LOOKING BACK: THE "FLYING LUMBERYARD"
Howard Hughes builds a mostly birch behemoth.
In December 1947, Popular Science reported that the H-4-an airplane weighing about 300,000 pounds,
with a 320-foot wingspan-flew for about a mile over Los Angeles Harbor. Detractors had scoffed that the Spruce Goose, as it was known, would never get off the ground, so the moment was a triumph for the plane's designer and pilot, eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes. But it was a moment not to be repeated.
Like the Pelican, the H-4 was built to carry troops and weapons long distances. Hughes' partner, shipbuilder Henry Kaiser, came up with the idea during World War II, when Nazi U-boats were attacking Navy transport ships. Because aluminum was being rationed, Kaiser and Hughes built their behemoth from wood (mostly birch, not spruce). Government support for the H-4 began to wane after the war: One senator called it a "flying lumberyard." Still, Hughes persisted (by then he and Kaiser had gone their separate ways), investing millions of his own in the project. Not long after the Spruce Goose's 1947 debut, though, government funding dried up and it became an instant relic, never to fly again. Today it's on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.-Greg Mone