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SPRUCE GOOSE

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AVIATOR
HUGHES SPRUCE GOOSE

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The Spruce Goose or Hughes H4 Hercules as it was originally named was built by the Aero Telemetry engineering design team for the movie The Aviator. It would be 1/16 scale to the original, spanning 20 feet and weigh in at around 200 pounds. It featured eight counter-rotating, gear-reduced electric motors.

 

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Photo courtesy of Miramax Films

SPRUCE GOOSE HISTORY

 

Howard Hughes began building the Spruce Goose or H4 Hercules as it was originally named in the early 1940’s.  It was to be a large transport plane for the US military.  Because of wartime restrictions on raw materials, Mr. Hughes was unable to use metals such as aluminum to construct the H4’s enormous structure.  Instead he chose to build the giant plane out of wood.

 

Over budget and behind schedule many began to question if the giant plane would every fly.  With its incredibly large fuselage and the fact that it was made of wood, the Hughes H4 Hercules resembled that of a boat and not a plane. Media and skeptics began calling the behemoth the Spruce Goose and the name stuck.  Howard hated the name, and after being under such scrutiny he ordered the plane to be transported to a dry dock in the Long Beach Harbor. 

The Spruce Goose was driven in sections to the Harbor and would be reassembled once it reached Long Beach.  Finally on November 2, 1947 in front of hundreds of onlookers and media, Howard Hughes unveiled his monster plane.  It taxied for all to see in the waters of the harbor, but then with Mr. Hughes as the controls he surprised everyone as he pushed the plane up to 90 miles per hour, pulled up and set the giant into flight.

The Spruce Goose flew 70 feet above the water for just over 1 mile and for approximately 1 minute.

Howard Hughes proved to all the skeptics that his plane could indeed fly.  It was its maiden flight, yet it was also its only flight.

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SPRUCE GOOSE DESIGN & BUILD

 

Spanning 20 feet, the Spruce Goose wing was constructed mainly from wood. Spruce and Finnish Birch, were the primary components and balsa was used for the leading edge. The main inner spar was machined out of 3/8 thick aluminum plate with lightning holes and designed to act as an I-Beam style spar. Hexcell caps were added to the spar for superior strength and flexibility.

 

The entire tail section (horizontal and vertical stabilizers) was designed and built in-house as well as the control surfaces, (elevator and rudder) which were constructed out of balsa wood with foam core to save weight.

The fuselage for this model was also built entirely by Aero Telemetry personnel. The two fuselage halves were carefully layed-up with fiberglass and carbon fiber. Aerocell reinforcement between the fuselage bulkheads was used to provide a lightweight but strong mount for the one-piece monster wing.

The original Spruce Goose, designed by Howard Hughes and his talented engineering staff, incorporated several ingenious designs to allow the world's largest airplane to fly.  Like Howard Hughes and his team, Joe Bok and his engineering staff incorporated several ingenious designs into their version of the Spruce Goose.

The aerodynamic profile of the wing, engine thrust-lines, CG location, main airfoil angle of attack, incidence angles (between wing and horizontal stabilizer), counter-rotating propellers, and vertical stabilizer offset angles were just a few of the critical design criteria addressed and implemented correctly by the Aero Telemetry engineering design team. All these specific details contributed directly to the success and margin of safety exemplified in all the flights of the Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose in the Long Beach Harbor on November 23rd and 24th of 2003.

Its primary mission would be to take off from the Pacific Ocean and fly in a manner that would allow The Aviator camera crew to film a recreation of the original flight. The Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose would be flown from the Long Beach Harbor in the exact location where Howard Hughes once flew his beloved airplane almost 60 years ago to the day.

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SPRUCE GOOSE MOTORS

Because of the constaints of not being able to start a gas engine in the water (easily) or being allowed to have anything protruding our of the engine nacelles, it was decided that electric motors would have to power the huge model.

 

Don Holfeldt, Walt Cloer, and George Peters, all local RC electric motor experts, were brought onboard by Joe Bok to help with the motor selection for the Spruce Goose. This team of motor experts assisted the Aero Telemetry team in coming up with the design of the high level system and helped implement and test the motors during the project.

 

When the time came to fly the Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose the motors and corresponding flight systems performed flawlessly. The power provided by these small motors was postively awesome. The H-4 Hercules featured starboard engines turning clockwise and the port-wing engines running counterclockwise for directional stability during take-off and flight.

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SPRUCE GOOSE FLIGHTS

Click here to see the video of our Spruce Goose model in flight.

Our beautiful Spruce Goose model airplane flew several times over two days in the Long Beach Harbor. The first test flight took place at 3:08pm on the afternoon of Sunday November 23, 2003.

On the actual filming day, November 24, 2003, the airplane was loaded onto a barge and moved into a location that put it south of the Queen Mary and very close to the original "geodesic" hanger built by Howard Hughes to store the Spruce Goose. Several vintage Navy boats were moved into a position that would align them with the camera and the model's anticipated flight path. The Aero Telemetry H-4 Hercules model made several breath-taking flights that day. It was to become the world's largest electric powered radio control flying boat ever flown. A record which still stand to this day.

Part of the crew launched and recovered the huge model from a floating barge, while the flight crew were positioned on a vintage World War II US Navy Patrol boat that was moving at about 20 knots.

 

Academy Award winning visual effect director, Rob Legato, filmed the amazing footage of the Spruce Goose as it passed by the stern of the PT boat to recreate the famous flight of the Spruce Goose.

In addition, a Bell Jet Ranger III helicopter with a nose-mounted, gyro-stabilized film camera, was airborne to shadow the huge model at close range. It provided additional aerial footage from several unique camera angles during the flight.

Billy Hemple was the pilot for the Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose model. The Aero Telemetry version of the Hughes H4 Hercules flying boat performed several close flybys that were simply breathtaking to watch, and provided the film cameras with spectacular aerial shots.

As a fitting testimony to how instrumental the Aero Telemetry flyable models really were; shots of our H4 Hercules flying were featured in both the theatrical and television trailers for the movie The Aviator.

 

All of our flyable model airplanes were featured in the behind the scenes film, "A Life Without Limits, The Making of The Aviator".

The highest compliment we received for our work on The Aviator, was when the film flights of the Aero Telemetry H4 Hercules were featured in the short clips played during the introduction of the Best Picture Oscar nominees during the televised presentation of the 77th Academy Awards held on February 27, 2005 at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California. 

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SPECIFICATIONS

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DIMENSIONS

WINGSPAN:  20 ft

LENGTH: 14 ft

WEIGHT: 200 lbs

ENGINES: 8 AXI electric motors with custom gear reduction propeller drive units.  

 

PERFORMANCE

SPEED: up to 75 mph

LIFTING ABILITY: Up to 360 lbs

RANGE: 5 mile radio range with approximately 12-15 minutes of flight time per flight

 

ACTING ABILITY

The plane was flown several times at Long Beach Harbor, in Hughes’ original flight test area.  The original Hughes H-4 only flew for about a minute back in 1947 but Joe Bok's Aviator team flew this “unmanned” version for a combined total of almost 2 hours. During the filming, Bill Hempel piloted the Spruce Goose from a converted Navy PT boat, while the rest of the crew launched the huge Spruce Goose model from a separate powered barge. Academy Award winning visual effects director, Rob Legato filmed the amazing flight sequences from the moving camera platform. In the background of the shot, he placed several vintage boats and actors dressed in period-correct clothing. The Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose provided The Aviator with exceptional flying sequences. The background at Long Beach Harbor provided a very realistic and historically accurate setting for the flights of the Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose, the world’s largest flyable model of the Hughes H4 Hercules.

Click the images below to read articles written
about Aero Telemetry's Spruce Goose:

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