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It is hard to write anything new or fresh about Howard Hughes. He, like many of his contemporaries who signed our Registers, for example Jimmy Doolittle, Amelia Earhart, Pancho Barnes, or Charles Lindbergh, is the subject of a good many books, stories, articles, movies and Web pages. For the latter, there are 1.4 million Google hits for Howard Hughes at the time of upload of this page. His reputation precedes him, and he was indeed a monumental character during the Golden Age of flight and beyond. Today, unfortunately, he's generally remembered mostly for his eccentricities, rather than his considerable successes and achievements in aviation and most of his other business endeavors.
Let's start this page with a few things you probably haven't seen before. The photograph, right, is from Hughes' passport application dated July 11, 1924. It was his first passport, for his first trip abroad. This two-page application (PDF 815Kb) is interesting as it describes him as 6'2", high forehead, small mouth, brown hair, round chin, oval face, ruddy complexion, brown eyes and straight nose. His intention with the passport was to travel to Europe with his god-mother to visit "England, Italy, France Switzerland, Belgium, Germany." He was 18 years old.
There was some urgency in his request, as cited in the letter at left from Hughes to the passport office. His boat was leaving on July 19th!
I have only one source (REFERENCE, p.13) that says he went on this trip, but it says the trip was made before his father died (see below), and he was accompanied by a chaperone named Dudley Sharp, who may or may not somehow be related to Mrs. W.B. Sharp, mentioned in this letter.
However, the date of this letter, and the departure date of his "steamer," are both clearly after the passing of his father. Further, immigration records that I examined cite Hughes aboard the S.S. Mauritania from Cherbourg arriving at the Port of New York on September 5, 1924.
For our purposes, though, Howard Hughes is represented once in the Clover Field Register. He landed sometime between April 27-29, 1929 (he didn't list the date or time, home base or his destination).
To his landing at Santa Monica, he flew the Waco ASO he identified as NC3574. He arrived at Clover Field from "San Fernando, CA," probably Caddo Field. Please direct your browser to the airplane's link to learn about what NC3547 meant to Hughes, and about the chain of custody and fate of this robust airplane.
Given the frequent flights in many aircraft Hughes clearly made during the 1930s, it's frustrating to think he probably landed other times at Santa Monica, or at Glenview, or maybe even at Tucson, but he just didn't take the time to sign our Registers. Without his pilot log books, we'll never know. I have seen a couple of online references to the existence (but not the location) of his pilot log books. Does anyone KNOW where they might be?
He did sign the Oxnard Field Register in Albuquerque, NM flying his Beechcraft, NC12583. He visited there on Monday, August 5, 1935. The Oxnard Register will be the subject of a future Web site by Delta Mike Airfield, Inc.
A quick Web search will reveal Hughes' short list of constructive life interests including motion picture producer (Academy Award nominee), entrepreneur (real estate, manufacturing, medical R&D), record-setting pilot (he earned the Harmon [1936 & 1938] & Collier  Trophies), political manipulator (for airway safety), and philanthropist (Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Miami, FL & Chevy Chase, MD).
Similarly, his not so constructive interests were philanderer (with numerous women and, allegedly, men), political manipulator (Presidents Johnson & Nixon bribes*) and monopolist (oil drill bit, airline & movie businesses). Another unsavory part of his lifestyle was staunch racism and anti-Semitism. He was a strong supporter of Republican causes. Anyone who has taken a psychology course might hypothesize reasons for his drives and behaviors in adulthood. But, that is not the purpose of this page.
*On November 22, 1987, The New York Times quoted an interview with Jeb Magruder, Nixon's 1972 campaign director, on the motivation for the Watergate burglary as follows, "Mr. Magruder flatly confirmed the theory. 'As far as I know,' he said, 'the primary purpose of the break-in was to deal with the information that has been referred to about Howard Hughes and Larry O'Brien, and what that meant as far as the cash that had been supposedly given to Bebe Rebozo and spent later by the President possibly.''' The "cash" was $100,000 given to Rebozo to curry favor with the Nixon Administration regarding Hughes' anti-trust matters.
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. (some sources spell his middle name "Robart") was born in Houston, TX on December 24, 1905. Some sources give Christmas Day; others a date in September. So, the mysteries surrounding his life began early.
Regardless, the 1910 U.S. Census places him and his family in the Rice Hotel, 520 Main St. Houston, TX. His father (age 42), mother Allene Gano Hughes (spelled Aline by the Census taker) and Howard, Jr. (4) are listed as "roomers" at the hotel. His father's occupation was identified as "Operator" in the "Fuel Oil" business. Bigger things were to come for the family. Photograph, left, from The New York Times. Other photographs of Hughes are posted online at the SDAM Flickr stream linked from the reference in the left sidebar.
The 1920 U.S. Census, taken on January 3, 1920, cites him as 14 years old and born in "Texas." He lived with his father and mother and his aunt, Annette Gano. They lived at 3921 Yoakum Boulevard, Houston, TX. This location is now a building on the campus of St. Thomas University. No trace of a home is visible via Google Earth.
Hughes' father was an inventor, and his occupation was listed in this Census as "manufacturer" in the "oil well supplies" business. Howard, Sr., with his business, Hughes Tool Company ("Toolco"), had amassed a fortune over the past decade by leasing one of his inventions, an efficient tool bit for drilling oil wells. This fortune was ultimately the source of Howard, Jr's. wealth.
Unexpectedly, both his parents passed away (mother 3/28/23; father 1/14/24) shortly after this Census was taken. That explains why, in the letter above, he proposed traveling with his god-mother. In fact, this trip may indeed have been planned by Mrs. Sharp to take Howard's mind off his losses, within a year, of both parents in his teen years.
It's not that he didn't have things on his mind during his 18th year. His father's will bequeathed half his estate to his wife and a quarter to Howard (the other quarter to be distributed among other family members). Since his mother had passed, and his father hadn't rewritten his will, three-quarters of the inheritance now went to Howard, Jr. Then, by the end of 1924, at age 19, he had bought out other family members' interests in Toolco. He owned the entire business.
Hughes was married the first time on June 1, 1925 to Ella Rice. He felt being married would give him, a 20 year old, an image of maturity and stability as he moved in his growing business world. He was divorced in 1929. He would not marry again until 1957 (to actress Jean Peters, 1926-2000). Their marriage lasted until 1971.
Thus, in 1924-25, he began the life of fabulous wealth and diverse influence he would lead and manage until his death. And what a life it was! In the late 1920s he tried his luck with motion pictures. His timing in that industry was at the critical transition between silent and sound films. He made several successful silent films, then began his opus magnum, a WWI aviation film titled "Hell's Angels" (left) as a silent epic. Filming began October 31, 1927 while films were still silent. "Hell's Angels" took over two years to complete.
The news clipping, right, from The New York Times, May 11, 1930, describes the magnitude of the project, compounded by the fact that Hughes switched from a silent to a sound film mid-production. What was already an expensive endeavor became all the more expensive by adding sound.
Note that Bill "Bojangles" Robinson (1878-1949) gets a shout out in the filler at lower right of the article. Use of the word "colored" to describe Robinson is irrelevant to his already well-established talent. It is characteristic of the subtle racism found in media of the era. Robinson would make his staircase dance more famous in February, 1935 when he danced the stairs with Shirley Temple.
At $4,000,000, "Hell's Angels" was the most expensive film to-date, by any producer. Some Register pilots, the actor Ben Lyon (February 6, 1901–March 22, 1979), for example, were employed by Hughes, and they earned some of the $328,000 in salaries. Others flew some of the 87 airplanes used, including Roscoe Turner and J.B. Alexander. Pancho Barnes lent her airplane's sounds to the movie by flying passes in front of an array of microphones.
Further, a month later the Los Angeles premier of the film at the Grauman Chinese Theater was a social and Hollywood event that is famous to this day. The New York TImes, June 8, 1930, below, described the gala. Note mention of Register pilots Roscoe Turner and Ben Lyon (last name misspelled in the article). The third column of the article transitions to Mary Pickford, who had nothing to do with "Hell's Angels."
Although the final economics were conjectured, Hughes eventually earned double his investment in "Hell's Angels." The film is available on DVD today and is still a spectacular movie.
For a brief time in 1932, Hughes became a salaried employee with American Airways (just before it was renamed American Airlines). Below, he is dressed in an American Airways uniform. Photograph courtesy of the San Diego Aerospace Museum Flickr Stream (SDAM).
The story of his brief airline employment is found in this REFERENCE, page 22.The authors state, "Hughes disappeared for two months during the summer of 1932. His action was to add to his aerial knowledge and skill by flying, under the assumed name of Charles W. Howard, as a crew member for American Airways. He made his first flight on 8 July 1932, occupying the right-hand seat as the copilot on the route from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Before long he was assigned to the Fort Worth-Cleveland run, at what was then, for ordinary mortals, an excellent salary of $250 a month. In addition to his flying duties, Howard helped passengers with their luggage and happily collected boarding passes. The work introduced Howard to airline operations, meteorology, and navigation. It was superb training while it lasted. He was fired after three weeks when the airline discovered that he was not Charles Howard and had falsified his identity and credentials. Working as a pilot for the airlines was the only salaried job that he ever held, and did nothing to help his divorce settlement. But the experience must have been marvelously thereputic."
Not surprisingly, besides Hughes, many Hollywood types were getting involved in aviation during the 1930s. Besides the ones highlighted above, the article at left from Popular Aviation (PA), October, 1933, listed others, among them actor and Register pilot Wallace Beery.
Cowboy actor Hoot Gibson, while he signed no Registers, did have his airplane, the Blackhawk NC730K, recorded twice in the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register during 1930-31. Please direct your browser to the link for photographs of the airplane and of Gibson. None of the other people cited in the article, other than Hughes, are signers of the Registers.
Hughes' next cinematic effort was a gangster movie titled "Scarface," starring Paul Muni as the title character. "Scarface" was attacked by film board critics because they felt it glorified the gangster lifestyle and was too gory. However, through lawsuits and selective screenings in states with less formal censorship, Hughes was able to distribute his movie. In succeeding years, Hughes was vindicated. "Scarface" won awards and a place in the U.S. National Film Registry.
The article, below, from The New York Times, March 13, 1932 describes some of the challenges Hughes faced in bringing "Scarface" to the screen. Not only censors, but jaded audiences were among the hurdles overcome by Hughes.
After "Scarface" was released and after 1932, his involvement in the movie business took a more or less back seat in his life. Hughes went on to be involved in several dozen films into the 1960s, such as "Outlaw," but only as "producer" and "without credits" involvement. Toolco owned RKO into the 1950s.
After the movies, he made at least two other trips out of the country. Further to his international travel, immigration records show he returned by ship, the "Bremen" from Southampton, England, on November 8, 1933, and on the "Monarch of Bermuda," from Hamilton, Bermuda on April 17, 1936. I have no details around why he visited either place. If you can shed light on those trips, please let me KNOW.
In the last half of the 1930s Hughes became more involved in aeronautical record setting. One of his first attempts was with a modified Boeing 100 (NC247K). Normally a military aircraft, Hughes managed to purchase and modify it for air racing. The New York Times, January 15,1934 documents his victory in a 20-mile free-for-all race at the Miami All-American Air Meet in Florida. He averaged 185.707MPH over the course, nearly lapping his nearest competitor. But he was interested in more speed.
In order to support this interest, he established Hughes Aircraft Company as a division of Toolco. Always a wannabe aeronautical engineer, he hired a designer and engineer and commissioned a one-off racer known as the Hughes H-1A. It was the first aircraft built by the Hughes Aircraft Company. Hughes flew his H-1A to a land plane speed record in September, 1935 (over 350MPH).
In January, 1936, Hughes set a transcontinental record with a different airplane, a Northrop Gamma with a new Wright Cyclone G engine. He fueled up with 700 gallons of gasoline at Union Air Terminal, Burbank, CA and departed for Newark, NJ. After flying through close weather and turbulence that knocked his compass needle off the spindle, he landed at Newark after nine hours and change. He had shaved 35 minutes from Roscoe Turner's record set in 1934. Oddly, The New York Times celebrated his cross-country feat very simply, with the brief article at right. On April 21, 1936, Hughes flew the Gamma from Miami, FL to Floyd Bennett Field, NY, NY in four hours, 21 minutes and 32 seconds. This set the speed record between those two cities.
Meanwhile, his H-1 was in the shop for structural changes. In 1937, with modifications for longer flights, he set yet another transcontinental record with his Hughes H-1B (the difference between A and B was longer wings on the B) flying from Los Angeles to Newark, NJ in 7 hours and 28 minutes (average speed, 322MPH). This flight reduced his personal best, in the Northrop Gamma, right, by almost two hours.
Numerous photographs of his H-1 racer are online. One was on the cover of Popular Aviation (PA), July, 1936, left. Hughes never flew the H-1 again. It was retired to a quonset hut in southern California after only 42 hours of flight time. The original H-1 was donated by Hughes in 1975 and rests on display today at the National Air & Space Museum (object ID: A19750840000).
Another photograph of the H-1, below, comes to us courtesy of SDAM. The unusual angle of this image gives a good appreciation of the streamlined shape, and of the long legs needed to clear the propeller from the ground.
A beautiful replica of the H-1A was built and flown first in 2002 and exhibited at Oskosh, WI in 2003. Unfortunately, this spectacular airplane crashed in 2003 after a propeller failure over Yellowstone Park. Its owner and builder, Jim Wright, was killed. A home video of the replica racer is at the link. The story of plane and pilot at the last moments before crash is at the link. And, finally, the final report of the crash from the National Transportation and Safety Board is at the link.
In 1938, Hughes flew a Lockheed 14 Super Electra, which he had modified and equipped with extra fuel tanks, navigation and radio equipment, around the world with a crew of four. This flight was not taken lightly, as it was in preparation and planning for a couple of years, even while his earlier record flights, above, were in progress.
For example, he requested permission to make his global flight in 1936. The New York Times, August 14, 1936 documented the request, above, as well as the fact that he had acquired an aircraft radio license. The secretive nature of this flight was also alluded to. Other articles speculated.
The New York Times, June 25, 1938, right, spelled out more details concerning the flight. Note that the first leg of his flight from New York to Paris, would be the first time that route was flown nonstop since Lindbergh did it first in 1927 (the NY to Paris leg of Hughes' flight took 16 hours, about half of Lindbergh's time). The Times of July 9th, left, announced the possibility of departure that day, left.
The pilot and crew actually departed on the 10th, returning on the 14th after flying 14,672 miles and experiencing five sunrises in three days, 19 hours, 14 minutes and 10 seconds (this was because Hughes, flying in the same direction that the Earth was turning on its axis, actually outdistanced it one complete lap). This was a new world record, beating Wiley Post's record set six years earlier by almost half.
Of interest is that this flight was sponsored in part by the New York World's Fair, which was to be held in New York City in 1939. Part of Hughes' enroute duty was to advertise the Fair and invite people from foreign countries to visit New York.
Below, from the New Haven (CT) Register (NHR), is a photograph of Hughes and his crew before their flight departed New York.
The people are identified (L to R), Hughes, Grover Whalen, president of the New York World's Fair of 1939 and not a part of the flight (see below), Harry P.M. Connor, co-navigator, Richard Stoddart, radio engineer and Thomas Thurlow, co-navigator. The fourth crew member, mechanic and flight engineer Edward Lund, is not in this photo.
That this flight was a big deal at the time is verified by the reception Hughes and his crew were given in New York when they returned. They were fêted with a tickertape parade and meetings with VIPs. One example is above, left, from the New Haven Register, showing Hughes and Davis-Monthan Airfield Register pilot Lowell Smith in 1938.
To Hughes, the completion of the flight was more of a technical triumph than a triumph over time and distance. His motivation was to demonstrate the technical feasibility of safe, long-range flight by transport aircraft. After the flight, some of the crew saw opportunity to commercialize their roles. The article at right, from Popular Aviation, July, 1939, probably reflects Hughes' desire to let the flight stand on its merit, rather than divert attention to publicity for him or his crew members.
Hughes wasn't the only one to feel that way. In an article that appeared in The New York Times, left, July 15, 1938, the day after they returned to New York, the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce termed the flight a, "... true scientific triumph."
Grover Whalen, president of the New York World's Fair, used the science pitch on Hughes when he convinced him to associate the flight with the World's Fair. The article, below, right, from The New York Times, July 18, 1938, describes the planning and forethought that went into Whalen's work with Hughes to gain his agreement.
After the flight, Hughes and crew remained in seclusion in New York and rested. They attended dinners and events and were bestowed with awards.
Later in the week the crew made their way back to Los Angeles via Chicago, IL and Houston, TX. They were greeted warmly at each city. Almost concurrently, a discussion of Hughes' next planned trip emerged. It was planned for South America, but details were not set, and, as far as I can determine, the flight was never made.
During August, Hughes and crew crossed the U.S. again with their experimental Lockheed, this time testing a new type of oxygen mask for high-altitude flight. Coincidentally, they set a new trans-continental speed record for transport aircraft (10 hours, 32 minutes, 20 seconds). The record was superfluous to Hughes, who stated, "I'm not interested in any more records." He was focused on developing a workable oxygen mask and used the cross-country flight to do the testing.
In August, 1940, Hughes sold his experimental Lockheed to Charles Babb, who in turn sold it to the British for use in war transport. It was used for courier service between London and Egypt. I do not know its ultimate fate (registration number NX18973).
Thus, in a few short years, between 1936 and 1938, either through original design and manufacture, or through meticulous enhancement or modification of existing equipment, Hughes made huge impacts on aircraft speed and utility. His H-1, although retired with very few flight hours, had run away with speed records, and led the way to aircraft construction techniques that would be incorporated in other ships for increased speed and efficiency. It is rumored, but without tangible proof, that the design of the H-1 made its way into warplanes during WWII. And news headlines after the completion of his around-the-world flight read, for example, "NEW STIMULUS TO OCEAN FLYING IS SEEN IN RECORD HUGHES FLIGHT."
What could be next for Howard Hughes? At left, from May 11, 1939, we find him essentially putting his money where his mouth is by purchasing the controlling stake in TWA. If he believed that transport aircraft were fast, safe and the thing of the future, what better way to prove it than to have a financial position in a successful air transport company?
Jack Frye and Paul Richter, both Davis-Monthan Airfield Register pilots, had been in the airline business for about thirteen years. Most of their landings at Tucson were on behalf of their nascent Standard Airlines, which they founded in Los Angeles. Standard became, through a series of mergers, a core component of TWA. Please direct your browser to the links for Frye and Richter for the history of Standard Airlines and the mergers. In March, 1940, Hughes increased his share in TWA to 30%.
The 1940 U.S. Census, taken April 13, 1940, locates Hughes, age 35, at 1509 Branard Street, Houston, TX. This time he is at the home of uncle Jack Stallings, his wife, their children and two lodgers. Hughes' marital status is cited (last column) as divorced (he had been divorced over a decade by then). However, in the margin on the Census document (near the "73" at the left edge of the image below) it lists Hughes' residence as his Yoakum Boulevard address, 3921. I am not sure why, at this late date, his Census data places him in Texas. He might have been visiting there on April 13th.
During WWII, Hughes and his companies backed the U.S. war effort. Besides contracts to manufacture ammunition feeds for machine guns, one major project was directed toward designing and manufacturing a large transport aircraft to carry troops and cargo. The Atlantic was fraught with submarines early in the war, and it was thought that a large cargo craft could carry troops and supplies more safely.
The HK-1, so named initially for both of its proponents (article, right) was a giant, multiengine seaplane. The contract for three aircraft was let and announced on September 19th. One craft would be used for static tests; the others for flight tests. Although the airplane was the brainchild of Kaiser, he knew nothing of airplanes, so he abdicated the design and manufacture to Hughes.
Note at the bottom of the article it says that, "...materials were not available." That meant aluminum. The airplanes had to be built without aluminum, which was a critical resource during WWII. Kaiser (west coast builder of Liberty ships for the war effort) and Hughes were forced to design and manufacture with the use of a birch wood and plastic laminate called Duramold.
It took 16 months for the first airplane to be constructed, which frustrated Kaiser who was used to manufacturing Liberty ships very quickly using a modular process he developed. He dropped out of the contract in 1944, leaving Hughes to work it on his own. Hughes renamed his project the H-4 Hercules. The H-4 Hercules never flew during WWII, and the other two aircraft were never built.
In the end, it was a project that got Hughes a contentious Senate hearing and significant out-of-pocket expenses (about $17 million). The Senate hearing in August, 1947 revolved around the question of Hughes' alleged misappropriation of government funds (which amounted to $22 million by 1947) for designing and building an aircraft that never flew.
The back story is this. Hughes' main adversary at the hearing, Senator Ralph Owen Brewster was being bribed by Pan American Airlines to bring Hughes to court for war profiteering. Brewster met with Hughes and told him the charges would go away if he would sell TWA to its competitor, Pan-American. After successfully defending himself from the senator's (and Pan Am's) accusation, Hughes financed the senatorial candidate running against Brewster when he was up for re-election. Brewster lost, and his political career was ended. Hughes' responses to Brewster and the Senate committee are on YouTube and elsewhere and I leave it up to you to find them and enjoy Hughes' performance.
In November, 1947, Hughes did, indeed, fly the H-4. A video of its first and only flight is at the link. Since it never flew again, nothing is known about its handling or altitude performance. The pilots among you will say the airplane didn't even get out of ground effect, so there's no saying it could fly at all at an altitude above its wing span from the ground. Regardless, until he died, Hughes kept the HK-1/H-4 stored and in flying condition.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, books and articles about Hughes increased rapidly during the 1930s and dropped down a little during the 1940s and 50s. They skyrocketed again, massing toward the end of the 20th century, as illustrated in the Google N-Gram plot below. Writings about him appear to be decreasing as we work our way through the second decade of the 21st century.
A graphic of Hughes' holdings, charted as of 1968, is below from the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL).
Near the end of his life, Howard Hughes' businesses spanned the continent in five states, providing livelihood and prosperity to thousands of people. His airline and moving picture interests are not charted above, but they contributed immeasurably to the U.S. entertainment and transportation infrastructures.
Many of his interests were sold posthumously, and the Hughes heirs finally terminated the Hughes business empire on February 22, 1996 with the sale of vast tracts of land and buildings in Las Vegas, NV and in Los Angeles. Even though Hughes heirs are no longer involved, some of his aviation interests and his Medical Institute are still in operation forty years after his passing on April 5, 1976.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 09/05/14 REVISED: 12/03/14