Hughes H-1 Racer

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.

On September 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.

Odekirk had 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 who?"
"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 transcontinental."
"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 more."

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 streak."

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.
A Major Milestone

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 and doors were difficult to see whenthe gear was retracted.

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 attitudes.''

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 Burbank.

The H-1 flies again!

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.

September 13, 2002

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.

The Challenge
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 achievements.

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 becoming apparent.

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 Hughes."

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 expense.

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.