Military Review

Hughes H-4 Hercules: the only flight for the story

In 2004, the famous director Martin Scorsese made the feature film Aviator, which eventually received five Oscars. This picture raised a wave of interest in one of the most extraordinary personalities in stories America - billionaire Howard Hughes. One of the projects of this unique man was a giant amphibian - Hughes H-4 Hercules. This flying boat, built in just one instance, made the only flight 2 November 1947 of the year. But this was enough for Hughes 'Hercules' to go down in history forever as the largest flying boat, and the wingspan of this “monster” remains a record to this day - 98 meters, which is more than that of the An-124 “Ruslan” and An -225 "Mriya".

At the initial stage of World War II, the Allies did not immediately realize the fact that the submarines of Nazi Germany could become a serious threat and problem for them. The experience of World War I was safely forgotten by them, which ultimately led to truly catastrophic consequences in the form of huge losses in trade navy. If during 1939-1940 the number of transports sunk by the Germans did not go beyond the scope of losses acceptable for the war, then in 1941-1942 Krigsmarine managed to arrange a real terror in the Atlantic. German submarines acted on the vast expanses of the Atlantic with virtually impunity, so the delivery of goods and military equipment to Europe by sea became a very dangerous thing, only in the first 7 months of 1942 German submarines sank almost 700 different Allied ships.

The situation in the Atlantic managed to somehow straighten only by the end of 1942 of the year, and then with the help of a global increase in the number of covering ships. Despite these actions, the threat from the German submarines was not eliminated. In such conditions, the idea was born that would protect valuable military goods from Krigsmarine attacks. Cargo could be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean not only by water, but also by air. However, the implementation of this idea would be possible only if it were possible to create a transport plane of sufficient carrying capacity, which at that time did not have any of the parties. To solve this problem, shipbuilder Henry Kaiser proposed to design a large transport flying boat. A well-known billionaire and aircraft designer Howard Hughes volunteered to bring this idea to life, creating a giant aircraft, which still has no analogues.

In 1942, the US government signed a contract with Howard Hughes to build one prototype aircraft, infected by the idea of ​​a large “flying vehicle” for the needs of the fleet. It was a multi-ton wooden amphibian with a wingspan of almost 100 meters. The new machine originally received the designation NK-1 "Hercules". The dimensions of this flying boat are impressive to this day, suffice it to say that in its fuselage more than 700 soldiers could fit in weapons and about 60 tons of commercial cargo. In order to provide this giant the necessary power in its wing provided for the installation of 8 engines. When developing this project, the goal was specified: to build an aircraft for cargo and passenger transportation so as to spend on it the smallest amount of strategic raw materials. Therefore, it was decided to build the aircraft not from aluminum, but from wood. It was planned that this flying boat would be used to transport troops and various cargoes from the United States to howling Europe along a safe air route, leaving out the German submarine fleet.

Working documentation for the new flying boat was developed very quickly, which cannot be said about the pace of aircraft construction. The works that began in the 1943 year were fully completed only in the middle of the 1947 year. This slowdown in the construction of the aircraft was influenced by several reasons, ranging from the end of the Second World War (as a result, the military lost interest in this car) and ending with various legal proceedings against Howard Hughes. All these judicial squabbles were rather colorfully presented in the film “Aviator”. Disputes about the amount of funding for this project continued throughout its implementation, but there was no unambiguous opinion about its necessity. One US senator dissatisfied with this project called the future amphibious aircraft a “flying forest warehouse”, but the aircraft’s most famous nickname was another — the Fir Goose. From the US state budget for the implementation of this project was spent a huge amount for those times - 22 million dollars. At the same time, these funds were not enough, due to insufficient funding, Howard Hughes additionally invested his own 18 million dollars into the project.

The flying boat, which by that time was renamed N-4 (after Henry Kaiser left the project, the N-4 became the fourth Howard Hughes aircraft of its own construction) made its first and last flight on November 2, 1947. The plane personally flew up to Hughes. The car made a small flight at an altitude of 21 meters, breaking through the air for two kilometers along the coast of Los Angeles. On this, the story of Hercules almost came to an end, from the category of flying samples aviation He almost immediately moved into the category of museum exhibits. Such an expensive and large flying boat turned out to be useless at that time.

The Hughes H-4 Hercules consisted of a hull, a cantilever wing and 8 radial engines. The flying boat had vertical and tail plumage, as well as fixed wing floats. The entire structure of the aircraft consisted of laminated wood, but contrary to the nickname in the construction of the flying boat was not used spruce, and birch. At the Howard Hughes plant, woodworking was able to raise to high aviation standards. Patterns of structural elements were made in full size, then matrices were made from which the parts were molded: the thinnest piece had a thickness of 1,2 mm and consisted of three 0,4-mm layers, and the thickest part had a thickness of 254 mm and consisted of two hundred 1,27-mm layers of veneer. In order to retain the veneer layers when gluing, they were joined together with nails with double caps, which, after the glue had hardened, were taken out with the help of a special “nail puller” (on the whole flying boat about 8 thousands of nails were gone). The holes from the nails were sealed with a special putty. After the assembly process was completed, a thin layer of primer was applied to the surface, followed by a layer of rice paper and a protective lacquer 2 layer. The outer surfaces of the aircraft were painted with “aluminum” paint. When looking at this flying boat, no one could even think that the basis of the aircraft design is an ordinary tree. Not only the skin of the aircraft, but all the power elements of the design looked as if they were made of aluminum.

The cargo compartment of the amphibian was a two-level, the levels were connected with each other by means of a spiral staircase. Through the hinged doors, which were located in the nose of the car, two railway cars or the Sherman M4 tank could easily pass. At that time, the Hughes H-4 Hercules was the only aircraft that was able to transport the tank through the air. In the best traditions of submarines and ships, 18 sealed compartments were provided in the design of a seaplane (there were enough 6 of them to keep afloat). The electrical equipment of the aircraft operated from direct current with voltage 120В, since with traditional 24В the cross section of the wires, the length of which reached 50 km, was very large.

The seaplane was to be lifted into the air by 8 huge radial air-cooled R-4360 Wasp Major piston engines from Pratt & Whitney, each of these engines developing 3000 hp. The engines rotated five-meter four-blade propellers. Four engines, which were closer to the fuselage, could create reverse thrust, so the giant aircraft had the unique ability to independently move back and make a turn in place. It was just that the huge size of the flying boat made it possible to repair the engines even in flight, since it was possible to get to the engines through special passages made inside the huge wing. The height of the wing section at the point of attachment to the fuselage reached 4 meters. Despite all its unprecedented size, a crew of only three people was required to fly the aircraft.

The flying boat of Hughes and Kaiser was to become the largest aircraft ever built (in fact, it 7 times surpassed any aircraft built before him) and become one of the most unusual projects in aviation history. Only the dedication and courage of Howard Hughes and his team of like-minded people, who despite all the circumstances did not abandon their idea and still sent H-4 Hercules to the only flight that went down in history, helped bring the work to build the aircraft to the end.

At some point, the work on the project is very tough identified contradictions between its leaders. Henry Kaiser was in favor of limiting himself to the construction of an 70-ton apparatus in order to meet the deadlines and present the finished product to the military, but Howard Hughes insisted on building an 200-ton airplane that required much more money and time. As a result, Henry Kaiser simply left the project, and Hughes, on the contrary, became more and more fascinated by this idea, introducing in the aircraft design all the new improvements and proposals that further delayed the construction of the flying boat. As a result, in 1942, this order was urgent for the US government, and by 1944, it lost its relevance. By this time, the situation on the fronts of World War II had changed radically and the state’s interest in the project gradually faded away. The US government even wanted to cancel the contract for the construction of a seaplane, but at that time Hughes’s motivation had ceased to be just rational, rather the aviator was obsessed with the idea of ​​building a cargo aircraft that would surpass even the wildest fantasies of his contemporaries.

2 November 1947 of the Year “Hercules” was launched and Hughes, together with his small crew, launched the aircraft engines for the first time. Having performed several test runs on the water in front of numerous viewers, mainly journalists, who were watching the plane move, the flying boat broke away from the surface of the Los Angeles harbor and set off on its first and last flight, which was not even announced. At a small height that did not exceed 20 meters, the flying boat flew about two kilometers at a speed of 120 km / h, after which it made an ideal landing. This test flight, which Howard Hughes made with the official ban on raising the plane into the air, had to repel numerous critics of the project, proving that the largest aircraft in the history of mankind still knows how to fly. Many still attribute this flight to one of the most important moments in the history of world aviation.

Having accomplished its historic flight, the Spruce Goose returned forever to its hangar - a giant room specially built for it, so that it would never rise into the sky again. At the request of Howard Hughes, until his death in 1976, the state of the flying boat was constantly maintained in full "alert", including the launch of engines every month. The condition of the car up to 1950-s was monitored by 300 people. Later, the staff was reduced to 50 people, but even then the annual cost of maintaining this air giant in flying condition reached one million dollars, and the construction of the hangar, in which Hughes H-4 Hercules rose to eternal parking, cost about two million dollars.

Currently, this unusual aircraft is an exhibit of the Aviation Museum in McMinnville (Oregon), where it was transported in 1993 year. At the same time over the past 50 years, this flying boat has become one of the most beloved artifacts of the United States, moving from a state of virtually total uselessness to the category of objects of cultural heritage. Nowadays, the history of this aircraft, which only once in its career has risen to the sky, is perceived as an example of its author’s unprecedented determination to bring the matter to a close, turning Hughes H-4 Hercules into one of the symbols of the 20th century. Every year, this plane is visited by more than 300 thousands of tourists.

Flight technical characteristics of Hughes H-4 Hercules:
Overall dimensions: length - 66,45 m, height - 24,08 m, wing span - 97,54 m, wing area - 1061,88 m2.
Maximum take-off weight - 180 tons.
The payload mass is up to 59 tons, up to 750 soldiers in full combat gear.
Power plant - 8 Pratt & Whitney R-4360-4A engines of 3000 hp each. each.
Maximum speed - 565 km / h.
Cruising speed - 407 km / h.
Flight range - 5634 km.
Practical ceiling - 7165 m.
Crew: 3 person.

Information sources:
Open source materials
Dear reader, to leave comments on the publication, you must to register.

I have an account? Sign in

  1. Good cat
    Good cat 26 February 2016 06: 53 New
    "..transfering from the category of complete uselessness to a unique cultural heritage" is a vivid example of how Americans invent heroes for themselves, it's all about PR.
    1. severyanin
      severyanin 26 February 2016 08: 24 New
      Quote: Good cat
      "..transfering from the category of complete uselessness to a unique cultural heritage" is a vivid example of how Americans invent heroes for themselves, it's all about PR.

      Come on you gnarish - really cool and unique airplane! good
      PS: We, too, had unique projects in aviation, which were not given the green light for various reasons - to recall the same famous T-4 "weaving" ...
      1. PKK
        PKK 26 February 2016 11: 08 New
        Howard was a great man, Sergei Pavlovich and the Great Designers were such. At present, the great one is Serdyukov, who managed to pull the financing of the Army out of the hands of traitors and corrupt creatures, deploy it for military needs and managed to build a modern Army. have.
        1. Generalissimo
          Generalissimo 26 February 2016 12: 35 New
          Oh, I see, they are already comparing their creators. Such an eraplan could only be made up by a fool, or by order so that flying boats could be compromised as a class of technology.
      2. Generalissimo
        Generalissimo 26 February 2016 12: 34 New
        Compare with Buran this illiterate product.
  2. velikoros-xnumx
    velikoros-xnumx 26 February 2016 07: 01 New
    Howard Hughes is a unique person, a product of his time. He and others like him created an industrial empire, which was the SGA. And the plane, in addition to its colossal nature, is quite elegant. Such people always earned me sincere respect, despite their personal views and belonging to military-political camps. As far as I know, Hughes at that time was the richest man in the United States. Compare it with our Abramovich and others. The contrast is striking isn't it?
    1. Artyaf
      Artyaf 26 February 2016 08: 46 New
      So he was the prototype of Howard Stark? Dvzhe looks similar, sort of)
    2. chebman
      chebman 26 February 2016 19: 44 New
      The man "mastered" $ 22 million of budget money, which he used to build an airplane that made only one flight, and even then in ekranoplan mode. If his last name was not Hughes, but, for example, Prokhorov or Potanin, you would have already branded domestic entrepreneurs for their talents in "cutting" the state treasury.
  3. inkass_98
    inkass_98 26 February 2016 07: 26 New
    But still, the plan was daring. With the implementation, it turned out how it happened, but this does not detract from the merits of Hughes himself: the man was talented and versatile.
  4. parusnik
    parusnik 26 February 2016 07: 42 New
    A great car, he would have to fly and fly ... He looks like a "flying" ... But how it came out ... sorry ...
  5. Nicola Bari
    Nicola Bari 26 February 2016 08: 04 New
    Wonderful article in the morning to start the working day. Thanks to the author!
  6. doework
    doework 26 February 2016 09: 04 New
    I do not see anything wrong with the ability of the Americans to turn even a "disposable giant plane" into a part of their cultural heritage!
    When I see the exposition in Monino, Buran in the park of culture, I look at the territory of the once best machine-building factories and drive along the streets of Zelenograd - "Soviet Silicon Valley of the 70s" - I see nothing wrong with the fact that in the USA there are many museums and exhibition areas with samples of aircraft and rocket technology .. I only regret that we do not have them.

    For this "goose" - a haven was found, and our "Caspian monsters" are rotting in landfills .. and they cannot be denied in scale and ambiance!

    The article is a plus! Hughes - a plus for courage and talent, and a minus - for arrogance ... Yes, what personalities!
    1. Generalissimo
      Generalissimo 26 February 2016 13: 00 New
      Can anyone explain why "it" didn't even leave the screen? In addition to this megaparode, this American lighter-than-air device must be placed on a plane next to the museum :-)
      739160 /
      Looking at the modern projects of X-Plaines and others such as the F-35, you understand that the Americans have already run out of German and Soviet paperclip's.
  7. tolancop
    tolancop 26 February 2016 10: 47 New
    You can scold the Americans to stupidity, but you will not refuse purposefulness and efficiency. And the Americans have real achievements. Apart from swearing at them, we would also be able to learn something from them.

    And Hughes was clearly not deprived of talent.
    1. Generalissimo
      Generalissimo 26 February 2016 12: 44 New
      A very characteristic "achievement" :-)
    2. alex86
      alex86 27 February 2016 23: 34 New
      Quote: tolancop
      Something didn't bother me.

      For example, respect for the technical heritage and ability to make money on it. The country, which has stories with Gulkin’s nose, protects hundred-year-old rarities, not to mention the older ones, and we (we have a thousand-year history! Why should we) are all ready to turn into scrap metal - we reconstructed the railway bridge on the Volga in Zelenodolsk, unique farms of the pre-revolutionary building were dismantled, one span was left for history, then they thought - and it was handed over to scrap as well.
  8. PKK
    PKK 26 February 2016 11: 10 New
    Quote: doework

    The article is a plus! Hughes - a plus for courage and talent, and a minus - for arrogance ... Yes, what personalities!

    You will minus your mother-in-law.
    1. Generalissimo
      Generalissimo 26 February 2016 19: 10 New
      Half of the site suffers from minusitis, moreover, without reason.
  9. cth; fyn
    cth; fyn 26 February 2016 11: 16 New
    To the madness of the brave we sing songs!
    1. Generalissimo
      Generalissimo 26 February 2016 19: 52 New
      when he did this plane, alas, he really already went nuts completely at zero.
  10. chunga-changa
    chunga-changa 26 February 2016 11: 29 New
    Our analogue.
  11. spech
    spech 26 February 2016 11: 49 New
    Maximum speed - 565 km / h.
    Cruising speed - 407 km / h.
    Flight range - 5634 km.
    Practical ceiling - 7165 m.

    This is all known from a 2-kilometer span at an altitude of 20m belay
    1. Generalissimo
      Generalissimo 26 February 2016 12: 42 New
      So, one already noticed :-)))
    2. Alexey RA
      Alexey RA 26 February 2016 16: 52 New
      Quote: spech
      This is all known from a 2-kilometer span at an altitude of 20m

      Gentlemen are customary to take a word. (C) laughing

      By the way, the fact that Henry Kaiser left the project is already bell. For Kaiser was known for undertaking only those impossible tasks that could be completed — such as building 50 escort aircraft carriers in a year.
  12. rubin6286
    rubin6286 26 February 2016 11: 57 New
    The article is interesting, informative. The concept of a flying boat capable of transporting passengers and bulky goods over long distances, which arose in the USA and a number of European countries in the mid-30s of the last century, had a right to exist and underwent significant changes with the outbreak of the Second World War. If the American military transport N-4 Hercules, which made only one flight, was intended during the Second World War to reduce personnel losses in transatlantic convoys from German submarines, then the German BV-222, created in 1940, was supposed to provide a change crews of submarines to extend their time on sea communications.
    In the years 30-40 a number of samples of flying boats were purchased by the USSR in Germany, Italy and the United States, which contributed to the creation of interesting projects by domestic design bureaus G.M. Beriev, Tupolev, Chetverikov. Very few readers know about the MTB-2, MDR-6 aircraft, their pilots V. Sukhomlin, F. Usachev, who performed combat missions unique in importance and complexity during the years of the past war. We need to write more about domestic developments, design features, and prospects for use.
    1. severyanin
      severyanin 26 February 2016 12: 18 New
      Quote: rubin6286
      Very few readers know about the MTB-2, MDR-6 aircraft, their pilots V. Sukhomlin, F. Usachev, who performed combat missions that were unique in importance and complexity during the years of the past war. We need to write more about domestic developments, design features, and prospects for use.

      So write what problems? An interesting article would turn out ...
      And so this is your phrase from the category: "we need to reduce the dependence of the ruble on oil prices" ... is it necessary, and what next?
      1. rubin6286
        rubin6286 26 February 2016 12: 52 New
        Dear friend Vanya! Your old Chinese friend Lin Xin Biao is writing to you. I am sending you a photo from our congress of agricultural experts.
        In the 976th row, the 1385th right is me!
  13. Bayonet
    Bayonet 26 February 2016 12: 24 New
    The car is unique - such a monster and made of wood! The richest man passionate about the sky, designer, pilot, director and much more - there are no analogues among our businessmen and it seems that they are not planned, unfortunately
    1. cast iron
      cast iron 28 February 2016 22: 15 New
      Ours succeeded only in the theft of national property, which our grandfathers and grandmothers built with blood and then 70 years. And we all eat it calmly.
  14. pigkiller
    pigkiller 26 February 2016 13: 03 New
    "Buran" in a park of culture, looking at the territory of the once best machine-building factories and driving along the streets of Zelenograd - "Soviet Silicon Valley of the 70s" - I see nothing wrong with the fact that there are many museums and exhibition areas with samples in the USA aviation and missile technology .. I only regret that we do not have them.

    Who is arguing with you? I would like to note that Buran has long been at VDNKh as part of a renewed exposition; in recent years, several very good thematic museums have appeared across the country, incl. private. The one who does is right. (C)
  15. Glaaki
    Glaaki 26 February 2016 14: 07 New
    The comments on this article just perfectly illustrate another, which is about aggressive patriotism.

    The Americans made an unusual car - fffuuu, nonsense, PR, can not do anything, crazy! 1
    In RI / Union they made an unusual car - a Russian genius, SMEKALOCHKA !, "Are you weak?", "Know ours!"
  16. Denimax
    Denimax 26 February 2016 18: 03 New
    For such a wing thickness, the diameter of the propellers of five meters is clearly not enough. He would have been supplied with a helicopter.) Otherwise, as in the film, he could hardly lift himself up. IMHO
    1. Bayonet
      Bayonet 26 February 2016 18: 51 New
      Quote: Denimax
      For such a wing thickness, the diameter of the propellers of five meters is clearly not enough.

      Fine. Thickness of about four meters at the root of the wing! And the engines are pretty much put forward.
      1. Denimax
        Denimax 26 February 2016 19: 37 New
        Well, I don’t know, it seems to me that the propeller thrust is greatly extinguished in the wings of a large thickening. Probably it was better to connect the engines in sparks to the screws of a larger diameter. It would then be eight motor but with four screws.
  17. Dekabrev
    Dekabrev 26 February 2016 23: 20 New
    The article put a plus for a very interesting topic.
    However, the speed was incredibly high.
    Here the correct numbers are
  18. Dekabrev
    Dekabrev 26 February 2016 23: 49 New
    The maximum speed, km / h 351
    Cruising speed, km / h 282
    Practical range, km 5633
    Practical ceiling, m 7165
    Crew 5
    Payload: up to a maximum of 59000 kg of commercial cargo
    If someone does not believe, can count.
    According to my estimates, the maximum speed is just over 350 km / h.
    Hughes also admires me with his recklessness, but, to be honest, I do not remember which of the aircraft of his development went into series. Not funded by him, namely developed.
    I think that if in Russia people were looking less for saw cutters among scientists and engineers and more among officials, then it would be more sense.
    Because even the unsuccessful experience of research and development is useful for the country and humanity, and the money soaked and transferred to offshore does not bring much benefit even to those who stole it.
    Although many people think differently.
  19. Dekabrev
    Dekabrev 27 February 2016 00: 22 New
    By the way. At a speed of 282 km / h, a range of 5600 km is 20 hours of flight and, even with a good autopilot, a crew of three can go crazy. It would not hurt to take a nap. Of course, Chkalov, Baidukov and Belyakov were not capable of that, but this is a completely different story. Nails would be made of these people ...
  20. Chever
    Chever 28 February 2016 18: 27 New
    Yeah .. Epic times were smile