The original Hughes H-4 Hercules, or Spruce Goose, was test flown by Howard Hughes only once on November 2, 1947. It was the largest seaplane and largest airplane ever built at that time. Howard Hughes' Flying Boat used eight of the largest and most powerful radial engines in the world, the mighty Pratt Whitney 4360, a 28-cylinder engine. With it’s 320-foot wingspan, the Spruce Goose tipped the scales at more than 300,000 lbs. For his Academy Award Winning film, The Aviator, Martin Scorsese hired Joseph Bok and his Aero Telemetry team to design, build, and fly the world’s largest flyable Spruce Goose model ever built. Bok’s unmanned version would have to be both large and powerful enough to take-off from the ocean in the original location where Howard Hughes had flown his famous airplane. The Long Beach Harbor was the perfect location with a completely realistic background to re-create the famous flight which would feature the worlds' largest flyable electric-powered RC model airplane ever built.
The primary scale models for the movie were the Spruce Goose, Hughes XF-11, and Hughes H-1 Racer; all three airplanes were designed and fabricated by Joe Bok and his team at Aero Telemetry Corporation.
Aero Telemetry manufactured the fuselage section of the Spruce Goose model with fiberglass and reinforced the seams with Carbon fiber cloth. The interior bulkheads were made of marine plywood. Joe's company also provided the latest technology for the electronics and telemetry (command and control) systems needed on both the flying boat and shipboard control station. Additional composite sections of the flying boat were constructed from Hex Cell with epoxy resin to build and strengthen both the fuselage and wing structure. The Spruce Goose required 160 Nickel Metal Hydride batteries wired together into eight 20-cell packs to power each of the AXI electric motors. Once the engines were started and run up to full throttle, they could operate for up to 15 minutes of total flight time before they had to land and re-charge them. Each time the H-4 landed in the harbor, a “recovery” barge pulled alongside to swap out the battery packs located in the forward compartment of the huge flying boat. To help with a troublesome leak that had developed at the lower seam, a bilge pump was utilized to pump out seawater which got into the fuselage during extended periods in the water between flights.
WINGSPAN: 20 ft
LENGTH: 14 ft
WEIGHT: 320 lbs
ENGINES: 8 AXI electric motors with custom gear reduction propeller drive units.
SPEED: up to 75 mph
LIFTING ABILITY: Up to 500 lbs
RANGE: limited to 5 mile radio range with approximately 12-15 minutes of flight time per flight
The plane was flown several times at Long Beach Harbor, in Hughes’ original flight test area. The original Hughes H-4 only flew for about a minute back in 1947 but Joe Bok's Aviator VFX team flew this “unmanned” version for a combined total of almost 2 hours. During the filming, Joe Bok, a FAA licensed pilot, and his team piloted the Spruce Goose from a converted Navy PT boat, while the rest of the crew launched the huge Spruce Goose model from a separate powered barge. Academy Award winning visual effects director, Rob Legato filmed the amazing flight sequences from the moving camera platform. In the background of the shot, he placed several vintage boats and actors dressed in period-correct clothing. The Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose provided The Aviator with exceptional flying sequences. The background at Long Beach Harbor provided a very realistic and historically accurate setting for the flights of the Aero Telemetry Spruce Goose, the world’s largest flyable model of the Hughes H4 Hercules.