|Hughes H-1 Racer|
|The H-1 Racer at the National Air and Space Museum|
Long-range aircraft [for record attempt]
|First flight||September 13, 1935|
|Primary user||Howard Hughes|
|Preserved at||National Air and Space Museum|
The Hughes H-1 was a racing aircraft built by Hughes Aircraft in 1935. It set a world airspeed record and a transcontinental speed record across the United States. The H-1 Racer was the last aircraft built by a private individual to set the world speed record; every aircraft to hold the honor since has been a military design.
During his work on his movie Hell's Angels, Howard Hughes employed Glenn Odekirk to maintain the fleet of over 100 aircraft used in the production. The two men shared a common interest in aviation and hatched a plan to build a record-beating aircraft. The aircraft was given many names, but is commonly known as the H-1. It was the first aircraft model produced by the Hughes Aircraft company. [N 1]
Streamlining was a paramount design criterion resulting in "one of the cleanest and most elegant aircraft designs ever built." Many groundbreaking technologies were developed during the construction process, including individually machined flush rivets that left the aluminium skin of the aircraft completely smooth. The H-1 also had retractable landing gear to further increase the speed of the aircraft, including a fully retractable hydraulically actuated tail skid. It was fitted with a Pratt & Whitney R-1535 twin-row 14-cylinder radial engine of 1,535 in³ (25.2 L), which although originally rated at 700 hp (522 kW), was tuned to put out over 1,000 horsepower (750 kW).
Due to two different roles being envisioned for the racing aircraft, a set of short-span wings for air racing and speed records and a set of "long" wings for cross-country racing were prepared.
The H-1 first flew in 1935 and promptly broke the world landplane speed record with Hughes at the controls, clocking 352 mph (566 km/h) averaged over four timed passes. Hughes apparently ran the aircraft out of fuel and managed to crash-land without serious damage to either himself or the H-1. As soon as Hughes exited the H-1 when he crashed it in a beet field south of Santa Ana, Calif., his only comment was: "We can fix her, she'll go faster". At the time, the world seaplane speed record was 440 mph (709 km/h), set by a Macchi M.C.72 in October 1934.
Hughes later implemented minor changes to the H-1 Racer to make it more suitable for a transcontinental speed record attempt. The most significant change was the fitting of a new, longer set of wings that gave the aircraft a lighter wing loading. On January 19, 1937, a year and a half after his previous landplane speed record in the H-1, Hughes set a new transcontinental speed record by flying non-stop from Los Angeles to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds. He smashed his own previous record of 9 hours, 27 minutes by two hours. His average speed over the flight was 322 mph (518 km/h).
Considering the contemporary service aircraft were biplanes, Hughes fully expected the United States Army Air Forces to embrace his aircraft's new design and make the H-1 the basis for a new generation of U.S. fighter aircraft. His efforts to "sell" the design were unsuccessful. In postwar testimony before the Senate, Hughes indicated that resistance to the innovative design was the basis for the USAAF rejection of the H-1: "I tried to sell that airplane to the Army but they turned it down because at that time the Army did not think a cantilever monoplane was proper for a pursuit ship..."
Aviation historians have posited that the H-1 Racer may have inspired later radial engine fighters such as the P-47 Thunderbolt and the Focke-Wulf Fw 190. After the war, Hughes further claimed that "it was quite apparent to everyone that the Japanese Zero fighter had been copied from the Hughes H-1 Racer." He noted both the wing planform, the tail empennage design and the general similarity of the Zero and his racer.[N 2] Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi Zero strongly refuted the allegation of the Hughes H-1 influencing the design of the Japanese fighter aircraft.
The wings were painted blue. Some sources, including an article from TIME magazine, September 23, 1935 state that the original (short-span) wings were painted red, but the original wings are in storage at the National Air & Space Museum. They are blue and still show the scars from the last forced landing.
Over time, the H-1's wings have been marked with the registration numbers "NR258Y", "NX258Y", and finally, simply "R258Y". Several photos exist of a transitional period in which the "X" was painted directly on top of the "R". Some sources say that the color of the registration letters at the time of the record setting flights was white, with Hughes later repainting the letters to the appropriate yellow color to match the color of his company's logo.
Jim Wright of Cottage Grove, Oregon built a full scale replica of the H-1 that first flew in 2002. So exact was the replica to the original that the FAA granted it serial number 2 of the model. The achievement in recreating the aircraft was heralded in virtually every well-known aviation magazine of the time. On August 4, 2003, after a successful unveiling of the replica at the 2003 AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Wright fatally crashed. On his way home to Oregon, he had landed briefly in Gillette, Wyoming, to refuel. While on the ground, Wright met briefly with local reporters and indicated that the aircraft had been having propeller "gear problems." He then departed, crashing just north of the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone National Park about an hour later. The replica, originally slated for use in the film The Aviator, was completely destroyed, and Wright was killed. [N 3] The official accident report points to a failure of a counterweight on the constant speed propeller. On December 17, 2003, Cottage Grove State Airport was dedicated as Jim Wright Field. Another H-1 replica is currently being built at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.
Data from "Howard Hughes' H-1: The Search for the Fastest Plane in the World".
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