Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


YESTERDAY IN PART 1, a 29-year-old Howard Hughes set out to design, fabricate, and fly a land plane for a world speed record. Eventually known as the H-1, his sleek craft accomplished this goal, not without drama on Hughes’ part, and went on to set a cross-country record as well. Here in Part 2 are tidbits about these two achievements.

My GMax rendering of the Hughes H-1 readies itself for takeoff at today’s John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana, California.

Santa Ana, September 13, 1935. It was Friday, the 13th, that Hughes chose for record setting at the Eddie Martin airfield (not far from today’s John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana, California). Some sources confuse Eddie with Glenn Martin, another pioneer aviator who also resided for awhile in southern California.

Dennis Walker’s “Howard Hughes Breaks the Speed Record” describes the rules of record breaking:  “Speed trials, under the aegis of the International Aeronautical Federation (FAI) in Paris, measured the best of four electrically timed passes over a three-kilometer course at no more than 200 feet above sea level. The contestant was allowed to dive into each pass, but from no higher than 1000 ft.” 

Minimal Fuel Load. For lightness, the H-1 was fueled for four, possibly five passes. Howard was on his seventh pass, having already averaged 352.39 mph, when the fuel supply was exhausted. 

“The aircraft,” Walker says, “was a scant 20 feet off the ground doing 370 mph with no engine!”

Walker continues, “He managed to climb to 1000 feet before he was forced to push the nose over to maintain airspeed…. He was now flying ‘dead stick’ and Mother Earth was beckoning.”

As Timothy Foote describes in Smithsonian Magazine, February 1995, “Characteristically cool, Hughes coaxed the plane into position over a beet field and eased in for a skillful, wheels-up belly landing.”

Walker reports, “Realizing how critical it would be to keep the aircraft skidding straight, he lowered the rear skid, hoping it would act a bit like an anchor.”

Gee, in retrospect, I wonder if it had a separate auxiliary hand crank for this rear landing gear?

Burbank to Newark, January 19, 1937. The night before flying cross-country, Foote reports, “Hughes did not bother with sleep. Instead he took a date to dinner, dropped her off at home after midnight, caught a cab to the airport, checked the weather reports over the Great Plains, climbed into a flight suit and took off.”

Foote continues, “The hour was 2:14 a.m., a time when he was accustomed to doing some of his best ‘thinking.’ He rocketed eastward at 15,000 feet and above, using oxygen, riding the airstream at speeds faster than the sprints done that year by the Thompson Trophy racers at Cleveland. The tiny silver pencil of a plane touched down at Newark at 12:42 p.m., just in time for lunch.”

My H-1 lands at Newark (after starting there too…).

“It had taken 7 hours 28 minutes 25 seconds, at an average speed of 327.1 mph,” Foote writes. “That record stood until 1946, to be broken by stunt pilot Paul Mantz in a souped-up World War II P-51 Mustang.”

After Hughes’ record cross-country flight, he never piloted the craft again. Indeed, the H-1 resided idle in Newark until it returned to California with another pilot at the controls.

Thus ends the adventure of the real Hughes H-1 racer. Tomorrow’s Part 3 offers my adventures modeling a GMax version of the craft. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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