Over the centuries, ships have been named for famous leaders, for some ideal, or even for cities and states. They have been remembered for their wartime prowess, their luxurious furnishings, or for the tragic sinking. It seems like most vehicles, like ships, planes, and trains are often best remembered if they are involved in a tragic loss. Our minds tend to vividly remember traumatic events.
Still, some vehicles have been remembered for other reasons. The Spruce Goose for example, was a plane of enormous size that was made out of wood. The Hughes Flying Boat was at one time the largest aircraft ever built. Designer Howard Hughes piloted it on its first and only flight. It flew around the world in 3 days, 19 hours and 14 minutes. The plane still exists today and is housed in the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.
RMS Queen Elizabeth II was built in 1969. From the late 1960s until 2004, the Queen Elizabeth II was the only way to cross in luxury. She sailed many areas of the globe…not just the Atlantic. She even came to port in Sidney, Australia, among other places. The QE2 did not sink either, but rather, retired in 2008, and will soon become a floating hotel in Dubai.
All of these are interesting, but there is a ship that, to me, is far more unique than these…SS United States. I’m sure you are wondering what makes this ship so special. It’s not luxury. It didn’t sink. The thing that made this ship so special is that her top speed is a state secret. How fast must a ship be able to sail, before it is considered amazing enough that it must not be told? The average person couldn’t possibly know. I suppose someone knows, but it’s a secret. The SS United States is the last of the old greyhounds, and it is still around today, slowly rusting at a Philadelphia pier…sadly. She was built with both passenger service and military use in mind. Many liners scrapped in the mid-1930s were sorely missed a few years later when WWII began…hence the secrecy about her true speed.
In comparison with airplanes, I suppose that the speed of a ship would not seem so important. Many people in the 1960s stopped using ships, until the cruise craze came along. The SS United States still holds the westbound Blue Ribbon and has now been purchased by the Norwegian Cruise Line. Time will tell how the ship, purchased in 2004 will be used. As of 2018, she hasn’t sailed, but I hope that someday she will.
Since man first learned to fly, there have been many kinds of planes. It seems like everyone is trying to improve on them. Hollywood producer, Howard Hughes was one of the people who wanted to do something new with planes, so he founded Hughes Aircraft Company in 1932. He tested cutting-edged aircraft that he had designed and in 1937 broke the transcontinental flight-time record. He then broke the world record in 1938 by flying around the world in 19 hours and 14 minutes. Those were amazing feats, but it was another of his planes that caught my dad’s interest.
After the United States entered World War II, the government asked Hughes Aircraft Company to build a large flying boat capable of transporting men and materials very long distances. The concept had originally been that of Henry Kiser, but he dropped out and Howard Hughes took over. The plane was built mostly of birch, but also of spruce, due to wartime restrictions on the use of steel. The wood was laminated with plastic and covered in fabric. The design gave the plane a gray/white color, and since spruce was used in the design, the plane was dubbed the Spruce Goose. The plan was for it to be able to transport 700 men at a time. The plane had a wingspan of 320 feet and it was powered by eight propeller engines and was designed to take off and land on the water. It’s first and last flight was on November 2, 1947. It wasn’t originally intended to be a flight, but just a taxi trip on Long Beach Harbor. Howard Hughes decided on a whim to fly it. It flew 70 feet over the water for one mile before landing successfully.
Since me dad had built planes at Douglas Aircraft Company before going into the service during World War II, the Spruce Goose really intrigued him. It was such a novelty…whether it was supposed to be or not. When Mom and Dad were in McMinnville, Oregon, they finally had the opportunity to visit the Evergreen Aviation Museum and see the Spruce Goose for themselves. I can just hear the thoughts going through my dad’s head the moment he saw it. I’ll bet it was all he could do, not to jump up and down with excitement. I’m sure it was an awesome moment.
I don’t know if Dad ever saw the video of the first and only flight of the Spruce Goose or not, but I have had the chance to see it. It was amazing to see a plane with a wingspan that was longer than a football field actually be able to get in the air. To me though, it seemed like that flight took a lot of effort. I don’t think I would have wanted to trust it to fly the long distance flights to Europe and such. Still, it flew, and it is the largest plane, and no one can take those things away from the Spruce Goose.