The Hughes H-4 Hercules, or the “Spruce Goose”, as it came to be called, was the original brainchild of Henry J. Kaiser during World War II. He wanted to essentially create a massive cargo ship that could transport much needed supplies to America’s troops over in Europe through the air. Eventually getting a contract with the U.S. government, he was told that he had to build the plane out of a non-rationed material, which ruled out the usual metal that planes were made out of. So he was forced to build the plane out of birch.
Running low on budget, Kaiser contracted help from the wealthy and eccentric aircraft designer, Howard Hughes. Hughes spearheaded the design from then on, and worked tirelessly to complete the project despite naysayers stating that something that big and made of wood would never fly. Critics labeled the plane the “Spruce Goose” as a taunting nickname, which Hughes resented. As the plane was made out of such an unusual material and was to be five stories high (79 feet), with a wingspan larger than a football field and a dry weight of 250,000 pounds, it is hard to blame critics for doubting its ability.
Ultimately, the plane did fly…a mere mile, seventy feet off of the ground, and two years after the war ended. At a speed of 135 mph, its one and only flight was over pretty quickly and Hughes even had to justify his efforts in front of Congress to prove that he did not squander government funds. Nonetheless, it is amazing that something of this size and material flew at all. Hughes’ company maintained it in flying condition until it was moved to a hangar adjacent to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA in 1980 – a hangar that has since been used to film blockbuster films and is now a cruise line terminal – it is that big! It was moved in 1993 to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McKinnville, Oregon, where it was restored and we were lucky to have the chance to see it in our travels.
The Evergreen Museum is a little bit pricey at $27/adult, but there is much to see and the Spruce Goose alone is worth the admission. We even got to camp overnight in their spacious and beautiful parking lot as they are members of Harvest Hosts!
On weekends, the adjacent waterpark is open as well. We found it entertaining that a waterpark was attached to an aircraft museum and honestly probably would have patronized it had it been a weekend.
Upon pulling up to the museum, the Spruce Goose’s massive shadow within the museum hangar is difficult to miss. Its massive size takes up a good amount of the museum, dwarfing everything else significantly.
We sprang for the $25 cockpit tour, which included a fifteen minute tour for up to four people as well as the feature photo of this article (hat rental included). We didn’t mind paying the extra admission as it meant that we got the cockpit all to ourselves for fifteen minutes, save for the tour guide enlightening us with details of the plane. It was surreal to sit in the pilot seats and look down several stories to the ground below. It was also neat to see firsthand the control centers and access doors to the wings during flight.
Story goes that seven newspaper reporters were on board for on its maiden voyage, not expecting the plane to take off at all. Imagine their surprise when it did!
The rest of the museum is filled with interesting airplane history, varying from early flight, to WWI and WWII era planes, to modern hobby replica planes. It is fascinating to see how far we have come, as well as the sturdiness and longevity of some of our military planes!
Admission includes the adjacent Evergreen Space Museum as well, which includes various spacecrafts, spacesuits, and other memorabilia, some replicas, some originals.
Flying is certainly not my favorite activity in the world, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this museum and seeing the magnamity of the Spruce Goose. It is certainly worth a visit when in the area!