atlantic as well as the plane’s mass of 150 tonnes. Powering this monstrous flying boat, it needed eight of the largest radial reciprocating engines ever built. Each of them giving 3,000 horsepower to a total of 24,000 horsepower. You need more than 25 F1 cars to power this badboy! Consequently, There is little wonder that this took $40 million to build. Howard Hughes himself invested $18 million of his own money into the construction and development of H4-Hercules.
Work on the plane started later 1942 and it took Howard Hughes 3 long year to build The Flying Boat. By that time, World War II ended well before it was finished and H4-Hercules was not needed anymore. Hughes also suffered a huge blow to the project when Henry J. Kaiser decided to pull out since the Allies wartime needs turned toward bombers. Although with these setback, Hughes pushed on. It was also partly due to Howard Hughes’s infamous perfectionism that prompted the construction to be delayed. It was said that he would sit for hours in the cockpit of this gargantuan flying machine just mulling over the design, looks or feel of the control and instrument panel. Nevertheless on 2nd November 1947, Hughes and a small engineering crew took the H4- Hercules for a taxi test. To much of the onlookers’ astonishment, he made an unannounced decision to fly the humongous airplane. It flew for one minute, 70 feet above the water for one mile. Perhaps just to prove a point towards sceptics which said the plane was a foolish machine and would never fly under any circumstances. That flight made a simple statement justifying the aircraft’s capability of flying and now it is remembered as a significant moment in aviation history. After H4-Hercules first and only flight, the H4-Hercules was kept in a specially designed large hanger, constantly kept in a flight-ready condition until his death in 1976. It may be due to Hughes’ fantasy of his greatest creation getting a second flight. Currently, it resides in the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, McMinnville, Oregon. Quick Fact: It has the largest wingspan of any aircraft to ever fly till this very day.

Hughes Aircraft Company’s H4-Hercules fact sheet

Official name H-4 Hercules Flying Boat
Government designated nameNX37602
Country of OriginUnited States of America
Original ContractorHughes Aircraft Company
EnginesEight Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Major radials
Horsepower3,000 shp each
Estimated Cruise Speed175 mph (281kph)
Estimated Max Speed218 mph (350 kph)
Estimated Range3,000 miles (4830km)
Maximum altitude20,900 feet (6370 meter)
Gross Weight215 tons (474,000 pounds)
Maximum payload130,000 pounds (65 tons)
Wingspan320 feet (98m)
Wing Area11,430 square feet (1061 square meters)
Length219 feet (67meters)
Height at Tail80 feet (24meters)
Tailspan114 feet (35meters)
Height of Fuselage31 feet (10 meters)
Width of Fuselage25 feet (8meters)
Volume of Cargo Hold165,000 cubic feet (4670 cubic meter)
Total Cost$40 million ($440 million adjusted to todays dollars)
First Flight2 November 1947
Total ProducedOne aircraft only