A little detour to Portland to see Alie’s cousins added 1700 miles to our spring drive. It’s nice to be retired.
Friend Bill suggested we visit the “Spruce Goose,” the world’s largest airplane, in McMinnville, Oregon.
Delford Smith founded Evergreen Helicopters in 1960. In 1974, the company acquired Johnson Flying Service allowing it in pre-dereulation days to operate an airline, Evergreen International Airlines.
Later the company acquired 747s to fight forest fires and transport cargo and passengers. It took on government work as well, ferrying troops in the Gulf War and doing contract work for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Delford’s son, Air Force Captain Michael King Smith, began a small aviation museum, the Evergreen Museum. In 1990, he acquired the Howard Hughes’ Hercules H-4, the “Spruce Goose.” The huge aircraft was disassembled at its Los Angeles hanger for transport. But Captain Smith died in an automobile accident in 1995 before the plane could be reassembled.
Dedicated as the Captain Michael King Smith Evergreen Aviation Educational Center in 1997, it is now known as the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museums and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. In addition to the Aviation Museum and Space Museum, there is an IMAX theater and the Wings & Waves Waterpark, Oregon’s largest waterpark. The latter has 10 slides four of which originate in a 747 parked on the roof.
Perhaps the company became over-extended. At the end of 2013, nineteen of its twenty-four 747s were in storage. Delford Smith died in 2014, and the Evergreen International Airlines filed for bankruptcy.
However, the museums continue, supported by an army (perhaps an air force?) of volunteers.
Howard Hughes, Sr. developed an innovative rotary drill bit for the oil industry patented in 1909, leased it and became wealthy. 18 year-old Howard Hughes, Jr. (1905-1976) inherited control of the company in 1924 and expanded into aviation. In 1933, he introduced an even better bit still used today and became enormously wealthy.
Hughes was a daring test pilot. In 1935, he flew his H-1 for a record 352 miles an hour. He flew around the world in 1938.
Industrialist Henry Kaiser wanted to build huge transport planes to fly over the Atlantic Ocean avoiding German submarines. In 1942, he turned to Hughes for his expertise. Originally called the HK-1 (Hughes-Kaiser 1), it became the H-4 (Hughes’ 4th plane) in 1944 when Kaiser pulled out of the project. The federal government put up 18 million dollars and Hughes put up $7 million of his own, but they could not use metal needed for the war effort. It is the world’s largest plane, and it is made out of wood.
It took from 1942 to 1947 to build the plane. Hughes took it on a test flight, its first and only flight, about one mile at 70 feet above the water. But by 1947, it was not needed. Nonetheless, Hughes kept the plane in a hanger until his death.
The press invented the name “Spruce Goose,” but it is mostly glued laminated birch plywood. Seven tons of small nails were used to hold the plywood in place until the glue set; then the nails were meticulously removed. While mostly birch, they used some maple, poplar, balsa and even some spruce.
The wings are so large, men can walk upright inside them. They did to observe engine performance during its only flight. The wingspan is twenty feet longer than a football field. Just the span of the 80 foot-high tail is larger than the wingspan of a World War II B-17.
Beach balls filled empty spaces in the hull and floats to ensure buoyancy in case of an accident.
It was designed to hold 12,500 gallons of fuel and have a range of 2975 miles flying at 5000 feet.
It is still the world’s largest airplane. It is 218 feet 8 inches long; the wings are 319 feet 11 inches wide; the propeller diameter is 17 feet 2 inches; and it has eight 3000-horsepower engines.
However, as you look at the photos, you will see the museums hold far more than just the Spruce Goose. We thought we would stop quickly to see one plane but spent most of our day there looking at many other exhibits as well.
Click on photos to enlarge.