Hughes Special 1B Racer

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The Hughes H-1 racer, designed by Howard Hughes and Richard Palmer and built by Glenn Odekirk, was developed to be the fastest landplane in the world. It has a large wingspan of 31ft 9in (9.67m). On September 13, 1935, Hughes achieved this design goal by flying the H-1 to a new world speed record of 567 kilometers (352 miles) per hour at Santa Ana, California. Hughes broke the U.S. speed record in the H-1 on January 19, 1937, flying from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, in 7 hours, 28 minutes, and 25 seconds. His average speed for the 4,000- kilometer (2,490-mile) flight was 535 kilometers (332 miles) per hour.

Although the Hughes H-1 was designed for record-setting purposes, it also had an impact on the design of high-performance aircraft for years to come. Some of the outstanding design features of the H-1 were a close fitting bell-shaped engine cowling to reduce airframe drag and improve engine cooling; gently curving wing fillets between the wing and the fuselage to help stabilize the airflow, reduce drag, and prevent potentially dangerous eddying and tail buffeting; and retractable landing gear to reduce drag and increase speed and range.  In addition, the pilot sat in a totally enclosed cockpit, which had an adjustable canopy windscreen to permit easy entry and exit from the aircraft.

The San Diego Air and Space Museum is also making a reproduction of the Hughes Special 1B Racer. We started the H-1 in 2011 and it should be completed it in a few years.  The H-1 was selected because it is a one-of-a-kind aircraft, but we are constructing the short wing model of the Racer because the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s original is displayed in the Long Wing configuration, with the original short wings in storage. There are currently 6 volunteers working on this project.

Hughes Special 1B Racer Time Line

In 1934 design studies for the H-1 began, and a large-scale model of it was tested in Caltech's wind tunnel, revealing a speed potential of 365 mph.

On September 13, 1935, Hughes piloted the H-1 to a new speed record of 352 miles per hour at Martin Field, near Santa Ana, California.

Hughes took off from Burbank, California, on January 13, 1936, in route to New York, New Jersey, and made a new cross-country record. He made the flight in 9 hours, 27 minutes, 10 seconds and bettered Roscoe Turners previous mark by 36 minute. Within two weeks, he had also set flight records from Miami to New York, and from Chicago to Los Angeles.

His most famous aircraft was the Spruce Goose, the largest plane of all time, which made its one and only flight in 1947.

The H-1 was kept in the Hughes factory at Culver City, California, until it was donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1975.

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