August 1935, after eighteen months of secret effort, they
rolled their creation out It into the California sunshine. A
closely cowled, superbly streamlined monoplane, the H-1
looked like a winner. Despite some opposition from the
others, Hughes did the testing himself; thus it was to be
with every plane Hughes ever built. (Later, in the case of
the XF-11, this practice would nearly cost him his life.)
The H-1 flew
beautifully and was far faster than any aircraft previously
built. Hughes determined to try to recapture the world
landplane speed record, which had been taken for France the
year before by Raymond Delmotte in a Caudron C-460 built in
French Air Ministry facilities at a cost of over a million
dollars. They tuned the Twin Wasp Jr. for maximum output
using newly developed 100 octane fuel especially shipped in
five-gallon containers from the Shell refinery in New
Orleans. In this way they got nearly 1,000 horsepower from
an engine nominally rated at 700.
13, 1935, at Santa Ana, California, representatives of the
National Aeronautics Association and the Internationale
Federation Aeronautique, including Amelia Earhart and
Hollywood stunt pilot Paul Mantz, clocked Hughes and his
racer at 352.39 miles per hour, nearly forty miles per hour
faster than the in existing record set by Delmotte." The
speed runs that day nearly ended in tragedy. As Hughes
completed his final mg so pass along the measured
three-kilometre course, the engine quit and the little
silver monoplane dropped out of sight into an adjoining
ploughed field. When Odekirk and other observers got there
Hughes was climbing down from the cockpit. Fortunately, the
plane was scarcely damaged; a crash would have voided a new
record. Later they found a wad of steel wool in a fuel line.
But according to Odekirk that did not stop the flow of
fuel-Hughes had run out of gas.
warned him to watch the time because he was only carrying a
minimum fuel load to keep his weight down. But Hughes had
been so intent on breaking the record that the engine quit
before he could switch to an auxiliary tank containing a
small reserve supply.
The Coast-to-Coast Record Falls
Hughes's next goal was to better the ten-hour coast-to-coast
record set by Roscoe Turner in the 1934 Bendix Trophy Race.
But it would be months before the H-1 could be repaired and
fitted with a longer wing for distance racing. So Hughes
looked with renewed interest at the new Northrop airplanes.
Famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran had
recently purchased a Northrop Gamma, a sleek advanced
monoplane she was readying for the Bendix race. Hughes
calculated that if he replaced the 1535 engine Cochran had
on the plane with the latest Wright Cyclone R-1820G 850
horsepower engine coupled with a Hamilton Standard variable
pitch propeller, he could easily better Turner's record. At
about eleven thirty one night the telephone rang in
Cochran's hotel room. She groped sleepily for the phone at
the bedside table.
"Jackie, this is Howard."
"Howard Hughes. "
She was tired and in no mood for practical jokes at what for
a working girl was a
late hour. "Aw, come off it. It's late and I'm tired."
"No, really. It's Howard. I want to buy your airplane."
''Well, it's not for sale," she said. "I'm going to fly it
in the Bendix."
"I don't want to fly it in the Bendix, I want to fly it
"So do I,'' said Jackie. Hughes wouldn't be put off. "Come
on out to Mines Field tomorrow, look at the racer and we'll
talk about it some
The offer to inspect Hughes's "fabulous"
racer was irresistible. She hadn't been able to keep her
eyes off it whenever she had seen Hughes exercising it.
"Aero-dynamically," Cochran says, "the plane was as far
apart from the then-accepted airplanes as the jets are from
the planes of World War II. I had been looking at this racer
with my mouth watering." She got to sit in the airplane-she
didn't get to fly it. Hughes, with his usual persistence,
kept trying for weeks to work out a deal for the Gamma that
she could not refuse. At that time Jackie was unmarried and
supported her aviation activities through her efforts in the
beauty and cosmetic business. Hughes knew that she was
terribly short of funds. Finally he offered to rent the
Gamma from her for nearly as much as she had paid for it. "I
couldn't afford not to rent it to him," she says. Meanwhile,
Hughes made eleven flights as a Douglas DC-2 co-pilot on
TWA's his transcontinental runs during 1935, apparently to
build his transcontinental
experience in preparation for the record attempt.
On January 13, 1936 Hughes flew the
modified Gamma from Burbank to Newark in nine hours and
twenty-seven minutes at an average speed of 259.1 miles per
hour for a new record. Then he went on to set intercity
records for New York-Miami and Chicago-Los Angeles.
"It just broke my heart," said Cochran,
"but I couldn't afford to do otherwise. Then the deadline
was up for him to either return the Gamma or to purchase it.
So he sent me a purchase check because he was in Chicago and
too busy to return the airplane, I guess. Then he turned
around and sold it back to me for much less a few days
later-and he did a lot of work on it for me for practically
nothing, which was interesting. He has a very interesting
For his achievements Hughes was awarded
the coveted Harmon trophy. On January 20, 1937 en-route
to the presentation ceremony he flew a revamped H-1, now
fitted with a longer wing and a new Pratt and Whitney R-1535
Wasp engine of 700 horsepower, from Burbank to Newark in
seven hours, twenty-eight minutes and thirty-five seconds.
(Hughes built two sets of wings for the H-1, one with a span
of only twenty-five feet-that he used to set the closed
course record, and the other with a span of thirty-one feet
nine inches that he used for his long-distance runs. The
wings were of wood and the fuselage was aluminium.) The
little racer averaged 327.15 miles per hour over the
2,490-mile course for a record that was to stand for ten
years. And he did it using only forty-eight percent power
because he to be sure and make it non-stop.
doors were difficult to see
when the gear was retracted.
H-1 had a great impact on the design of high performance
aircraft. Noteworthy were the close-fitting, bell-shaped
engine cowling, the gently curved wing that moulded the
wings to the fuselage, the retractable landing gear, the
extra smooth surfaces with countersunk rivets and flush
joints, ailerons that drooped 15 degrees when the flaps were
fully extended (thus increasing the lift along the full span
of the wing during takeoff and landing), and the smoothly
faired canopy for easy entrance and exit. The landing gear
was so perfectly fitted that the gear fairings
So important is the H-1 in the history of
flight technology that it is now enshrined at the
Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.,
where a plaque reads: "The Hughes H-1 racer was a major
milestone on the road to such radial-engine powered World
War II fighters as the American Grumman F6F Hellcat and
Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, the Japanese Mitsubishi Type 0
(Zero), and the German Focke-Wulf 190. The H-1 demonstrated
that properly designed radial engine aircraft could compete
with the lower-drag inline designs."
Hughes's development of the H-1 racer
made another vital contribution to American aviation,
according to Jacqueline Cochran. "He had a group of young
engineers working on that racer who became the backbone in
the development of our wartime aircraft. And at that time
they probably couldn't have gotten a job as a busboy in a
cafeteria. We were in the heart of the depression in our
country, and great talent would have just gone by the
wayside if he hadn't put up the money for the development of
that and many other things in aviation.... I have a lot of
respect for him, frankly, in spite of his eccentric
While Hughes was still on the East Coast
after his record-breaking transcontinental flight in the H-1
he was telephoned by General O. P. Echols, Commander of the
Army Air Corps' Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio, a centre for
Air Corps testing and procurement. Echols told Hughes that
the Air Corps was keenly interested in the H-1 because it
was faster than anything they had at the time. "Can you stop
by and let us see it on your way back to California?" Hughes
agreed and Echols arranged for a group of top brass to be on
hand to meet him.
According to Noah Dietrich, there now
occurred the first of several incidents that would poison
the minds of key Army Air Corps officers against Hughes for
years to come. He over-flew Wright
Field, gassed up in Chicago, and continued on to California.
Echols, who later became Chief of Air Corps procurement,
never forgot the snub. He vowed that Howard Hughes would
never get a "dime's worth of business" from him. Hughes told
Dietrich that he just forgot to stop in Dayton. Dietrich
thought the snub was intentional, that Howard simply "didn't
want those generals snooping around his airplane and
stealing his ideas."
Such an incident did occur, according to
the testimony given in the 1947 Senate hearings, but not in
the way Dietrich recalls in his book. According to
information in Hughes's logbooks Hughes did not fly the
racer home. The plane sat in Newark until Allen Russell,
corporate pilot for William Randolph Hearst, flew it back to
At approximately 7:15 AM, July 9,
2002, the Wright built Hughes H-1B, serial #2 became
airborne for the first time. The dream of one man became a
reality because of the hard work, dedication and
perseverance of a talented team of individuals.
On the morning of September the 13th,
2002, Jim Wright piloted the Hughes Racer Replica to a new
world speed record (category C-1.d) of 304.07 mph. The H-1
Racer has once again earned a place in the record books.
August 28, 2002
By Dennis J. Parker
I had to smile a little during testing of the Hughes H-1B
(serial #2) the other day. The airplane was built from
scratch by a small group of dedicated individuals sometimes
referred to as "The Racer Team". As usual the airplane drew
a small, unexpected crowd and (as usual) there were grins
from ear to ear. I was humoured by a gentleman's comment,
"They don't make 'em like that anymore." I was humoured
because the gentleman was wrong. We did make one - and then
we flew it.
Howard Hughes was the builder of the original Hughes H-1B
(serial #1), which now sits in the Smithsonian Institute in
Washington DC. Back in 1935 he flew that aircraft to a new
land speed record and for a brief period of time was the
fastest person ever to pilot a land airplane. He was a man
with remarkable ambition who built his dreams for himself
instead of waiting for the world to create them for him. He
was also a secretive man. His life and his accomplishments
are somewhat of a mystery, and the H-1 is no exception. The
history books only touch briefly on the H-1, an airplane
that Hughes reportedly considered one of his greatest
Hughes shattered two world records in the original H-1
before he retired the aircraft, eventually donating it to
the Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institute in
Washington D.C. where it sits in a place of honor. After
setting the transcontinental speed record in 1937, Howard
Hughes would never again fly the H-1 Racer. The public would
have to wait almost 65 years to see an H-1 fly again. That
happened at 7:15 A.M. on July 9, 2002, when serial number
two flew for the first time.
Unravelling the history of the H-1 and of Hughes during that
era was an intriguing challenge. The impact that the
original aircraft had on aviation made it a natural choice
for a team that wanted to build a one of a kind
reproduction. Barely forty hours were flown on the original.
Yet, according to the Smithsonian Institute, "The Hughes H-1
racer was a major milestone aircraft on the road to such
radial engine-powered World War II fighters as the American
Grumman F6F Hellcat and Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, the
Japanese Mitsubishi Type 0 (Zero), and the German Focke-WuIf
FW 190." The H-1 broke the world speed record at 352 mile
per hour, could fly from standard runways, had practical
flight characteristics, and had an almost unimaginable range
of nearly 4000 miles! Hughes flew the H-1 from Los Angeles
California to Newark New Jersey in 7 hours 23 minutes
without stopping for fuel. That was fast enough to capture
the world record, and that was in 1937!
Since the goal of the Racer Team was to recreate the
aircraft as precisely as possible, the Team needed access to
the original. Using Paul Matt drawings of The Racer,
estimates were made regarding fuselage and wing shape. Then
reverse templates were cut using these estimates. The
Smithsonian graciously allowed members of The Team access to
the H-1 outside of normal business hours to make
measurements. The reverse templates were held up to the
actual H-1, and notes were made where they did not match.
Several trips to Washington D.C. were required during the
design phase. With each trip, the Racer Team gained new
appreciation for the genius of Howard Hughes. Whatever else
Hughes may have been, his genius in aircraft design was
Hundreds of pictures were taken, and pages upon pages of
notes were made. While this work was being done, hundreds of
man-hours were spent in research. It seemed like everyone
that had any knowledge of the original H-1 was eager to
help. We were impressed with companies such as Pratt &
Whitney, Stoddard Hamilton, and others who happily opened
their historical archives to help us understand Hughes and
the H-1 better. We learned from the historian at Pratt &
Whitney, Jack Connors, the history of the R-1535 that we
have, as well as the history of the original that sits on
the H-1 in the Smithsonian. They actually have documented
history on each and every engine that they have built. It
turns out that Pratt & Whitney had leased the engine to
Hughes for the record-breaking attempt. Mr. Connors noted
(with a chuckle) that there was no record that Hughes ever
actually paid Pratt & Whitney for the engine!
We learned from an original test engineer on the R-1535,
Skip Eveleth, that in his opinion the engine was one of the
most trouble free twin row engines built. Skip worked
directly with Howard Hughes on the project. Skip was a test
engineer on the R-1535 in the 1930's and assisted in
tracking down the original performance figures for the
R-1535 for our Racer Team. There were less than 3000 of the
R-1535 engines made, and today they are exceedingly rare.
Most are believed to have been destroyed. We believe that
the engine installed on the Racer replica is the only known
flying example of a P&W R-1535 in the world.
Howard was anxious to work with Skip to obtain performance
figures on the engine. At the time these were considered
classified. Apparently Pratt & Whitney wanted Hughes to have
the data, despite the classification. According to Skip,
Howard was directed to an office that by "sheer coincidence"
had the performance figures laid open upon the desk. Howard
was instructed to wait in the room while they reviewed his
request for the data. Skip's boss returned a short time
later to inform Hughes that his request for the information
was denied. With a grin Hughes replied that he would no
longer need it. Skip also recalled, (with a chuckle) that
when Howard Hughes called him to discuss the data, that he
called him collect. Skip asked his boss if he could accept
collect calls to which his boss replied, "Only from Howard
We had many discussions with one of the original design
engineers on the H-1, Mr. John Newbury. John revealed much
about the project, and what it was like to work for Howard.
Apparently Howard had a habit of wearing sneakers, which
allowed him to walk about very quietly. Howard would often
stealthily enter a work area to monitor his staff without
being detected. He was not always successful with this
though. John recalled with humour that at times Howard would
go a considerable time between washings of his sneakers -
the odour of which would then betray his presence.
We spent several hundred man-hours trying to locate the
original blueprints. We had several leads and tips, and
tracked the prints as far as Lakeland Florida.
Unfortunately, we failed to locate them. This challenged the
design team to "back engineer" the structures in the
aircraft that are hidden from view. Considerable engineering
time went into the reproduction. Old photos of the internal
wing structure were pored over. Additionally, we were able
to obtain the wind tunnel data done on the original aircraft
(GALCIT report #135). The Hughes team spent over 90 days at
the wind tunnel at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory,
California Institute of Technology (GALCIT). Howard Hughes
did not make guesses or leave things to chance. He was
insistent that things got done right, regardless of the
The implementation phase overlapped the planning/design
phase for the building of the replica. Major factors
involved were the coordination of subcontractors, selecting
talented and compatible team members, coordination with
suppliers, and managing the hundreds of visitors. The
coordination of subcontractors was sometimes challenging as
time estimates were often exceeded. All tolled over 35,000
man-hours went into the replica. Some of the most talented
artisans in the industry were employed on the project.
Selecting team members was straightforward. All were local
pilots, all had experience with completing experimental
aircraft projects (some award winning), and two are
certified aircraft mechanics. A total of five team members
constituted the main team: Jim Wright, Ron Englund,
Dave Payne, Mike Mann, and Al Sherman. Support to the team
is provided by employees of Wright Machine Tool.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Local radio
personality and pilot, Bill Barret, expressed his views in
an open comment posted to the Racer Team on their forum.
Bill was present at one of the initial flights and said,
"... I tried to express to Jim (Wright), how much the H-1
project demonstrates the sometimes intangible American
Spirit. I was in the Saturday throng that watched and
listened with childlike excitement as Jim taxied out for
take-off. When the H-1 surged off the runway and climbed
powerfully into the blue, I was proud to see their dream
realized. Although tucked away in a small hangar in Cottage
Grove, Oregon this project speaks loud and clear to the
spirit of America. Individuals grasping a challenge and
seeing it become a gleaming reality. Jim and dedicated crew
saw the goal, and did the hard work with obvious skill and
patience. I was delighted to see the H-1 fly and to share
its' story with my children ..."
It is difficult to capture (in words) the scope of an
undertaking like this. I have been around a lot of
experimental aircraft. Building an aircraft is not easy. It
has been likened by some to climbing a mountain. In that
sense the H-1B is the Mount Everest of experimental
homebuilt aircraft. It has taken the talents of dozens of
people to make it all come together. It has taken stubborn
patience, hard work and an unprecedented attention to detail
to reproduce this airplane. The list of talents employed to
complete the project include: machinists, engineers, wood
workers, metal workers, mechanics, assemblers, painters,
electricians, secretaries and computer draftsmen. Above all
else, it took the dream of one man who wanted to be the
fastest man in the world, and the later dream of another who
wanted to recreate that vision.
I was once asked why anybody would want to tackle such a
project. There really isn't a single canned answer to this.
This aircraft is many different things to different people.
It is tough to put into words. There is something timeless
about the aircraft. It exudes an aura unlike any other
aircraft that I have seen. My suggestion to those that might
ask why is this: take a look for yourself at the Wright
built Hughes H-1B. Get up close to the airplane and see what
those guys built. If you still have to ask why, you wouldn't
understand the answer.
4, 2003, while attempting an emergency landing in
Yellowstone National Park, Jim Wright veered his Hughes H-1
replica away from people on the ground, guiding the aircraft
to a point that would present no danger to anyone else. The
aircraft exploded on impact and was completely destroyed.
Jim Wright did not survive.