It was 1942. The Second World War was raging. The US needed to get men and supplies across the Atlantic, a passage menaced by German. Famed shipwright Henry Kaiser had an idea, and he enlisted the help of legendary aircraft designer and business mogul Howard Hughes to bring it to fruition: an enormous flying cargo ship.
The H-4 Hercules, aka the Spruce Goose, was born.
Hughes would be accused of war profiteering, and, perhaps out of spite, finished and even flew the H-4. It flew once, and only for 26 seconds. Afterward it lived in a climate-controlled Long Beach hangar until Hughes’ death in 1976. In the ’90s, the H-4 made one last trip to its permanent home not far from Portland, Oregon, to the excellent Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. The Spruce Goose is a marvel even now, over 70 years since its first, and last, flight. You can even go inside… which I did.
It’s hard to miss the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. There’s not one but two 747s out front and one is stuck on the roof of a waterpark, believe it or not. In the museum’s main parking lot, between the two main buildings, you pass sleek MiG-29s and F-14s, and even catch a glimpse of the H-4 itself, sitting behind the enormous glass-walled front of the museum.
Inside is one of the most impressive spaces I’ve ever seen. The H-4 dominates the expansive hangar while other aircraft sit under its 321-foot (98-meter) wings, looking almost like toys. On a family trip to California when I was a kid I saw the Spruce Goose in its geodesic Long Beach home. I barely remember it, but standing under the wing it’s like I’m a kid again.
I took the guided tour of the Goose’s interior, snapped lots of photos, asked lots of questions, and even recorded this sweet 360 video from the cockpit:
Evergreen is no one-trick goose, er, pony. Immaculate aircraft from every decade of flight fill two massive hangars, plus several aircraft outside. In the shadow of the Goose is a PBY Catalina, one of the oldest airworthy DC-3s (that you can also go inside), several Cold War-era jets and more.
Across the parking lot, past the theater building, is the museum’s collection of more modern aircraft: an SR-71 Blackbird, A-10 Warthog, MiG-23 and a multitude of helicopters. Going a bit higher and faster, the “space” part of the museum includes a Titan missile, X-38 experimental re-entry vehicle, and several replicas of Apollo-era landers and modules.
Seaplanes to spaceplanes
The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum has many of my favorite aircraft, and all in excellent shape. I wish you could go inside more of them, but that’s an expensive proposition, given the wear and tear this would inevitably cause to these classic aircraft.
The Evergreen is also one of the more expensive museums I’ve toured. $27 to get in, plus $30 for a 15-minute, or $50 for a 45-minute, tour of the flight deck of the Spruce Goose. Given the size and variety at the museum, however, I felt I got my money’s worth.
If you have limited time in the area, you could spend the morning checking out the ghosts of blimps past at, and do Evergreen in the afternoon, as I did, for a day of amazing aviation history.
As well as covering TV and other display tech, Geoff does photo tours of cool museums and locations around the world including, , , and more.
You can follow his exploits on Instagram, Twitter, and on his travel blog BaldNomad. He also wrote a bestselling sci-fi novel.