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Howard Robard Hughes

Hughes, Howard Robard

Aviation Pioneer
Enshrined 1973 1905- 1976


Howard Robard Hughes (1905- 1976)

It is springs of 1920 and a 14 year old Howard Robard Hughes experiences the most significant event in his young life, when he takes a flying boat ride.  That summer, he secretly begins to take flying lessons.  When his parents move to Los Angeles, he takes additional lessons at three different schools.  Never once telling his instructors he has flown before.

After Hughes inherits his father’s prosperous Hughes Tool Company in 1925 he moves to Hollywood to become a movie magnate, while continuing to fly his own plane daily.  Three years later he sets out to produce “Hell’s Angels.”  The stars are to be airplanes and the story is to be their aerial combats.  He personally directs the dogfight scenes from the camera plane.  When it crashed, the actors quip they hope “Sidney” hasn’t busted his check-writing arm for expenses are fantastic as the movie making goes on for a year and half.

When Hughes premiers his 4 million dollar “Hell’s Angels” movie in 1930, in which he has built unknown Jean Harlow into a star’s role opposite Ben Lyons, it receives a standing ovation.  It was a “talkie” and its ingredients are speed, violence and sex.  Its appeal is so great it ran in movie houses around the world for the next 20 years, generating a renewed interest in aviation and earning 8 million dollars.

Suddenly at the age of 26 in 1931, at a peak of his movie making career Hughes turns his back on Hollywood and disappears.  Hughes in 1932, Alias “Charles Howard” is reportedly earning $250 a month as a copilot for American Airway, learning first hand about baggage handling and exhibiting an insatiable curiosity about all phases of commercial airline operations.  Then, suddenly, “Charles Howard’ quits and Howard Hughes reappears in Hollywood.

Hughes, now the proud possessor of a specially modified Boeing P-12B, finds the love of speed in the air and sets a straightaway record of 212 miles per hour in 1933 at Los Angeles Municipal Airport.  Two years later, in Miami, Florida, he enters the Al-American Air meet and though this is his first and only competitive air race, he winds the Sportsman Pilot racing event and the President Trujillo Cup of the Dominican Republic.

In 1934 Hughes sets out to create the fastest racing plane in the world and his team of aeronautical experts arbitrarily, call themselves the “Hughes Aircraft Company.  This corporation gave informal birth to the corporation that will become a half-billion dollar enterprise.  The H-1 is the most useful aircraft built, and the first to use butt-jointed metal skin and flush rivets. The H-1 is ready for its maiden flight in September 1935.

In Streaking the H-1 over the 3 kilometer course at 352 miles per hour, Howard Hughes ha snow flown faster than any man and he is fully accepted by the aviation community as a respected colleague.

Hughes is out to set another record in January 1936.  This time he is flying his Northrop Gamma, previously owned by aviatrix Jackie Cochran.

After setting this new transcontinental speed record, Hughes tells unbelieving reporters that airliners will soon make the same flight in even less time.  Later, he receives the personal congratulations from President Roosevelt.  Although he also receives the coveted Harmon Trophy from the President, still only a few pilots realize that Howard Hugh intends to devote much of his life and fortune to aviation.

In the summer of 1936 Hughes turns in another sterling performance in his Northrop Gamma.  In his return flight to California Hughes sets another record when he lands his Northrop at Glendale, after an 8 hour 20 minute flight from


Hughes readies his H-1 racer in January 1937 at Burbank, now equipped with a more powerful engine and a high-speed wing.  This time he intends to show what it can really do.  Yes, Howard Hughes has set an almost unbelievable record and it is one that will stand until after World War II.

In 1938, Hughes is appointed Aeronautical Advisor to the forthcoming New York World’s Fair.  To help promote it he plans a dramatic flight around the world.  Working with Lockheed officials he prepares a special Model 14, having a flight radius of 4,700 miles, which he names “New York World’s Fair-1939.”  He is not out just on a publicity lark or just to set a record, he intends to test new flying instruments, as well as navigation and communication aids.

The crew includes from the left, old friend Edwin Lund as flight engineer and mechanic, radio engineer Edward Richard Stoddart of the National Broadcasting Company, Hughes, Harry P. Connor as co-pilot, and Army Air Corps Lieutenant Hiram “Tommy” Thurlow as navigator.

At Floyd Bennett Field, New York on July 10, 1938, Hughes and his crew are ready to take off for their attempt to circle the world, a flight to demonstrate the true potential of a commercial airliner.  For Hughes has now acquired controlling interest in Transcontinental and Western Airlines. That later became famous as TWA.  Suddenly they are airborne and streaking away from New York and toward Paris.  Seven hours later Americans hear Hughes’ voice say over their radios “I hope we can get to Paris before we run out of fuel.”

They made it to Le Bourget Field, Paris.  Hughes sets the Lockheed down to the cheers of thousands and the greetings of many dignitaries.  They have cut Lindbergh’s time in half.

Hughes then travels to Moscow and is greeted by Heroes of the Soviet and the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, after he and his crew risk being shot down by roaring over restricted areas of Nazi Germany on instruments, at night, and in bad weather.  After reading congratulatory messages, Hughes takes off, streaks across eastern Russia and the Bering Sea and 123 hours lands at Fairbanks, Alaska.  The airliner is quickly refueled and Hughes is soon airborne.  The last refueling stop is made in Minneapolis where a huge crowd has gathered and Hughes talks briefly with reporters.  33 minutes later the plan is on the last leg of its epic flight.

Early afternoon, at Floyd Bennett Field a throng has already gathered and official timers anxiously compare their chronometers. Suddenly at 2:35 a plane is heard and in minutes the “New York World’s Fair-1939” sweeps in, lands and taxies to a stop.  The crowd of 25,000 goes wild, as a ring of police and reporters surround the plane.  Howard Hughes and his crew have circled the world in 3 days, 19 hours, cutting Wiley Post’s time in half.

The next day, New York gives Hughes and his crew a tumultuous ticker tape parade up Broadway, one even greater than that given Lindbergh.  It is a feat that wins Hughes the plaudits of Americans and the Ambassadors of foreign nations, as well as the 1938 Harmon Trophy, the Collier Trophy and the Congressional Medal.

After winning these awards, with the encouragement of Army Air Corps leaders Hughes begins development leading to the XF-11 interceptor.  But the war comes to the nation and he also undertakes to design and build the “Hercules, a mammoth flying board transport.

In 1944, Hughes won a government contract to design a large, flying boat that could carry both people and supplies to the war in Europe.  The “Spruce Goose,” the largest plane eave constructed, was flown successfully in 1947 and then never flown again.  Hughes’ company also developed a chain feeder for the machine guans on bombers and later built helicopters.

Hughes has already initiated plans for a super airliner for TWA, having the ultimate in speed and comfort and capable of flying from New York to London.  While the first Lockheed  “Constellation’s are converted into wartime  transports, Hughes and TWA President, Jack Frye are inspired to demonstrate its airliner capabilities by filling it with Hollywood stars and flying it nonstop from Los Angeles to New York in 7 hours.

July 1946, the war is over when the first XF-11 is ready to flight test and Hughes takes it off from the Culver City Airfield.  As he returns the plane suddenly pitches violently to the right, out of control, it crashes into several houses.  As it bursts into flames, Hughes barely manages to extricate from the cockpit.  Though doctors give him little change for life, his will is strong and 5 weeks later he leaves the hospital with intent upon resuming command of his growing empire.

In 1947 Hughes appears before a Senate Investigating Committee looking into war contracts and he effectively squashes the politically inspired attacks upon his company and upon his gigantic “Hercules.”  While Hughes wins accolades for standing up to the politicians, now the raging questions is “Will the Hercules fly?

November 1947 Long Beach, California the great “Hercules is towed out into the harbor, to the World.  Howard Hughes new dares venture the impossible, but he is confident and knows the lessons already learned will be invaluable in future jumbo airliners.  After an extensive checkout and two short trials taxi runs, he opens the eight throttles and the giant seaplane lifts gracefully form its wake and climbs to 50 feet.  Hughes holds it there for a mile before easing it back down to the water.  Now the world knows it flies!

In 1952, Hughes gigantic helicopter called the “Flying Crane” and dwarfing ordinary automobiles, attempts its first public flight and after successfully lifting off remains airborne for 9 minute.

Yes, now the world knows that Howard Hughes is a true aviation pioneer for he has dreamed and ventured what lesser men deemed impossible and he, alone, was responsible for imagining, creating, and flying what no man before him dared.

In the mid-1950’s, Hughes’ dislike of being a public figure began to severely affect his life.  Though he married actress Jean Peters in 1957, he began to avoid public appearances.  He traveled for a bit and then in 1966 he moved to Las Vegas, where he holed himself up in a Desert Inn Hotel.  When the hotel threatened to evict him, he purchased the hotel.  He also bought several other hotels and property in Las Vegas.  For the next several years, hardly a single person saw Hughes.  He had become so reclusive that he nearly never left his hotel suite.

In 1970, Hughes’ marriage ended and he left Las Vegas.  He moved from one country to another and died on April 5, 1976, at age 70 aboard an airplane, while traveling from Acapulco, Mexico to Houston, Texas.  Hughes had become such a hermit in his last years that no one was sure it was really Hughes that had died, so the Treasury Department had to use fingerprints to confirm the death of billionaire Howard Hughes.

Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was born in Humble, Texas on December 24, 1905.