The Spruce Goose should be the Birch Goose - West Wind Hardwood

Jan and I were desperate for a good road trip, and having the best of friends in the high-prairie region of Oregon made this easy.  Bill and Rosie flew into Portland and we looped around the state from middle to coast; north to Astoria and back through wine country; ending up in Bend.

If your travels take you to the Oregon Wine Country, South of Portland, just outside of McMinnville, you should allocate several hours to tour the Evergreen Aviation Museum. The collection and displays are prodigious and include the well known “Spruce Goose” which was built and then flown by Howard Hughes, although “flown” is a generous term in this case. Many other vintage aircraft from both WWI and WWII are on display with thorough interpretive information and docents very eager to enhance your experience. And with an itch to view this mammoth flying boat, we stopped to visit. As a footnote, for families, an indoor water park, with slides coming out of a real Boeing 747, provide a welcome distraction for children.

This paragraph eagerly endorsed and submitted by Bill  Long.

Challenged by the government’s restrictions on materials critical to the war effort, such as steel and aluminium  the Spruce Goose was built entirely of wood.  It is by far the biggest airplane ever built with a wingspan of 320’; having eight massive engines and weighing 300,000 pounds. Henry Kaiser, steel magnate and shipbuilder, conceived the idea of a massive flying transport and turned to Howard Hughes to design and build it. Hughes took on the task. Originally designated HK-1, the giant was re-designated H-4 when Kaiser withdrew from the project in 1944.

Was the Spruce Goose an impractical venture? Utterly. Was it completely off the wall? Maybe, yet the plane flew………once — no small feat. In fact, in 1977 the U.S. Navy seriously considered test flights with the H-4 as part of research into low-altitude transoceanic flight. Didn’t happen, which is probably just as well. But wood construction was obviously a dead end; with Hughes admitting that the plane was too large to be economical.  One thing you have to give Howard: he may have been crazy, but he was no fool. By the by, it was the press that insisted on calling it the “Spruce Goose” despite the fact that she was built primarily of birch with ‘slivers’ of maple, poplar, balsa and spruce.

Airspeed, altitude or brains: Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight.”

Toy gliders are made out of wood, but real aircraft?!  It’s inaugural….and only flight lasted just over a minute that topped out at an altitude of just 70 feet and that covered only a mile. Hughes was lucky the wings didn’t break off during the first flight.  In the words of our friend, Bill:

It is amazing how one persons hubris and self absorption could lead to such an improbable and nearly impossible construction and engineering project that had, in the end, no practical application but was, on its own, awe inspiring and thought evoking.”

Beach balls filled the floats.  It’s true, we saw them!  Hundreds of beach balls were used in the back of the hull and under the wing floats to ensure buoyancy in the event of a ‘wet’ landing. 

“A smooth landing is mostly luck; two in a row is all luck; three in a row is prevarication.”

The Spruce Goose was kept out of the public eye for 33 years with a crew on standby the entire time. It was rumoured that Hughes spent over one million dollars a year on his Flying Boat.

It’s easy to make a small fortune in aviation. You just start off with a large fortune.

After Hughes’ death in 1976, it was purchased and moved into a domed hangar in Long Beach, California.  Then in 1988, the Walt Disney Company bought the aircraft.  Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum co-founders, Michael King Smith and Delford M. Smith, submitted the winning proposal in 1992 to provide the aviation icon with a proper home. She was disassembled and transported by barge up the West Coast, then down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, to Portland, Oregon. It remained there for several months, until water levels permitted the huge structures to safely pass under the Willamette’s many bridges.

Finally, in February 1993, the aircraft was transported by truck for the last 7.5 miles to McMinnville, Oregon. Temporary hangars were built as housing for the aircraft, while volunteers worked on the aircraft’s restoration. In 2001, re-assembly the Spruce Goose was completed in its new home.


 “The propeller is just a big fan in the front of the plane to keep the pilot cool. Want proof? Make it stop; then watch the pilot break out into a sweat.”


  1. The Aero Club of Southern California owned the Spruce Goose after Summa, but they leased the Goose to Jack Wrather who had the main lease on the Queen Mary. He died so the lease was picked up by Disney, they didn’t own the Goose. Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum purchased the Goose from the Aero Club of Southern California. There is documentation to prove this statement.

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