Scampering to bring even more visitors to Maui, a group of major airlines has joined forces to restore and refit a famous gigantic wooden airplane to return for many more flights, officials said Wednesday.
The Spruce Goose has not flown since its first and only mile-long jump over ocean waters in 1947. However, Hawaiian Airlines officials, and later executives with both Alaska Airlines and United Airlines, thought of the massive Goose as they struggled to find enough seats to bring passengers to Hawaii in the post-pandemic lockdown travel frenzy.
“Sure, it’s made of wood and has only flown a mile in 74 years,” said Charles Naaupo, vice president of Pacific Island marketing for Hawaiian Airlines. “But that just means it’s well-rested. We all think it has many, many flight miles on it, and we sure need the seats right now.”
Today the Spruce Goose is located at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, a small town in northwest Oregon. The seaplane was designed by famed millionaire Howard Hughes. The eccentric billionaire and his plane were the subject of the major motion picture “The Aviator” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Spruce Goose is a nickname for the Hughes H-4 Hercules, Hughes’ response to a U.S. military request to design and deliver aircraft capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean with troops and tanks to help with the allied efforts in World War II.
At the time it was the biggest, heaviest, and most expensive airplane ever built. Its wingspan is 320 feet, and it weighed over 180 tons when loaded.
Critics ridiculed Hughes that the Spruce Goose would never fly. In its famed maiden flight on Nov. 2, 1947, the H-4 flew a bit over a mile at an altitude of 70 feet, which took about a minute.
Of course, that was long after the big war ended. Still, Hughes dreamed of a second Spruce Goose flight and paid a crew to keep the big vessel in a climate-controlled hangar until 1976. Eventually it found a home inside a dome next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., before being moved to its Oregon location.
The Spruce Goose is the largest wooden aircraft ever built, and at the time of its flight it was 6 times larger than any other aircraft.
For the return of what some called the Hughes Flying Boat, the involved airlines ~ dubbing themselves the “Spruce Flies Again” team ~ are working to shore up the big old wooden air ship by adding lightweight aluminum to the insides, and ultra-lightweight thin titanium around its shell to reduce air drag.
“We think it could carry 600 people if we configure it right,” said Edwin Aniyu, director of Pacific sales for Alaskan Airlines. “It has a big, bulbous body, thankfully, which gives us options to engineer a lot of rows and seats. And it only takes off and lands on water, which gives us more options when airports are full as everyone tries to make up for all the travel they missed.”
The airline officials hope to get the new Spruce Goose up and flying to OGG by 2022. The timing of the announcement is interesting, as just days ago, Maui Mayor Michael Victorino asked the airlines to somehow reduce how many visitors they were dropping at OGG each day, as the island tries to keep pace with the tourists.
“We don’t have the authority to say stop, but we are asking the powers to be to help us,” Victorino said at a recent news conference.
But the major airlines, hurting from lack of business for over a year due to pandemic restrictions, are just trying to stay afloat, they say.
“We’ll think about it,” said Naaupo as he chuckled and winked at his co-workers at a news conference earlier this week.
Upon hearing the news another major airline, Delta, said the company is considering leasing an Antonov An-225 Mriya, Airbus A380-800, or Boeing 747-8 to compete to see who can bring the most visitors to the Valley Isle.
In response to that, the “Spruce Flies Again” team said it will look into renting a Stratolaunch, which became the biggest wingspan (385 feet) airplane a couple of years ago; or maybe even space flight to bring the tourists.