Howard Hughes

On July 10, 1938 American business magnate, investor, aviator, aerospace engineer, film maker and philanthropist Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. Set a world record by completing a flight around the world in just 91 hours (3 days, 19 hours), beating the previous record by more than four hours. Born December 24, 1905 his many ventures helped him become one of the wealthiest people in the world. As a maverick film producer, Hughes gained prominence in Hollywood from the late 1920s, making big-budget and often controversial films like The Racket (1928), Hell’s Angels (1930), Scarface (1932) and The Outlaw (1943). Hughes was also one of the most influential aviators in history: he set multiple world air speed records, built the Hughes H-1 Racer and H-4 “Hercules” (better known to history as the “Spruce Goose” aircraft), and acquired and expanded Trans World Airlines, which later merged with American Airlines.

Taking off from New York City, Hughes set his round the world record via Paris, Moscow, Omsk, Yakutsk, Fairbanks, Minneapolis, and continued to New York City. For this flight he flew aLockheed Super Electra (a twin-engine transport with a four-man crew) fitted with the latest radio and navigational equipment. Hughes wanted the flight to be a triumph of American aviation technology, illustrating that safe, long-distance air travel was possible.

The Hughes H-1 was built by Hughes Aircraft in 1935. It set a world airspeed record and a transcontinental speed record across the United States. The H-1 Racer was the last aircraft built by a private individual to set the world speed record; most aircraft to hold the honor since have been military designs. Streamlining was a paramount design criterion resulting in “one of the cleanest and most elegant aircraft designs ever built.” Many groundbreaking technologies were developed during the construction process, including individually machined flush rivets that left the aluminium skin of the aircraft completely smooth. The H-1 also had retractable landing gear to further increase the speed of the aircraft, including a fully retractable hydraulically actuated tail skid. It was fitted with a Pratt & Whitney R-1535 twin-row 14-cylinder radial engine of 1,535 cubic inches (25.15 l), which although originally rated at 700 horsepower (522 kW), was tuned to put out over 1,000 horsepower (750 kw) Due to two different roles being envisioned for the racing aircraft, a set of short-span wings for air racing and speed records and a set of “long” wings for cross-country racing were prepared.

The H-1 first flew in 1935 and promptly broke the world airspeed record with Hughes at the controls, clocking 352.39 mph (567.12 km/h) averaged over four timed passes. Hughes apparently ran the aircraft out of fuel and managed to crash-land without serious damage to either himself or the H-1. As soon as Hughes exited the H-1 when he crashed it in a beet field south of Santa Ana, California, his only comment was: “We can fix her; she’ll go faster.” At the time, the world seaplane speed record was 440.7 mph (709.2 km/h), set by a Macchi M.C.72 in October 1934.

Hughes later implemented minor changes to the H-1 Racer to make it more suitable for a transcontinental speed record attempt. The most significant change was the fitting of a new, longer set of wings that gave the aircraft a lower wing loading. On January 19, 1937, a year and a half after his previous landplane speed record in the H-1, Hughes set a new transcontinental speed record by flying non-stop from Los Angeles to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds. He smashed his own previous record of 9 hours, 27 minutes by two hours. His average speed over the flight was 322 miles per hour (518 km/h).

Considering the contemporary service aircraft were biplanes, Hughes fully expected the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC) to embrace his aircraft’s new design and make the H-1 the basis for a new generation of U.S. fighter aircraft. However his efforts to “sell” the design were unsuccessful. In postwar testimony before the Senate, Hughes indicated that resistance to the innovative design was the basis for the USAAC rejection of the H-1: “I tried to sell that airplane to the Army but they turned it down because at that time the Army did not think a cantilever monoplane was proper for a pursuit ship. Aviation historians have posited that the H-1 Racer may have inspired later radial engine fighters such as the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 After the war, Hughes further claimed that the Japanese Zero fighter had been copied from the Hughes H-1 Racer.” He noted both the wing shape, the tail design and the general similarity of the Zero and his racer. Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi Zero strongly denied the allegation of the Hughes H-1 influencing the design of the Japanese fighter aircraft. The Hughes H-1 Racer is featured in the 1940 RKO Radio Pictures movie Men Against the Sky.

Hughes also dated Katharine Hepburn and following his World Record New York City gave Hughes a ticker-tape parade in the Canyon of Heroes. In 1938, the William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas, known at the time as Houston Municipal Airport, was renamed Howard Hughes Airport, but the name was changed back after people objected to naming the airport after a living person.

In 1953, Hughes launched the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Miami, Florida, and currently located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, formed with the expressed goal of basic biomedical research, including trying to understand, genesis of life itself,” due to his lifelong interest in science and technology. Hughes’ first will, which he signed in 1925 at the age of 19, stipulated that a portion of his estate should be used to create a medical institute bearing his name. Hughes gave all his stock in the Hughes Aircraft Company to the institute, thereby turning the aerospace and defense contractor into a for-profit entity of a fully tax-exempt charity. Verne Mason, who treated Hughes after his 1946 aircraft crash, was chairman of the institute’s medical advisory committee.The Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s new board of trustees sold Hughes Aircraft in 1985 to General Motors for $5.2 billion, allowing the institute to grow dramatically and resulting in a protracted legal battle between Hughes and the Internal Revenue Service. After his death in 1976, many thought that the balance of Hughes’ estate would go to the institute, although it was ultimately divided among his cousins and other heirs, given the lack of a will to the contrary. The HHMI was the fourth largest private organization as of 2007 and the largest devoted to biological and medical research.

Hughes is also remembered for his eccentric behavior and reclusive lifestyle in later life, caused in part by a worsening obsessive–compulsive disorder and chronic pain. He sadly passed away April 5, 1976 on board an aircraft en route from his penthouse at the Acapulco Fairmont Princess Hotel in Mexico to the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. His reclusiveness and possible drug use made him practically unrecognizable. His hair, beard, fingernails, and toenails were long—his tall 6 ft 4 in (193 cm) frame now weighed barely 90 pounds (41 kg), and the FBI had to use fingerprints to conclusively identify the body.A subsequent autopsy recorded kidney failure as the cause of death Hughes was in extremely poor physical condition at the time of his death. He suffered from malnutrition. While his kidneys were damaged, his other internal organs, including his brain, were deemed perfectly healthy. Hughes is buried next to his parents at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, Texas. However his legacy is maintained through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and many of his aircraft including the Spruce Goose and H-1 Racer are also on display.

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