By Antoine Marlio-Marette
Today, we are honoured to receive Mr Howard Hughes who we will be interviewing about his life regarding his involvement in aviation and his impact on today’s modern aviation.
Antoine: Good afternoon Mr Hughes, we are honoured to have you here today. Thank you for your presence.
Mr Hughes: The pleasure is mine.
A: Mr Hughes, you were a famous American businessman and aircraft manufacturer from the late twenties to the late seventies in the United States. Could you please tell us more about yourself?
H: Well, I first started out in life as a movie producer in 1926. As I was passionate about flying and ambitious, I produced various movies with numerous air battles, generally having over 20 pilots in a single shot. I even performed most of the stunts and played the most challenging parts in it, particularly in “Hell’s Angels”. Those movies were successful and as well controversial, at the time, as close air combat was not safe and was awfully expensive. During that period, I tested the limits of multiple aircraft, setting new speed world records.
A: What was the motivation behind breaking records and performing dangerous stunts for your films?
H: You could say that I am crazy. However, I always believed that anyone can achieve their objectives if they have the determination and the ambition to reach them. Personally, mine were to become the greatest aviator, the greatest movie producer, and the wealthiest man the world has ever known.
A: That sure is ambitious! That is why after producing these films you became a businessman?
H: Yes, in the early thirties, I founded the Hughes Aircraft Company to develop aircrafts. However, I was not an ordinary businessman, but an engineer that conceived various planes and flew them during test flights. With my ambition, I managed to make Hughes Aircraft Company a major aerospace and Defence-contractor during the Second World War. It produced many aircrafts and helicopters, such as the Spruce Goose which is the nickname of the Hughes H-4 Hercules. Moreover, the company developed spacecrafts such as the Galileo and weaponry such as the AIM-d Falcon guided missile and other prototypes. As always, I tested all the prototypes that we produced. During my time working at Hughes Aircraft Company, I managed to join American Airlines under a false identity, starting out as a baggage handler and climbing the ladder up to being a co-pilot before my real identity was discovered.
A: That is impressive! I suppose that was part of your plan to become the greatest pilot ever, gaining experience as an airline pilot and as a test pilot?
H: Yes, and I am fond of multi-tasking, doing multiple jobs.
Antoine: At that time, aviation was not as safe as it is today. Mostly when testing out new planes and prototypes. Have you ever had any problems when flying those?
H: Actually, yes. I have had multiple crashes and mostly one that I can remember as I nearly died in it and that it caused me lifelong injuries. That happened when I flew the prototype of the XF-11, a military aircraft designed to be the highest and fastest spy plane of the forties. Unfortunately, my propeller failed, and I crashed into two houses in Beverly Hills. However, it takes much more to take me down.
A: It must have been dreadful to be helpless and see your plane plummeting towards buildings! With the end of the Second World War and the slowdown of Research and Development of military technology, what was the greatest project developed by Hughes Aircraft Company?
H: Well, I would have said the XF-11 plane, as it was supposed to become the leader in spy aircrafts. However, I would say that the greatest project would be our most ambitious project: the Hughes H-4 Hercules. It was an aircraft that was supposed to transport troops and equipment over the Atlantic int the mid-late forties. It was supposed to be built in aluminium, but spruce was used, and where its nickname “Spruce Goose” came from, so that the plane could fly, as the metal was too heavy. The wooden plane was the biggest and widest plane for a couple of decades and made its first and only flight in 1947. Since then, it is on display at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.
A: Was that the apogee of your life?
H: No, it was a couple of years later with my rivalry with Pan American Airlines. After the important slowdown and the end of the War, commercial aviation boomed. I took the opportunity to buy most of the shares of TWA (Trans World Airlines) that was going bankrupt, in order to develop commercial flights in the country. Quickly, two major airlines emerged from the commercial flight race in the United States: TWA and Pan Am. At which point a Cold War like rivalry developed between them.
A: Why was that?
H: Well in those times, businesses were merciless and did everything to monopolise the sector. That is why both TWA and Pan Am tried to buy each other out. The second reason regarding that rivalry was the transatlantic routes that was granted by the government to only one airline, because they didn’t believe in the necessity of having multiple airlines performing those routes. Even though Pan Am was the favourite, I managed to maintain TWA equal to and even better than my arch-rival, mostly by purchasing 40 Lockheed Constellations airplanes, which, in the fifties, were among the highest-performing planes, that allowed non-stop transcontinental flights. That order helped Lockheed to develop consequently the aviation industry. Finally, the government backed out of their positions and allowed multiple airlines to perform those transatlantic routes, and TWA was part of them.
A: As I understand that was your last achievement before your downfall came?
H: Well, that’s true. TWA forced me into selling my shares and to not participate at the Administration board of the airline because of my eccentric behaviour, worsening OCD and reclusive lifestyle. Even though I set up my own airline: Hughes Airwest, my careers and adventures came to an end. As I was not accepting society rejecting me and stopping me from achieving my goals, as well as my health declining, I fell under depression for the next 8 years until my death in 1976. As a result of my accident with the XF-11, I have suffered chronic pain and have necessitated daily administration of morphine and codeine. Those consequences made my OCD worse, and with my reclusive lifestyle and eccentric behaviour, I lived alone malnourished until the death came to me. Even though I haven’t managed to become the greatest aviator, the greatest movie producer, and the wealthiest man the world has ever known, I managed to impact and make myself a name in all three of these domains, even having a wealth that was worth 2.7 billion dollars.
A: However, in your will, you divided your wealth to be sent in multiple charities, and in particular the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which was a great act of kindness. Thank you very much Mr Hughes for sharing your story today. Goodbye and rest in peace.
H: Thank you for inviting me to this interview and for listening. Goodbye to you too.