This week, Ira Sternberg spoke with Larry Wood/Bruce Bothwell while aboard the Spruce Goose.
Larry Wood, former executive director of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, and Bruce Bothwell, docent, are in the cockpit of The Spruce Goose (located at the center of the museum) to discuss the fascinating history and unique dimensions of the world’s biggest plane.
The Spruce Goose was born out of a need to move troops and material across the Atlantic Ocean, where in 1942, German submarines were sinking hundreds of Allied ships. Henry Kaiser, steel magnate and shipbuilder, conceived the idea of a massive flying transport and turned to Howard Hughes to design and build it.
Hughes took on the task, made even more challenging by the government’s restrictions on materials critical to the war effort, such as steel and aluminum. Six times larger than any aircraft of its time, the Spruce Goose, also known as the Flying Boat, is made entirely of wood.
The winged giant made only one flight on November 2, 1947. The unannounced decision to fly was made by Hughes during a taxi test. With Hughes at the controls, David Grant as co-pilot, and several engineers, crewmen and journalists on board, the Spruce Goose flew just over one mile at an altitude of 70 feet for one minute. The short hop proved to skeptics that the gigantic machine could fly.
Perhaps always dreaming of a second flight, Hughes retained a full crew to maintain the mammoth plane in a climate-controlled hangar up until his death in 1976.
The Spruce Goose was kept out of the public eye for 33 years. After Hughes’ death in 1976, it was gifted by Hughes’ Summa Corporation to the Aero Club of Southern California. The Aero Club then leased it to the Wrather Corporation, and moved it into a domed hangar in Long Beach, California.
The Disney Company acquired the Wrather Corporation, thus taking over the lease of the Spruce Goose. Evergreen subsequently bought the aircraft from the Aero Club.
In 1992, Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum co-founders Michael King Smith and Delford M. Smith submitted the winning proposal to provide the aviation icon with a proper home. The Flying Boat was disassembled and transported by barge up the West Coast, then up the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, to Portland, Oregon. It remained there for several months, until water levels permitted the huge structures to safely pass under the Willamette’s many bridges.
Finally, in February 1993, the aircraft was transported by truck for the last 7.5 miles to McMinnville, Oregon. Temporary hangars were built as housing for the aircraft, while volunteers worked on the aircraft’s restoration. In 2001, re-assembly of the Hughes Flying Boat was completed in its new home.