Saturday, October 2, 2010

A lot of plywood

Back in the last century - 1946 to be precise - back before the days of Interstate highways - I had a real treat: a cross-country trip from New York State to California with friends. It was a chance to visit with grandparents in Long Beach, and one of the things they took me to see was a huge seaplane that was tied up at Terminal Island. Reportedly, it was the biggest plane ever built and was the brainchild of Howard Hughes. Officially it was called the Hercules, had six huge engines and flew only once - but not in my sight. Over the years it has gained another name - the Spruce Goose - and it still exists although it never flew again after Howard Hughes proved that it could and would get off the ground. Or water if you look at it realistically.

Last year, on our trip out West, we got to see this humongous aircraft up close. Not only close up, we got inside it and yes, it is huge.

It spent a lot of years on display in a special domed building in Long Beach. Fact is, the famed ocean liner Queen Mary (the first) ended up being tied up adjacent to the liner. Over the years the plane fell on hard times and eventually it ended up being bought by Oregon's Evergreen Air Museum, between Portland and Lincoln City on the Pacific coast. If I thought it looked big in 1946 I had no idea just how big it actually was. Most amazing of all, the plane was built out of plywood. With aluminum being in short supply during World War Two, Howard Hughes believed that plywood offered a positive alternative. Even more amazing was the fact that the structure has endured for almost 60 years with several moves and is in remarkably good condition.

Howard Hughes was a remarkable man. Eccentric to say the least, but a genius in other ways. I never had the faintest idea in 1946 that in ten years I would be teaching electronics systems - the ultimate weapon system of the day - that were produced by Hughes Aircraft Company. Over the years I've been blessed in seeing a lot of unique things - not the least being a Spruce Goose that most people never thought would get off the water. But it did!

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