Simanaitis Says

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IT WAS THE Golden Age of aviation. It was the 1930s, when Howard Hughes and his H-1 Racer set a world speed record as well as one for crossing the United States. In Parts 1–3 today and following, tidbits about Hughes and his craft include extremes of streamlined construction, two separate sets of wings, exhibitions of bravado on Hughes’ part, and a splendid GMax project for my Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Above, the Hughes H-1 as it resides in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Below, my GMax rendering in modern Santa Ana.

Aero Speed Records, Land or Sea. “Racing Improves the Breed” applies to aircraft as well as horse racing. As noted by “For nearly all of the 1930s, the fastest aeroplanes were all of the seaplane category.” One reason for this was the international Schneider Trophy competition, originally known as the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider

Why seaplanes? As noted here at SimanaitisSays, “Curiously, the reason was technical, not a matter of spectacle. As aircraft became more powerful, they got larger with heavier fuel loads. With that came a need for longer take-off and landing space.” Water became the perfect venue. 

On October 23, 1934, a Macchi M.C.72 seaplane set the world speed record for aircraft at 440.5 mph. 

Enter Howard Hughes. Young entrepreneur Howard Hughes was already enamored of flight when he produced his blockbuster movie Hell’s Angels, 1930.

Howard Robard Hughes , Jr, 1905–1976, American business magnate, investor, record-setting aviator, film director, and philanthropist. Photo by Acne Newspictures, 1938, from Wikipedia.

Hughes hired Glenn Odekirk to maintain the Hell’s Angels fleet of World War I aircraft. Together, they set out—and succeeded—in designing and building the fastest land-based aircraft in the world, what came to be known as the Hughes H-1.

H-1 Technicalities. Lightness was an important design goal. For example, weight of a water-cooled inline engine was traded for the H-1’s air-cooled radial, despite the radial’s greater frontal area requiring a bell-shape cowl.

My GMax Twin Wasp Junior R-1535, front and rear.

The chosen powerplant was a Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp Junior R-1535. The R identified its radial nature; the Twin, its two banks, each of seven cylinders. The engine’s total displacement was 1535 cu. in., 25.2 liters. The Junior’s parent, the R-1830, displaced 30.0 liters. 

Centrifugally supercharged, it normally produced 700 hp. Modified with pistons of higher compression ratio, the Twin Wasp Junior produced 1000 hp, required 100 Octane fuel, and consumed this fuel at 100 gallons per hour. (More on this in Part 2.) 

A Polished Design. Hughes, Odekirk, and aero specialist Richard Palmer optimized aerodynamics with a large-scale model (more than two feet in length) tested at California Institute of Technology’s wind tunnel. 

The actual craft’s aluminum monocoque fuselage was fabricated with a multitude of rivets, each individually machined, flush, and polished. Its plywood-covered wing was also highly polished to reduce drag. Landing gear, even the tail skid, was retractable. 

The H-1 featured two separate wing configurations, a small span of 24 ft. 5 in. for record setting, one of 31 ft. 9 in. providing enhanced lift for greater fuel loads when cross-country racing. 

Tomorrow in Part 2, Hughes sets a world record, gets to know a Santa Ana, California, beet field, and later flies the H-1 in record time from Burbank, California, to Newark, New Jersey. These adventures give rise to modifications of my H-1 GMax model—and of its Hughes—in Part 3. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

3 comments on “HUGHES H-1 RACER   PART 1

  1. David Thomas
    July 8, 2021

    FYI, here is a link to an article by Kent White concerning an H-1 replica built in Coos Bay, Oregon. Kent, who has an extensive background in sheet metal fabrication and auto restoration, fabricated several of the parts for the replica.

    Keep up your great posts!
    David Thomas
    Lopez Island, WA

    • simanaitissays
      July 8, 2021

      Thanks for the link, David, and for your kind words. You know of the tragic death of Jim Wright in a crash of the plane returning from Oskosh when its variable pitch prop hardware failed.

      • David Thomas
        July 9, 2021

        I did know it came to a tragic end but didn’t know any details.

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