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HOWARD HUGHES disliked the term “Spruce Goose” for what he preferred to call the Hughes Flying Boat. And indeed, spruce was only one of the woods used in the Hercules H-4 (it’s mostly of birch).
Whatever its name, the aircraft’s immense size, its brief flight on November 2, 1947—and Howard Hughes’ enigmatic personality—guarantee it a place in aircraft history.
And in fantasy. During my flight simulation hobby, I occasionally took part in Fly-Ins, internet activities where each participant flew a computer-simulated plane to a predetermined destination and then posted details and photos about the adventure.
Here, recast from a Flightsim.com Fly-In posting, is the tale of Howard Hughes and his “Guy and Doll” Flight:
FAMED INDUSTRIALIST, movie mogul, aviator, Howard Hughes went around with starlets and knew all the famous and important people by first name.
Howard even knew Henry J. Kaiser as Henry J. (And wouldn’t this be a neat name for a car?)
Some called it a crackpot idea, but early in World War II, Henry J. thought of building giant aircraft, essentially airborne Liberty Ships transporting troops and materiel high above enemy submarines.
Why he wasn’t worried about these giant lumbering transports being easy prey to enemy fighter planes is not disclosed.
Anyway, Henry J. approached the best man for the job of seeing his idea into production: Howard Hughes. In 1942, they formed Kaiser-Hughes Corp. with the idea of making 5000 of these aircraft. The government kicked in $18 million, big money in those days. Come to think of it, it isn’t exactly chump change today.
The two personalities clashed, though. What’s more, by 1944 the military decided that only one aircraft would be needed (maybe they finally thought about those fighters). Henry J. abandoned the scheme, but Howard Hughes wasn’t a quitter.
On November 2, 1947, years after the war ended, the “Spruce Goose” finally took its first flight, with none other than Howard Hughes at the controls. Officially, it climbed above the water of Los Angeles Harbor to a height of 85 ft.; some say it was no more than 30 ft. It traveled about a mile at perhaps 95 mph.
The Hughes Flying Boat flew no more—until Howard decided to take it to a Flightsim.com Fly-In.
What about its passengers?
“Easy,” said Howard’s publicist (and you must remember that while most aviators don’t have publicists, most movie moguls do), “Let’s turn this into a media event and invite only dolls, the women with whom you’ve been romantically linked.”
Actually the publicist didn’t say “with whom you’ve been romantically linked.” Movie mogul publicists almost never say “with whom.”
“No,” said Howard. “I want some pals along too, sort of a ‘Guy and Doll’ flight.”
And look how close he came to naming an immensely successful Broadway show! Close, but no cigar. Even Howard wasn’t perfect.
“Okay,” said his publicist, puffing on his Cuban cigar. (Back in those days, publicists were always puffing on Cuban cigars. And, imagine, this was in California! Now one must drive to Nevada for a smoke.) “Here’s the pitch,” he continued, “Invite your dolls and their guys. That is, anyone you’ve been linked with romantically, plus those who have been linked romantically with them, if you get the drift of my meaning….”
“Fine,” said Howard. “Round them all up. We leave Los Angeles Harbor at dawn tomorrow.
“In fact,” Howard continued “let’s invite the dolls I’ve ever been linked with romantically, plus the guys who’ve ever been linked romantically with them, plus the dolls who’ve ever…. You get the picture!”
“But, boss,” the publicist objected (for, little known to Howard, this Cuban-cigar-chomping guy also had a Ph.D. in mathematics, “you don’t realize what you’re getting into. These numbers add up fast!”
Howard scratched his head; his fingernails were still short in those days.
“You see, boss,” said his publicist, warming to his subject (as well as to his Cuban cigar, which was already warm), “let’s call Link 1 all the dolls with whom you’ve been romantically involved, then Link 2 all the guys with whom they’ve been linked, then Link 3 all the dolls that those guys have been linked with, and so on.” (You’ll notice only hetero relationships were discussed in those days.)
“And your point is?” said Howard.
“Well, boss,” said his publicist, his Cuban cigar positively aglow with mathematical enthusiasm, “these links are an infinite series of the form ‘summation of L to the k, k running from 0 to infinity.’ ”
“Eh?” said Howard.
His publicist chomped on his Cuban cigar and computed. Finally, he said “Limit your invitation list to links of order 3 or less.”
And so it was that the Hughes Flying Boat left on its “Guy and Doll” flight with Howard himself again at the controls—and a passenger list of almost 600 people.
“My Hughes Flying Boat is designed to carry 700 troops,” said Howard to his publicist, “Don’t fret; be happy.”
And notice again how close he approached immortality by almost coming up with a pop song title. Close, but no Cuban cigar.
Here’s a partial passenger list compiled from Who’s Had Who. Link 1, those linked romantically with Howard Hughes: Ava Gardner, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Ida Lupino, Billie Dove, Jean Harlow, Olivia de Havilland, Marion Marsh, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, Terry Moore, Jean Peters and Ella Rice.
Link 2, linked romantically with anyone on the first list: With Ava: Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, Luis Miguel Dominguan, Porfirio Rubirosa, Artie Shaw, Clark Gable, Robert Walker and Peter Lawford; with Hedy: Stewart Granger, Fritz Mandl, Gene Markey, John Lode, Ernest Stauffer, Howard Lee and Lewis Bowles; with Lana….
You get the picture, and we’re barely into Link 2… We’ll have to be careful not to count reappearances.
All in good fun. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013