Friday, November 2

If Only This Thing Wood Fly

The H-4 Hercules and a DC-3 for size comparison.
By Grant Davies

On this day in 1947, a boat took off and flew through the air. It only flew for about a mile and it was only seventy feet above the water at its highest. But it was pretty impressive since it was, after all, a boat. The takeoff was its first.. and its last.

Actually  it was more of a ship than a boat. It was ginormous. (Ginormous is a scientific term used by lazy people like me to describe size.)  And the damn thing only stayed aloft for a few moments. (A moment is a scientific measurement of time used by lazy people like me who don't want to do the math required to calculate time.)

We could give you the exact measurements, but that's boring, except to history nerds. (Oops, that's you.) Suffice it to say that the contraption was huge. It was bigger than any boat that ever flew, before or since.

Okay, the ship was actually a plane. But the concept for its use and design was a "flying cargo ship" to move large amounts of material from the US to Europe while avoiding those pesky Nazi U-Boats that were sinking every cargo ship in sight in 1942. (For you younger readers, there was a small war going on that year.) The ship flew, but the concept didn't. That sank as surely as the transport ships had.

The plane had a few different names. It's official name was the "H-4 Hercules", but the name most remember it by today referred to the wood it was made out of. Well, maybe not, since the name was "The Spruce Goose", even though the thing was made almost entirely out of Birch. Go figure. Critics of the project called it "The Flying Lumberyard."

The whole thing was the brainchild of a guy named Henry J. Kaiser who was building a lot of the "Liberty Ships" that were currently resting at the bottom of the ocean. He collaborated with a guy named Howard Hughes, who in the end, turned out to be as nutty as the concept Kaiser thought up.

Even though the plane itself got off the ground, or the water as the case may be, the project never took off because the war was over a year before the plane was finished.

This whole historical episode could never have happened today since political correctness and eco-activists  would never allow enough trees to be cut down to construct the damn thing.

To celebrate the day, go out in your yard and hug a Spruce, or a Birch if you have one, and whisper into their branches about how happy you are that they didn't end up as a flight of fancy.


  1. The Hercules flew while I was in grammar school in Los Angeles.

    But I have never seen an answer and don't know how to calculate it....

    Did it ever get out of the ground effect and actually fly? (I don't moderns regard "in the ground effect" as "flying".)

  2. Thanks for the question Larry. However, since the name of this site is Cheeky History and not Cheeky Science, I haven't the slightest idea about the correct answer to your question. And I'm pretty proficient at not having the slightest idea.

    I'd be happy to make up an answer and make it sound like it's correct if you like. We can call it Cheeky BS.

    In all seriousness, thanks for visiting our site. I hope you return often.

  3. Your answer proposal would be no worse than a lot of the stuff we see, but I was actually hoping somebody interested enough to look at the posting (as I was) would know the answer (as I don't, but my strongly held, minimally supported hunch is that it did not).

    I've seen stuff that says it didn't, but could have but problems with the empennage and lack of space prevented the attempt.


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