The Odd End to the Amazing Howard Hughes


Time Magazine April 1976

Time Magazine April 1976

The Dashing Hughes

The Dashing Hughes

On This Date in History: If you saw the movie The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, you may recall a scene in which Hughes is testifying before a Senate committee and the charge is brought that Hughes regularly used funds to entertain influential people in the military industrial complex to help win contracts. Hughes acknowledges the charges in a matter-of-fact manner, saying that is just the way the aviation business is done and that everyone spends money on key people, not as bribes, but as a way to influence their decisions. I’ve never read the transcripts of the actual hearings so I don’t know if that part of the script was just written to indicate the true situation. But, on August 3, 1947, the New York Times broke the story, though its much more interesting.

nytimeselliottrooseveltIt is more interesting because the NYTimes goes to great lengths to describe how Hughes is charged with spending over $5000 on the son of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Elliott Roosevelt, who was the guy who could make or break military contracts with individual companies. In the story, it’s not Hughes who fesses up, but instead one of his associates who, just a easily as Hughes was portrayed in the movie, admits that they did and do regularly throw parties and entertain people like Fred Roosevelt. In fact he said Elliott was just “one of 1000” that he entertained. The Times goes on to say that there was more…that Hughes Aircraft provided women to government officials! What is intersting is that no one really gets mad at the government folks accepting the gratuities. I mean, Howard Hughes could invite FDR’s son all he wants but no one forces him to go. But, that never comes up.

The Giant Plane Made of Wood Flew Nov 3, 1947

Spruce Goose Dwarfed Any Other Aircraft for Decades

Howard Hughes defied all probability. He had contracted with the U.S. Government to produce a flying boat that could ferry 750 combat troops or two 30 ton tanks across the Atlantic during World War II. Officially called the H-4 Hercules, the plane fell seemingly hopelessly behind construction schedule and well over budget. The war ended before delivery and the government cancelled the order.  But Hughes was convinced his vision could be transformed to civilian use and revolutionize the airline and air cargo industry. He completed the plane with his own money. Aluminum and other metals were short during the war so he made the plane out of wood.  Not long after his famous Senate hearings in early November 1947, Hughes flew the flying boat near Long Beach in California, confounding critics who said such a huge machine could never fly. It never flew again as it was obsolete before it ever flew and after that Hughes was rarely seen in public for the rest of his life.

The Dashing Aviator Howard Hughes

To this day, it still holds the record for aircraft with the broadest wingspan at 319 feet….more than a football field. It’s also the tallest plane ever built at over 79 feet, or about a 7 story building. It is the worlds largest flying boat and, of course, the record that will probably never be equaled; the largest plane ever built from wood. Many think of the thing as a lark but it is another in a long list of examples of Hughes genius for vision. Hughes exploits proved it was possible for enormous aircraft to fly and thus did indeed revolutionize flight design. Even though by weight and length other modern planes have been deemed the largest planes ever built, the “Spruce Goose,” as it was called by Hughes detractors, stands alone was one of the most daring an innovative steps in the history of flight.

Hughes at the Helm of the Hercules

Hughes achieved many great things and his effort shows what can happen when determination, courage and self-confidence come together with the means to render moot the opinions of the experts.  Hughes’ Spruce Goose exhibition (video) was perhaps the crowning achievement in a remarkable life. We see him as the richest man in the world of his time but in reality, he was an innovator in aircraft and satellite technology. Many of our conveniences we take for granted are directly linked to Howard Hughes. Many of our missile defense systems had their genesis from Howard Hughes.  He set air speed records, furthered aviation development and helped advance satellite technology.  Though not as important, in my view, he was also somewhat of a pioneer in filmaking. 

Hughes Testifying

Hughes Testifying

Now, Hughes died on this date in 1976 amidst mysterious circumstances. He was said to have become exceedingly excentric and developed phobias to about everything, including germs. Some speculate that he was the money man behind Watergate and that Richard Nixon never would have been forced to resign had not Hughes been secretly funding White House operations. Seems, in the early 1970’s, the then richest man in the world was found in England flying around naked, which was apparently not unusual. Late in his secret life, he surrounded himself by Mormons and doctors, yet in death the only way he could be identified was through fingerprints. He was a genius on many levels, but his later life was clouded with his erratic behaviour. There are those who say that Hughes was allowed to die by his handlers who were more interested in making money for themselves than caring for Hughes, who was reportedly around 90 lbs, with long stringy hair, a beard to his waist and very long fingernails when he died on a plane over the Gulf of Mexico enroute to Houston from Acapulco. There are those who say he really died in Acapulco and the story was simply a fabrication to add to his legacy. Then, of course, there were the years sifting through all of the wills that appeared following his death.

Jackson

Another Hughes?

Now, does that sound familiar? Who else can you think of that gained great fame and fortune as a youth? Who else was dubbed a genius for the innovation that he brought to his field? Who else became extremely eccentric and mysterious later in his life? Who else died of mysterious circumstances leaving a vast estate? How about Michael Jackson. And now, like Hughes, there are charges, criminal investigation and speculation that his death was not as it seemed.  But, in the case of Hughes, when it all was settled, Hughes fortune went to fund the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. It is a non-profit organization that is one of the largest philanthropies in the United States having spent $730 million in research and dispersed over $100 million in grants in 2009.

SPC slight risk area just West of Louisville due to expectation of system coming through Ohio Valley late Wednesday night

Weather Bottom Line:  T’storms possible with a warm front passing on Monday afternoon should be relatively benign but they may be elevated such that a few hail reports won’t be out of the question.  Tuesday look for exceedingly warm conditions with highs in the mid 80’s.  I told you that I was suspicious of this next cold front for Wednesday.  The SPC has been pooh-poohing it but now has come around, though the timing of us may make it a moot point.  It’s getting delayed a bit…the cold front that is.  So, by the time the storms get here it should be late Wednesday night and without the sun, they will lose a key ingredient. However, I wouldn’t be completely sold that it’s a dud.  If it speeds up a bit and we’re talking about before midnight, then I would think that we’d have enough latent heat with a warm and relatively humid Wednesday afternoon to perhaps allow for any strong storms to the west or southwest to hang together sufficiently to cause some racket.  Possible? Yeah…but the data says thats not probable.  Nevertheless, its not unheard of for the computers to be off on their story by  a few hours so its worth watching for.  After that, we should get temperatures back to seasonal levels..but not cold. I think I’m going to go ahead and plant my sunflowers.  I’m not too concerned about freezes anymore.  That’s like me washing my car.  That’s a sure sign of rain and if I plant my sunflowers…that will probably result in one more overnight freeze.  So, if it happens, it’s my fault.

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