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Howard Hughes H-1 Racer Replica visited flying boat in McMinnville


Photo taken August 2, 2002 over Cottage Grove Oregon.
Photographer Dennis Parker. Pilot in H-1 is owner Jim Wright.

(OMED: We received the press release below late in September.  After posting the photo and a bit of the text on the September cover so that those interested knew about the flight exhibition at McMinnville late in the month,, we contacted these folks and asked a few questions about the project.  Their answer to that query follows the news release text.)

30 years after the Wright Brothers made their first successful powered flight a young and successful businessman, Howard Hughes, decided to build the worlds fastest land plane. The aircraft was Hughes first design and was therefore dubbed the "H-1".

Howard Hughes had three major goals in the design of the H-1; It had to be the fastest land plane in the world, it had to have a range that would carry it from coast to coast without refueling, and it had to be a practical aircraft to fly and to operate.

Howard Hughes and his design team met each goal with stunning success. For all of his other traits, Hughes was a genius in aircraft design. In the design and building of the H-1, Howard Hughes showed the world how aircraft design and construction should be done. The finished product is a remarkable achievement leaving some wondering where fine art ends and technology begins. According to many, the airplane is one of the most beautiful airplanes ever built and is a showcase of American craftsmanship.

The historical significance of the original H-1 cannot be overstated. This aircraft captured the transcontinental speed record in just 7 hours and 23 minutes, L.A to New York nonstop. That was over 2500 miles and that was over 65 years ago!  Look around at single seat aircraft being flown today; there aren't many that can make that same journey without refueling.

There were only two H-1 Racers ever built. The original Hughes H-1 Racer, built by Howard Hughes and his team, sits in a place of honor in the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian Institute. The second H-1 ever built was built in Cottage Grove Oregon, and first flew on July 9, 2002. It was built by a small team assembled by entrepreneur Jim Wright.

The Wright built Hughes H-1 Racer is a flying showcase of what Howard Hughes and his team achieved 67 years ago. The Wright built H-1 Racer is a virtual carbon copy of the original and is designated as serial number two by the FAA. All of the cockpit instruments are identical to the original and are fully operational, as is the rare Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Twin Wasp Jr. The engine on the Wright built H-1 is believed to be the only flying example of its kind in the world. 

The sight of an H-1 in flight is exceedingly rare. The original has barely 40 hours on it, most of which were flown out of the sight of public eyes. As a permanent fixture in the Smithsonian, the aircraft last flew in the 1940's. It is believed that the Hughes H-1 Racer has never shared the same airport with Howard Hughes' other aviation achievement - the H-4 flying boat.   

(End of press release)

Another Wright made it possible.

For the first time ever, the H-1 design met its big brother, the H-4.  The H-1  flew Saturday September 28, and Sunday September 29 at the McMinnville airport.

This Wright owns a rather grand machine shop in Cottage Grove.  We sent a note to them, asking some questions, and received the following text in reply.
 
 

   As far as cost, we do not disclose that figure. 
 
    It is a noteworthy achievment on the part of Jim and Betty Wright to have built this company from scratch. I have heard some mention that Jim is a lucky man to have the means to complete a project
like the H-1. I do not think that luck has anything to do with it, unless "luck" is defined as when preparation meets opportunity. 

Jim and Betty Wright are two of the most generous and unassuming
people that I know. Their personal success has been hard fought for, and well earned. They are people of high integrity and generousity, and I am proud to know them. They have shared their success with the community in ways that most do not know, as they prefer to avoid public attention in these matters. 
 
    The engine on the H-1 is very rare. It is a Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Twin Wasp Jr. It is a radial engine with two rows of seven cylinders capable of up to 1000 hp. It is supercharged and has 1535 cubic inches of displacement. It is identical to the original engine on the H-1 that now sits in the Smithsonian. We believe that it is the only flying example of an R-1535 in the world. We heard rumors of this engine sitting in the garage of a man in Hemit California. The man had been asked to sell the engine many times by others but was waiting for something special. The H-1 replica fit the bill.
 
    As far as basic design, Howard Hughes and his team went about it in a methodical manner. We have obtained a copy of the original wind tunnel tests that he had done at the GALCIT wind tunnel in the early 1930's. They had created a model with several different sections that could be interchanged easily. They tried several different combinations to determine the optimum configuration. They spent 90 days in the wind tunnel, which was unprecedented for the time.
 
    The airplane flies better than anything Jim has flown before. The handling is predictable and the airplane will fly itself "hands off". Jim reports that with the canopy closed it is quieter than most other
airplanes he has flown. He attributes this to the fact that the cockpit is located 11 feet behind the firewall. Hughes needed this mush room to allow for large fuel tanks and a large oil resevoir. It is remarkable that this aircraft was capable of flying almost 4000 miles without refuelling. When he set the transcontinental record in 1937 he did so at an average speed of 332 mph. This he did without landing for fuel.

    The seat in the H-1 is designed to allow for the use of a parachute, which Jim wears. If the situation demanded that he exit the cockpit in flight, it would pose no problem for him to do so. We are not sure just how fast it can go. Hughes had his up to 352 mph when he set the speed record in 1935, but made the comment afterward that "It will go faster..." Jim has had our H-1 up to about 340 mph at which point it would not go faster. Even in a dive the aircraft seemed to "put on the brakes" at this speed. We have subsequently discovered a propeller geometry problem that is the root cause of this phenomena.

Basically the prop was not manufactured to specs. We had suspected this, but have confirmed it with recent measurements. Essentially what has been happening at this airspeed is that a portion of the propeller begins generating negative thrust, making faster flight impossible. We can easily correct this by having the prop twisted into correct tolerances. 
 
    The fuel burn at 100% power is approximately 100 gallons per hour. When Jim set the world speed record (5000 pound take off weight category), he was only able to run at 65% power because of propeller issues. This netted him 304.07 mph which was enough to break the record, in category.
 
    This aircraft is many different things to different people. I have never seen an airplane that generates the emotions that this one does. One of the timing people that was manning the course for the record
run told us that his assistant had a tear running down her cheek as she watched the H-1 roar overhead. I also felt a lump in my throat as I watched my friend streak alone across the desert in the H-1. The people throng around the aircraft, and talk of history and pride. One official at Reno strode up to Jim to shake his hand, mentioning that watching the H-1 fly its course brought a tear to his eye.

A senior editor from Air & Space Magazine, Patricia Trenner, wrote us that "...it appears as a silver apparition, a ghostly incarnation of one of the most beautiful airplanes ever built." I have been wondering just what it is that touhes people in this way. Maybe it has been a while since they felt inspired. I don't know.
 
    There is no canned answer as to why somebody would build an aircraft like this, or why men learn to fly. I hope you get a chance to see the H-1 fly someday, maybe even this weekend in McMinnville. Perhaps after you have seen the aircraft, you will be able to
answer the question of "why" for yourself. 
 
Dennis Parker

For more information and photos on this subject, here's a link to the Wright Tools H-1 web page.  
 


 
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