The Spruce Goose and Evergreen Aviation Museum

By Pete van der Spek


An idea by leading ship builder during WW2, Henry Kaiser, approached Howard Hughes to build the biggest aircraft of its time and became the one and only
Spruce Goose.

The official name was the Hughes H-4 Hercules and had the registration of NX37602. It was designed as a strategic airlift flying boat and was intended as a transatlantic transport aircraft for use during WW2. It was not completed in time for the war and made only one very brief flight - on 2 November 1947.

The aircraft was made almost entirely of Birch and was christened the "Spruce Goose" by critics much to the annoyance of Howard Hughes. He was at the controls on that day in November and was supposed to do taxiing test but was so determined to prove that his aircraft could actually fly that he told his crew to hold on to their seats and did a short hop reaching just 21m high and a speed of 217kph, the flight lasted just 26 seconds. Hughes was vindicated and returned the aircraft to the shore and tied up. The aircraft never flew again.

It then spent many years in a geodesic dome which kept the aircraft in reasonably good shape. It was placed next to the Queen Mary ship at Long Beach, California.

Kitplanes for Africa

In 1980 the aircraft was acquired by the Aero Club of California. In 1988 the Walt Disney Company acquired the Long Beach attractions. In 1991, the company informed the Aero Club that they no longer wanted to display the aircraft and the search for a new owner began. Along came Delford and his son, Michael Smith, who had a plan to start a new aviation museum - which became the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum based in McMinnville, Oregon. They applied to take "ownership" of the Spruce Goose. After a protracted negotiation with the Aero Club of California, they got permission to become the new curators of this amazing piece of history.

A DC3 is dwarfed by the Spruce Goose

The building was designed around the huge dimensions of the H-4. The aircraft was transported by barge, train and truck to its new home. It was temporarily housed in a hangar until the new museum was built. While there, an extensive restoration was carried out. The museum was opened in 2001.

Having seen the aircraft myself, I can vouch for its huge size. The eight engines which power the aircraft are Pratt & Whitney R-4360 Wasp Majors - each engine has 28-cylinders producing 3000 hp per engine. The wingspan is 320ft (98m) and the fuselage length is 218ft (66m) - the height above the floor is 79ft (25m).

Great to see that this monster aircraft is in good hands and is very well displayed.

On a sadder note, Michael, who was a Captain in the USAF flying F-15's, was killed in a car crash in 1995. Delford was more determined to complete the museum in memory of his son. A bronze memorial of Michael stands at the entrance to the museum.

On the subject of Evergreen Museum itself, when I visited some years ago, they had a superb range of aircraft and spacecraft and artifacts. Since then, the museum has gone through tough times and some of the aircraft have been sold or taken back by the owners while others have been added.

The complex comprises of four main buildings - the main building that houses the Spruce Goose, the Korean, WW2 and early flight collections, the second building houses the space collection as well as helicopters and jets and the third building is a water park with a Boeing 747 atop the building. Four waterslides begin within the 747. The fourth smaller building has a digital theatre featuring a huge screen and multi-channel sound system showing 3D aviation and space movies.

The space collection has some iconic artifacts such as a replica Gemini capsule with tethered astronaut "floating in space" as well as a Lunar lander replica. There is also a Russian unmanned capsule. One of the most popular aircraft is the SR-71 with some of the possible payloads it could carry. Another most interesting featured artifact is the Titan II missile which is upright in the Space Hall and is placed in a specially constructed display extending two floors down so that the 114-foot (35 m) missile could be displayed in the building. There is also a replica X15 which looks like the real deal.

Outside, there are several aircraft from the jet era including a Blue Angels Grumman Cougar - not to be missed.

Notwithstanding the trials and tribulations of the museum, the visitor numbers have stayed constant, reviews on social media are always positive. If you find yourself in Oregon, pay the museum a visit, it is really worthwhile. Just to see the Spruce Goose is worth it.

I hope to visit the museum again next year and will report back at that stage.

Seaplane Base AirVenture 2009 to 2019


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