January 03, 2005

The Aviator

While I was over on the coast last week I saw the movie called the Aviator. The Aviator was about the early life of Howard Hughes. Here is a bio of Howard Hughes from ABC-CLIO's American History Website. My only regret was that the movie did not show the interesting latter years of Hughes life in Las Vegas when he bought the Desert Inn Hotel.

Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed Hughes flawlessly. Cate Blanchett did an awesome job portraying Katherine Hepburn. Alan Alda played Senator Brewster and it felt like nothing has changed in Washington since the 1940's. The movie was loaded with actors in supporting roles including Brent Spiner from Star Trek playing Lockheed President Robert Gross, Jude Law as Errol Flynn, and Gwen Stafani from No Doubt playing Jean Harlow. Famous aviator Roscoe Turner was briefly shown with his pet Lion. Famous aviator Roscoe Turner was briefly shown with his pet Lion at the movie premier for Hell's Angels.

The CGI was a mix of good and bad. One scene had World War One aircraft taking off while Hughes was filming the movie Hell's Angels . The aircraft took off in perfectly spaced rows. It looked like CGI cut and paste out of control. Another instance of this out of control cut and paste was when Hughes looks out on a field of 20 parked Lockheed Constellations. The CGI artist must have kept hitting paste a lot for this scene. The flying sequences with the H.1, XF-11, and the HK.1 made up for these flaws. Hughes record breaking flights were only briefly mentioned.

The Hughes H-1 racing plane was shown in the movie. More on the H-1 is available on History Central here. The original aircraft is now on display the Smithsonian. I noticed in IMDB that one of the movie crew members Richard Bermudez is listed as the "telemetry engineer" for the H-1. Pretty cool. A replica of the H-1 was built and flown at the Reno Air Races in 2002. Here is a link to a news article about the replica from AVWeb.
Another Hughes aircraft shown in the movie is the XF-11. The Air Force museum has this nice drawing of the aircraft. This aircraft evolved from the D-2 a twin boom bomber prototype constructed at hanger at Harpers Dry Lake. The D-2 aircraft was constructed using one of the first composite materials called Duramold a resin impregnated plywood which the Government did not like. Instead the Army Air Force contracted for two metal versions of the aircraft which evolved into the XF-11. I looked for photos of the D-2 but never found any on the web. The D-2 was destroyed when lightning hit the hanger. Knowing how rarely lightning happens in the Antelope Valley what are the odds of that.

Information from the Edwards AFB history office on the XF-11 is available at this link and from Aviation Enthusiast Corner. The prototype was completed almost a full year after the war was over. The XF-11's maiden flight began in Culver City on July 7, 1946 with Hughes at the controls. A shot in the movie shows the "control room" consisting of radios on a table situated inside a hanger. Hughes test conductor for the flight was Hughes Aircraft Company engineer Glenn Odekirk played by Matt Ross.

The XF-11 used contra-rotating propellers. An oil leak in the propeller control caused the rear set of blades on the right engine to reverse pitch. Hughes tried to land the aircraft on the Los Angeles Country Club Golf Course. Instead the aircraft crashed into a Beverly Hills neighborhood destroying three houses. Check Six has a great web page detailing the crash here.

Hughes flew the second prototype XF-11 (without the contra-rotating propellers) in April 1947. The Air Force later choose to use the RB-50 instead of the XF-11. Apparently the second XF-11 was scrapped, but I cannot find it's current location on the web.

The XF-11 was powered by two Pratt and Whitney R-4360-31 radial air-cooled 28 cylinder engines. The 4360 was the pinnacle of radial piston engine design. This engine was also used in the KC-97, B-50, and the B-36. If you visit either the Hill Aerospace museum or the San Diego Aerospace museum you can check out a 4360 up close. If you make down to the San Diego Aerospace museum you also need to check out the Apollo 9 Command Module. I looked at it last October. The twin boom aircraft design aircraft design of the P-38 and the XF-11 have never gone out of style check out the Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer.

Finally the movie showed the Hercules HK1 flying boat. The flying sequences were awesome. I regret never having visited this aircraft when it was on display in Long Beach California next to the Queen Mary. Howard Hughes and Henry Kaiser formed a joint venture Hughes Kaiser Corporation to build the Hercules. Like the D2, the HK1 was constructed using Duramold. It also had one of the first boosted control systems. The Hercules was moved from Long Beach to McMinnville Oregon 1990. It is now displayed at the Evergreen Aviation museum. I need to visit this museum some day.


Post a Comment

<< Home