Aviator, billionaire, director. The story of Howard Hughes and his superplane

At one time, Howard Hughes was someone like Richard Branson – a controversial, wealthy and eccentric businessman. They mocked him, the press was interested only in his novels with top models, and the US government – the reasons for the next disruption of aircraft deliveries.  studied the busy life of Hughes and his main project – the huge H-4 Hercules aircraft, which only once went into the air, but proved the correctness of his inventor.


In the wealthy American family, Hughes, in 1905, the long-awaited completion occurred : Howard and Allen had a son, Howard, Jr. The child’s father, who made a fortune on the equipment for drilling wells, disappeared on days at work. She raised her mother. She over-cared for her son – overly hygienic, tried to limit contact with peers.


Under such conditions it is not surprising that the boy grew up closed. Almost without friends, he spent his free time in books and in his father’s workshop. The designer’s talents showed up quite quickly: Howard, when he was a teenager, assembled a bicycle with a motor. Then he flew for the first time on an airplane, and aviation carried away the future inventor until the end of his life.

The guy pretty much shook on the elite educational institutions, but education did not particularly take Hughes – he was more into golf. In addition, family problems were imposed: in 1922, the mother dies, after two years – the father. An impressive 18-year-old man falls into an 18-year-old man. Heir Hughes Tools Company announced that the boring business is of little interest to him – whether it’s films. Howard moves to Hollywood and plans to shoot a movie.


Hughes’ sensitivity showed itself to the fullest. Production of the military drama “Angels of Hell” lasted for three years: the cast was changed, aerial battles were shot with the participation of real aircraft (several models were destroyed, three pilots were killed), and when the material was almost ready, Howard wanted to add sound design – . This inflated the budget to incredible at that time $ 4 million – in terms of 2018, the amount is approximately 60 million. By the time of the release, “Hell’s Angels” were the most expensive film in the history of cinema.

Company for the development of “Wishlist”

During the filming of Hughes even more caught fire by aviation. He got a flight license, bought a plane and founded Hughes Aircraft – a company for the development of aircraft. Within the walls of the company were embodied the most daring, absurd and grandiose plans of Howard. Although the name of the company is not successful, the language does not turn – she did not release a single production aircraft.

The entrepreneur was aimed at government contracts. In the mid-1930s, the company took on the H-1 aircraft with advanced solutions at the time: for example, the chassis was retracted, which provided better aerodynamics. The contract Hughes did not win, but the plane was adapted for tests and records. The H-1 aircraft really proved to be extremely fast (at a distance of 3 km it reached a speed of more than 560 km / h), but during one of the flights crashed due to problems with the fuel system.

By 1938, a businessman was making a D-2 for the US Air Force. If successful, the contract promised a huge profit: on the eve of World War II, the US government would spare no money either to develop or purchase military vehicles.

But the image of Howard Hughes did not inspire confidence in the military: the yellow press ruffled rumors about his hobbies with actresses, there were talk of strangeness in behavior – a businessman could suddenly fly somewhere without warning anyone. And this is not speaking of other features: the desire for purity, hypochondria, isolation. Hughes was a valuable figure for secular gossip, but did not dare to trust the creation of a military aircraft to such a man.

Then, in the late 1930s, Howard bought shares of TWA, one of the largest airlines at that time. He agreed with Lockheed to create a new-generation airliner to outrun competitors from American Airlines and Pan American. The plane really started to develop, but the beginning of the Second World spoiled all plans.

Survive the crash of their own aircraft

Despite the absence of the customer, Hughes continued to develop the D-2. At different stages it was a bomber, a scout, or an interceptor. Only in 1943 the project was given a green light: Hughes Aircraft received an order for 98 aircraft for espionage purposes. The model was called XF-11, it used many of the achievements of the prototype D-2, which had by then been prototype. In addition, Howard lit up the construction of the transport aircraft H-4 Hercules, the most famous and controversial project Hughes Aircraft.

One of the two built-in XF-11. Image:

The company’s position was unenviable: by the mid-1940s, it had existed for more than ten years, but had not yet produced a single production aircraft. The firm held, in fact, only at the expense of Hughes Tools Company, which brought a stable income. Hughes was constantly distracted by the shooting of new films, acquaintance with Hollywood stars, and sometimes just locked himself in the house and did not leave it for weeks. All this could not ensure the stable development of the company.

In 1946, the XF-11 reached the stage of the flight prototype. During the test flight, Howard sat himself at the helm. One engine refused, the plane began to fall. The aircraft was over the Beverly Hills area and fell to residential buildings, but no one, except Hughes, was injured. The aviator did not suffer badly: he got serious burns and almost died. In the hospital he was given powerful painkillers, which led to drug addiction. And without that the shaky mentality of the designer began to collapse even faster.

Flight of the “Spruce Goose”

A year later, the US government came to its senses: Howard overlooked all conceivable deadlines and, in fact, did nothing. The XF-11 is far from complete, state money has been spent, and the aviator himself more and more often surprises the public and the environment with his antics. There were too many unpleasant questions. Hughes was summoned to the Senate for hearings. The businessman had the last trump card – the transport Hercules. The businessman said that he did not squander money and the plane is ready for flights. If something goes wrong – his legs will not be in the States.


The uniqueness of H-4 Hercules in its size. With a length of 66 meters, the wingspan was 97.5 meters – about 18 meters more than the world’s largest passenger airliner Airbus A380. The aircraft took up as many as eight engines – the solution is not unique (there was at least a Soviet ANT-20), but extremely rare. Almost the entire building was made of wood: as in times of war metal was considered a deficit, Howard decided to replace it with cheaper and more affordable material. For this, by the way, Hercules was nicknamed “Spruce gusem”, although in fact plywood was used from birch. On board the liner could take 750 foot soldiers. The development of the aircraft was colossal: the US government allocated $ 22 million, but this was not enough and Hughes invested another 18 million from his own pocket.

Designed to take off from the surface of the water, the H-4 was prepared for flight on November 2, 1947 off the coast of Long Beach. The plane was operated by Howard. The main question was whether such a huge fly is capable of flying at all. To everyone’s surprise, Hercules climbed to a height of 70 feet (about 21 meters) and flew about one mile.

Hughes at the helm of the H-4 Hercules. Image:

To obtain the necessary certificates and enter the arsenal of the US Army, the specimen needed further improvements. But interest in the plane has already disappeared – it was clear that it is necessary to spend a lot of money on bringing to the ideal. From the side of the Senate to Hughes no more questions, but the designer himself to aviation has cooled.

Medication from health

A reckless decision to order turbojet liners for TWA without having enough money to pay them, cost Howard the place on the board of the airline: in the second half of the 1960s he was forced to sell the shares. The income exceeded half a billion dollars, but the inventor hardly felt himself a winner in this situation.

By the end of the 1960s, Hughes had chosen Las Vegas: he bought hotels, casinos and other real estate. But suddenly appearing in the capital of gambling business, the businessman just as suddenly disappeared from there. Motives remain incomprehensible – things went well, property brought income. The most likely cause is a deterioration in mental health. Howard turned into a recluse and a drug addict. He always changed his place of residence, stopped appearing in public, even close friends sometimes did not know where the businessman is.


Entrepreneur was getting worse: in 1973 he broke his leg and for the rest of his life he could not walk anymore. The next three years, drug dependence reached its peak: without being constrained in money, the aviator took doses daily, which would be envied by rock musicians. In the hotel city Acapulco (Mexico), the haggard Hughes fell into a coma. He was urgently immersed in a plane and sent to the US, but did not have time to deliver to the hospital – his heart stopped during the flight on April 5, 1976. The constructor was 70 years old.

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