Aeronautical Engineer, business magnate, film director…Howard Hughes was it all. Born on December 24th 1905 in Humble, Texas (USA), Howard was known during his life as one of the most financially successful individuals worldwide.
He started as a film producer, persuaded by Ralph Graces, producing and financing a short film, “Swell Hogan”, which turned out to be a total disaster. Nevertheless, that did not stop him, and the two following movies did not only become a success but granted him the Academy Award for Best Director of a comedy picture. Other films of his were also nominated for Academy Awards.
Hughes was a man of many interests and passions, along with them, the world of aviation. Can you blame him? While filming one of his movies, “Hell’s Angles”, he survived 1 of a total of 4 airplane accidents. The other ones were while trying to settle an airspeed record in Hughes XF-11, flying at Lake Mead in 1943 and the near-fatal crash in Hughes XF-11 in 1946. He learnt how to fly from lots of different pioneer aviators, including Moye Stephens and J.B Alexander at Rogers Airport in L.A. On September 13th, 1935, on the controls of H-1, Hughes set the landplane speed record of 362mph. A year and a half later, on January 19, 1937, Hughes set the transcontinental airspeed record by flying directly from Los Angeles to Newark in only 7 hours and 28 minutes, reaching an average ground speed of 322mph. Nevertheless, he continued to set records. On July 14, 1938, he completed a flight around the world in just 91 hours, breaking the record by almost 4 days (set by Wiley Post). Hughes even had an important airport named after him, nevertheless, this did not last long since at the time it was considered public outrage to name an airport after a living person.
In 1932 Hughes also founded the “Hughes Aircraft Company”, a division of Hughes Tool Company. This started out in a rented corner of a Lockheed Aircraft Corporation hangar in Burbank, California. His main goal at the time was to build the H-1 racer. During World War II he turned his company into a major defence contractor and founded Hughes Helicopters in 1947 when Kellet (helicopter manufacturer) sold their latest design to Hughes for production. Hughes Aircraft became a major American aerospace and defence contractor, building military aircraft, commercial satellites, ion propulsion engines and other electronic systems.
After spending nearly a month test-flying the Sikorsky S-43 aircraft, on May 17th 1943 the test flight did not go well and the aircraft crashed on Lake Mead, killing Hughes employee, Richard Felt and CAA inspector Ceco Cline. Hughes hit the upper control panel with his head and had to be rescued and assisted by others onboard. The aircraft sunk but Hughes paid divers $100,000 to rescue the aircraft and later spend half a million dollars trying to restore it. Regarding his death, Hughes is reported to have died on April 4th, 1976, on board the aircraft Learjet 24Bm while travelling from his penthouse at the Acapulco Princess Hotel (Mexico) to the Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas.