Museum to take ownership of Hughes ‘Spruce Goose’

The Hughes H-4 Hercules, also known as the 'Spruce Goose,' is the largest flying boat ever built and has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Hughes H-4 Hercules, also known as the ‘Spruce Goose,’ is the largest flying boat ever built and has the largest wingspan of any aircraft in history. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Legendary mogul Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, a gigantic historic wooden airplane whose fate was mired in a financial dispute, will permanently stay in Oregon.

The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum has reached an agreement with the Aero Club of Southern California to take full ownership of the plane in the coming weeks, said California attorney Robert E. Lyon, who represents the Aero Club. Lyon said the agreement was reached in early July.

The McMinnville, Oregon-based nonprofit has been home to the Spruce Goose for more than two decades, but it still owed a payment to the California club from which it bought the plane.

The details of the agreement were not disclosed. But the dispute centered on the original purchase terms, which in addition to the $500,000 price tag also included a percentage of the museum’s earnings from displaying the Spruce Goose.

“It’s comforting to know it will finally be in its resting place where it will be properly taken care of,” Lyon said.

Dubbed a flying boat, the Spruce Goose has a 320-foot wing span – larger than a football field – and floats that allow it to land on water.

Originally envisioned as part of a fleet of flying boats that would deliver cargo and troops over the heads of U-boats during World War II, the Spruce Goose was built in 1947 by Hughes with $18 million in federal funds. Hughes, an oil and film industry tycoon, also spent $7 million of his own money on the project.

The plane was made almost entirely of birch wood – a material that was not crucial to the war effort.

Hughes, a passionate aviator, flew it only once, on Nov. 2, 1947, in a mile-long test flight above California’s Long Beach Harbor.

Hughes then stored it in a special hangar, and it never flew again. After the tycoon’s death in 1976, the Smithsonian briefly contemplated cutting up the plane and putting its pieces on display. But aviation enthusiasts protested and vowed to keep the legendary plane intact, said Lyon, who remembers as a boy seeing the airplane’s giant wings trucked from Culvert City to Long Beach in 1946.

The Aero Club of Southern California acquired the aircraft, he said, and put the Spruce Goose on display in a hangar.

In 1992, the Spruce Goose was sold to Delford Smith, the founder of Evergreen International Aviation. The plane was transported to McMinnville in pieces by truck and barge, reassembled and restored by a team of experts.

Smith founded the museum in 2001, with the Spruce Goose as its centerpiece housed in a giant glass and steel building.

In recent years, the museum was embroiled in a state investigation and the bankruptcies of Evergreen Aviation and Evergreen Vintage Aircraft, a for-profit affiliate of museum that owned its real estate and many of its planes.

But the state said it won’t take enforcement action against the nonprofit. A settlement reached in May resolved both bankruptcies and secured several of the museum’s airplanes and its real estate.


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